Wednesday, August 4, 2010

My letter about Dr. Wolfenden - my final goodbye

One of a Kind
By Andy Lipman

“Always have faith in your doctor.”

That’s what Dr. Lindy Wolfenden e-mailed to me several months ago when she, like me, was a patient with a potentially fatal disease. Lindy Wolfenden wasn’t just my doctor. She was my friend. We met in 2008 when I was going through my first IV treatments for a serious lung infection and my regular doctor was out of the country. I was really scared. My father and I drove to Emory that morning and Dr. Wolfenden met with us. I learned later that Dr. Wolfenden started the adult center at Emory. She spent many years working to improve the care for adults with cystic fibrosis (CF). I was so impressed with her and the way she conducted my recovery, that I asked her to be my primary doctor.

Dr. Wolfenden had an infectious smile but wasn’t afraid to tell you how it is. I remember asking her, “Should I be scared? Should I freak out?” Her answer: “Nah, I’ll tell you when to freak out.” When she smiled, I knew either 1) everything would be okay or 2) she had something sarcastic to say. She had a great sense of humor. We often joked about married life and our children. She never let me leave an appointment without good news. When my pulmonary function tests were below par, she detected the concern in my eyes and said, “these tests don’t tell everything. It’s how you feel that matters most.” That line still comforts me when I’m getting poor test results at doctor’s appointments.

Dr. Wolfenden stuck with me and my father when times were tough. We had some issues at Emory during my IV treatments and reported these to the supervisor there. I worried she might be upset that we complained. Instead, she was grateful. She said that our letter was a wake-up call and lead to a lot of improvements. Now they have a bigger staff, a nutritionist, case workers and updated equipment. Dr. Wolfenden created brochures (one with my picture on the cover) and met with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to support their fight against cystic fibrosis. Emory has become a great CF center largely because of Lindy Wolfenden.

Over the last year, she and I exchanged e-mails. I was often checking to see how she was doing in her own battle against breast cancer. It was ironic I suppose; the patient checking on the doctor. I hoped that she would be okay but as the months went on and she started experimental chemotherapy, I knew the odds were getting slimmer that she would return to Emory. That didn’t keep her from being positive though. She stayed strong and hopeful during the rough times. She told me she would get through this and be back to take care of her patients. She was flattered that I wanted to write about her in my new book about my life with cystic fibrosis. She said she couldn’t wait to read it. I wish she’d been able to, but in July Dr. Lindy Wolfenden died from breast cancer at the age of 40.

I wish now I’d had a chance to thank her for being a great doctor in person. I wish I’d been able to tell her during the rough times that tests don’t mean anything. It’s how you feel that matters. In her memory, an educational booth will be set up at our Wish for Wendy Softball Challenge, an annual tournament that is close to having raised one million dollars for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Every dollar we receive at the booth will be matched by the Wish for Wendy Foundation, which my father and I started to help raise money for cystic fibrosis awareness.
Lindy Wolfenden once said “Always have faith in your doctor.” Dr. Wolfenden, it was neither difficult to have faith in you as a doctor…nor as a friend.

I miss my doctor and friend, but I am determined to do all I can so that no one will forget what she did for people like me. I am honored to call myself a patient of the late Lindy Wolfenden, and to preserve and support her legacy.

Here is to hoping that there will be more pioneers like Lindy Wolfenden someday to help us win the battle against cystic fibrosis and other chronic diseases. One thing is for sure. There will never be another Lindy Wolfenden. We have lost a true one of a kind.

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