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Foundation Story

Grateful Patient Giving, Gary Cantwell

Published on Wednesday November 2, 2022

Gary Cantwell still remembers exactly where he was on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve in 2012: he was a patient in Centra Lynchburg General Hospital for that entire time. This marathon hospital stay was brought on by an attack of complete respiratory failure—the most severe he had experienced.

Gary suffers from a rare form of pulmonary fibrosis: hypersensitivity pneumonitis.

“I probably had the disease for four or five years before a diagnosis,” he said. “At first, I thought I was just getting old and out of shape!

“After about seven weeks [in Lynchburg General],” Gary recalls, “the doctors told me, ‘We think you can get out of here, but not to go home. We’re going to transfer you to the specialty hospital [at Centra’s Virginia Baptist Hospital]. There’s a doctor there who we think is going to be very interested in you!’

“That’s when I was sent to Centra’s specialty hospital at the Baptist. I saw Dr. Johnson on my second day there, and almost every day thereafter until I finally got out of there on January 31.

“So…since February of 2013, I’ve been under his care.”

Asked what made Stephen Johnson, MD, stand out during Gary’s years of treatment, Gary said, “He has no affectations. He’s humble. He loves to talk to his patients—which I always loved. That’s very meaningful. He encourages you, helps you learn what will enable you to do better as a patient. He’s a superior physician and just a great human being.“

But the event that Gary says triggered his desire to provide a gift to the Centra Foundation occurred in early 2019. By that point, he had been deemed ineligible for a lung transplant, due in part to a defective heart valve.

“I’d been looking at websites doing research on my condition, and found this big European company had a drug that was approved for most pulmonary fibrosis cases…except for my category.”

Gary brought that item to his next follow-up visit, and Stephanie Cash, NP-C, was willing to explore the FDA Expanded Access Program, which makes available certain drugs that are otherwise unavailable to certain categories of patients.

 “There was just no other treatment option available to me…and Stephanie took three months to get it through all the red tape, including an internal review board and an external review board,” Gary said.  “She brought me to this point, and I’ve been on this drug for two months now.

“That was the event that made me decide to make a gift in their honor through the Centra Foundation. I didn’t want to put any stipulations or limitations on how they used [the gift], but if they had anything regarding pulmonary medicine, that would be my preference.

“It’s a pleasant fact — but no longer a surprise to me — that Stephanie and Dr. Johnson are dedicated pros, and the Centra system has been great.

“I was trained as an economist, so I think in sequences. And the sequence of things I’ve gotten over the past five years have been continuous, connective, and constructive.”

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