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He thought he had COVID-19; Nurse practitioner suspected something else

IU Health Arnett Hospital

He thought he had COVID-19; Nurse practitioner suspected something else

Ryan Gillen is beyond grateful. He says one special nurse who discovered his illness, is more like an “angel” in his eyes.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

He had just started a new maintenance position at Benton Central High School when COVID-19 hit. Ryan Gillen returned home from work on that February day, feeling run down. He checked his temperature several times and there was no fever. But he still felt achy, like he had the flu. Something wasn’t right.

It was during a virtual appointment when he first met IU Health Arnett Hospital nurse practitioner Priscilla Hetrick. A COVID screening followed and three days later he learned his results were negative. He then visited Hetrick in person.

It was during an abdominal exam that Hetrick picked up something concerning. She saw the pain on Gillen’s face. For the next several hours, Gillen continued with lab work, followed by a review of the results with Hetrick.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, Hetrick asked Gillen if there was someone he’d like to call to come and be with him. He called his childhood sweetheart, Karen, who became his wife 33 years ago. Together they have two sons and three grandchildren.

“I was worried. I had a brother who passed away with cancer and all I could think about was my wife and kids. I wondered what was next,” said Gillen who turns 54 on November 13. It took 25 minutes for Karen Gillen to arrive at her husband’s side. Hetrick never left.

Lab reports were sent to a urologist who responded that Gillen needed to see an oncologist at IU Health Simon Cancer Center. Before they left her office, Hetrick grabbed their hands saying, “if he leads us to it; he’ll lead us through it.” They were the words of assurance the Gillens needed to hear.

“I can’t believe we had someone like Priscilla on our side. She is more than a nurse practitioner; she’s an angel,” said Gillen.

Tests revealed a large tumor on Gillen’s right kidney.

The Gillens left Hetrick’s office and weren’t even home yet when they received a call from IU Health Dr. Clinton Bahler who specializes in urology and cancer. That night Hetrick called Gillen and his wife to see how they were doing. The next day, Gillen had an appointment at Simon Cancer Center.

On August 18, Gillen underwent surgery to remove his kidney and the tumor that weighed between seven and nine pounds. “After the pathology reports came back I learned that it was a slow growing tumor that may have been growing in me for 10 years or more,” said Gillen. “We couldn’t ask for anyone better than Dr. Bahler. He explained everything to us and even the next steps after surgery. On Monday I found out I had cancer and the following Tuesday I was told ‘congratulations you’re cured.’”

Since his surgery, Gillen and his wife enjoy spending time with their family and camping nearly every weekend.

And he still occasionally hears from Hetrick.

“In 53 years, I’ve never had a medical professional treat me so well. She is attentive and focused on what you are telling her. She is not focused on a computer screen. She had a great deal of compassion for my wife as well,” said Gillen. “I recently had a friend mention a similar experience and when we compared notes we realized it was Priscilla he was talking about. It wasn’t just me – she treats everyone that way.”

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