Van Kitt was the epitome of health and relatively young. He was used to hiking, volunteering at the local fire department, working full-time as an insurance agent, and being a father. The first red flag he noticed was fatigue. He regularly felt exhausted and out of breath, but he assumed it was allergies or something small. Soon, however, the fatigue linked with shortness of breath made even the simplest of tasks daunting and exhausting. One day, his fatigue became so bad that he passed out on his family farm in Benkelman, Nebraska, from carrying a cooler up some stairs. He didn’t’ tell anyone and decided he just needed a nap. The next red flag came from friends and clients repeatedly asking him if he was feeling okay. He wondered if he really looked that bad since people kept telling him he appeared tired or seemed like he wasn’t feeling very well. Kitt knew he was feeling more tired than normal, but he figured it was just from getting older. After all, he wasn’t even 50 yet! Finally, one Friday evening, Kitt’s girlfriend convinced him that he needed to go in to see the doctor. She could tell he was way too out of breath from simply walking. It was time to figure out what was stealing Kitt’s energy and breath.
On September 30th, 2023, Kitt begrudgingly entered Sidney Regional Medical Center’s Walk-In Clinic. He told Haley Ford, PA-C, his symptoms: he had a headache that hurt like crazy, he couldn’t seem to get enough air, and he struggled to get thoughts from his mind to exit his mouth. Haley Ford then checked his blood pressure and discovered that it was extremely low. Kitt’s normal 130/70 was now 95/55 – drastically low. She advised him to visit SRMC’s Emergency Room right away, but Kitt wanted to go home and enjoy the rest of his Saturday. He was planning on making wings, watching the game, and relaxing. Fortunately, Haley Ford convinced him otherwise and told him, “You have two kids who need you alive. Look at your hand.” When he looked down at his hands, he noticed they were whiter than a blank sheet of paper. Kitt conceded and drove to the ER; however, he stopped by the nearby Beans & Steams Coffee House and did one loop around the ER before finally parking his vehicle at the hospital. He was hesitant. Did he really want to deal with paying an Emergency Room bill over what was probably nothing? He decided to play it safe – he stepped into the hospital.
One of our ER nurses was there to greet him and write down all his symptoms. Then Dr. Matthews and Jacob Horstman, PA, began running tests to find out what was causing Kitt’s blood pressure to be so low. After running multiple tests, they discovered his hemoglobin level was also extremely low at 6.3 g/dL - an average hemoglobin level for an adult male is typically 13 g/dL or higher. When Jake read Kitt’s hemoglobin results, he asked Kitt how he got to the Emergency Room. Kitt told him that he had driven there and saw the look of astonishment spread across Jake’s face. Jake informed him that when hemoglobin levels are that low, patients are usually being brought into the ER on a stretcher because they can’t even walk. It was then that Kitt thought maybe something was wrong with him; however, he kept thinking that he felt fine. Other than the headache and trouble breathing at times, he really wasn’t convinced that he needed to stay in the Emergency Room. He wanted to go home and eat some food already (it was almost noon at this time). It was then that Dr. Matthews came in with Kitt’s platelet results.
He revealed that Kitt’s platelet count was 8,000 per microliter of blood while an average platelet count is between 150,000 to 450,000. Still, Kitt tried to convince Dr. Matthews that he could go home and get some food. Matthews responded, “If you go home, we’ll find you dead. The only way you’re going anywhere is in an ambulance to another hospital.” Kitt didn’t want to think they were right or that something was seriously wrong with him, so he looked in the mirror to see for himself. His face was so pale that he couldn’t tell his lips from his face. It hit him: Maybe I am sick. Kitt heard Matthews say the dreaded words “acute lymphoblastic leukemia” and instantly felt God tell him, “Do not be afraid. I am with you.” He thought, I may actually have cancer, but this isn’t going to kill me. Everyone else around him was clearly scared, but he felt calm and assured.
The medical staff, on the other hand, became concerned for his kidneys and thought Kitt might be having internal bleeding, so they ordered him a unit of blood and began the transfusion. Kitt realized then that he was in critical condition and later admitted, “If it wasn’t for this hospital, one of the ER nurses telling me to stay, and Dr. Matthews leveling with me that day, I would’ve been dead. I owe a debt of gratitude to this hospital.” SRMC decided it was best to send him to Anschutz in Aurora, Colorado, where the medical staff there worked on him “like a pit crew works on a car at a pit stop,” Kitt stated. He stayed at the Anschutz hospital for approximately two weeks before returning to SRMC for his oral chemotherapy treatment. The day he returned he went from having 55 percent of cancer in his body to 7 percent. Now, he comes in for blood work with Minna See and Crystal Thomas every couple of days and is seeing incredible progress with each visit. He spoke of the amazing connection he has with the medical staff at SRMC and how all their support has made a huge difference. Kitt said, “What we have here [at SRMC] with that connection and bone marrow transplant is absolutely a miracle. The hospital staff rooting for you is huge.” Sidney Regional Medical Center continues to root for Van Kitt now that he has .03% cancer in his bone marrow and 0% in his blood and spinal cord, and we look forward to celebrating the day when he is cancer free!