How the Michigan Difference is made

January 10, 2017  //  FOUND IN: Our Employees,

Brandon Skira, shown with his wife Allison and two children, has experienced the Michigan Difference as both a patient and a registered nurse.

What does the “Michigan Difference” mean? To Brandon Skira, it’s the compassionate, patient-centered care offered by Michigan Medicine employees that makes the organization stand out among its peers.

Brandon, a registered nurse on 7B at University Hospital, gained first-hand experience with the Michigan Difference — an experience forged during some of the toughest moments of his life.

After being diagnosed with stage 3 stomach cancer at age 36, Brandon — who at the time worked at another health care facility in Southeastern Michigan — went through a lengthy treatment program at U-M that saved his life.

“With the incredible care I received here, I knew this is where I needed to be,” Brandon said. “I told my wife, ‘when I get strong enough to work again, I’m going to work here.’”

Fighting for his life

In July 2014, Brandon underwent a routine annual physical with his doctor. The findings of labwork revealed a major health problem nobody anticipated: “My hemoglobin came back extremely low,” Brandon said. “They did a scope and found a cancerous tumor in my stomach.”

He had not felt ill, nauseous or exhibited any other signs that something was wrong. “I’m so lucky to have gone to my physical,” Brandon said, “because the tumor was causing a slow bleed, meaning I had only one-third the amount of blood flowing through me than I should have had.”

According to the American Cancer Society, the five-year survival rate for stomach cancer is only 30 percent if it spreads outside the organ. And once it reaches stage 4, the survival rate dips to 5 percent. He and his wife knew they needed an aggressive treatment plan. So Brandon met with doctors at three different health care facilities, including experts at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Michigan Medicine doctors gave Brandon a plan that first involved chemotherapy and then an exploratory surgery to make sure he was eligible for stomach removal.

“We found doctors who were not only confident, but also caring,” said Allison, Brandon’s wife. “And we felt most comfortable going with a surgeon who had performed thousands, not just hundreds, of these types of procedures. In all, we just felt at home and safe at U-M.”

Brandon underwent three months of chemo and then doctors removed his entire stomach — including the tumor — along with his spleen and part of his pancreas due to the presence of suspicious lymph node activities. He spent 28 days in University Hospital.

“I was so impressed with the nursing staff, nutrition team, environmental services, everyone I came into contact with during my time here,” Brandon said. “They were so professional and they always had a smile on their face. You can’t overstate how important that is when you’re fighting for your life.”

It wasn’t just his caregivers’ attitude that stood out. “The doctors would stay in my room as long as necessary to answer however many questions my wife and I had,” Brandon said. “In every way, we felt like we were being taken care of.”

Brandon eventually underwent a second surgery, this time on his lungs, which were damaged due to side effects from his initial treatment. He then went through a few more months of chemotherapy and radiation. By November 2015, one year after his initial surgery and 17 months after his diagnosis, his treatment was complete.

“I have two little kids, and I wouldn’t be here for them right now if it weren’t for U-M. I truly believe that,” Brandon said.

Back to work

About two months after his last therapy session, Brandon was ready to return to work. He interviewed at University Hospital and other facilities, eventually receiving multiple offers. He chose to become part of the Michigan Medicine family.

“This place had such a huge impact on my life and I wanted do the same for other patients,” Brandon said.

He officially joined the team in March, caring for older cardiac patients recovering from such illnesses as pneumonia or pancreatitis. He said he’s thrilled with the decision.

“Every colleague makes me feel a part of the team and they’re all just unbelievably smart and helpful,” he said. “The atmosphere here is so positive and uplifting.”

‘I’ve now been on the other side’

Brandon — who has been in remission for 13 months and lives a healthy lifestyle that involves ample time with his wife and children — said his health scare has made him a better nurse.

“When I was in the hospital, I was seeing things from a different point of view. I’ve now been on the other side,” Brandon said. “So when a patient asks for something, whether I think it’s trivial or unimportant, I will happily get it for them.”

He takes the time to answer questions the way the doctors and nurses here did for him.

“It can get lonely in the hospital and people sometimes just want someone to listen to them. It’s the least I can do,” Brandon said. “My goal is to make myself and my team the best advocates we can be for our patients.”

That’s his way of making the Michigan Difference.

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