Category Archives: Healthy Living

Positive attitude helps in cancer fight

Math teacher, athletic coach, and cancer survivor, Brett Ruggles is surrounded by his family

Regular, routine health screenings are recommended for all adults, usually beginning at the age of 40. Checks for colon and prostate cancers are standard for men as they age. However, one type of cancer, testicular, is the most common malignancy found in young men, ages 15 to 35. There are no screenings for it and in most cases, there is no pain. Bruce Ricker, D.O. advises young men to “know their bodies and be aware of any changes.” For one testicular cancer survivor, Brett Ruggles, pain and discomfort were what drove him to be checked out seven years ago. The Mt. Ayr High School math teacher and basketball and softball coach said, “I started to feel a lot of pain. As males, we don’t talk about things like this. I kept thinking it would go away. It was January and it was basketball season. I thought I could get through it, but then everything started to hurt.” He went to his doctor and got an ultrasound and a pregnancy test. “Here’s an interesting thing,” he said. “I took a pregnancy test! If it comes up positive, you have cancer. Mine was positive.” Once he was diagnosed, he said the staff at Ringgold County Hospital sprang into action. “I went to the front of the line for all testing,” he recalled. He was quickly scheduled for surgery. “I had to announce to the basketball team that I was stepping away for a week or two. It was a tricky time. That team will always be special to me.”

Brett had Stage One, non-seminoma testicular cancer. After his surgery in January in 2013, he went through two cycles of chemotherapy beginning in early March. Like many cancer patients, he suffered hair loss and almost daily nausea. “On one of the hardest days, I remember I was typing lesson plans. I put my hands on my head and my hair was falling out in clumps. Out came the clippers and we shaved my head. I thought, this is for real.” Even on the darkest days, Brett always felt he could fight the cancer. “I remember getting home and thinking, it’s going to take a bigger bus than this to knock me down!” He missed some school days, games, and parent-teacher conferences. “My immune system was so low. And it was prime flu season at school.” But he has made a full recovery and credits his care at RCH and the hospital in Des Moines along with his positive attitude. “I never thought I would lose this battle,” he said. While he was going through treatment, he ran into author Jon Gordon who had written the book, “Feed the Positive Dog.” “I believe it. You must stay positive and fight. I had a T-shirt made!”

Brett had a lot to fight for. With a wife and three children, a high school full of math students, basketball and softball teams, there are plenty of people looking up to him. He was only 32 years old when he was diagnosed. “It’s usually a young man’s disease,” he said. “I was literally on the outside edge for this.” He admitted that when it comes to these personal types of cancers, no one wants to talk about it. “I take a different approach. I joke about it. I bring it up in class. I talk to my guys about the idea of checking themselves. I tell them that if it doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. I want everyone around me to understand that it’s ok to talk about.”

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) – What you need to know

Ringgold County Hospital, an affiliate of MercyOne, continues to closely monitor the international situation concerning COVID-19. COVID-19, originally referred to as 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCOV), recently discovered in Wuhan, China. Cases of COVID-19 are appearing across the globe, and we are monitoring the virus to help keep our communities healthy.

At Ringgold County Hospital, we are following guidance provided by the CDC and Iowa Department of Public Health to screen patients for symptoms including fever and respiratory signs as well as the patient’s travel history and exposure to those who have traveled. If a person is found to have symptoms and travel history, Ringgold County Hospital will isolate the patient and alert the Iowa Department of Public Health to coordinate testing. 

If you begin to experience symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19, call your primary care provider before coming in.

What are COVID-19 symptoms?
Coronaviruses are respiratory, meaning most people who have a Coronavirus will have a cough, difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, and fever. 

In 80% of patients, COVID-19 causes only mild cold symptoms. The elderly, and those with pre-existing medical conditions appear to be more vulnerable to the virus.

If you begin to experience symptoms and have been in close contact with a person known to have COVID-19 or if you live in or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19, call your primary care provider (contact Mt. Ayr Medical Clinic at 641-464-4470) before coming in.

How do people get Coronavirus?
COVID-19 is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, similar to the flu – through the air from a cough or sneeze of someone who has the virus.

It may be possible a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object which has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. 

How can we prevent the spread of COVID-19?
To help prevent the spread of all viruses, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends:

  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth. 
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

Should we wear facemasks to prevent COVID-19?
The CDC now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain like grocery stores and pharmacies. This is to protect others from the risk of getting infected. Learn more about cloth face masks.

If you are sick with COVID-19 or suspect you are infected with the virus that causes COVID-19, follow the steps below to help prevent the disease from spreading to people in your home and community:

  • Call ahead before visiting your doctor
  • Stay home except to get medical care
  • Separate yourself from other people and animals in your home
  • Wear a facemask
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Clean your hands often
  • Avoid sharing personal household items
  • Clean all “high-touch” surfaces everyday
  • Monitor your symptoms

10 ways to manage respiratory symptoms at home – print instructions

Additional Information
More information about the spread of COVID-19 in Iowa can be found on an IDPH website dedicated to the outbreak. Iowans can also call 2-1-1 to get answers to questions about COVID-19. The hotline is staffed 24/7. For the latest CDC guidelines, visit

Diet Affects Colon Health

Katie Routh, Dietitian

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of death in cancers that affect men and women. The colon is the final part of your digestive tract. Since it’s part of the digestive system, the food you eat is an important factor in the health of your colon. Do you want to keep your colon healthy? 
• Eat a nutrient-dense diet
• Include more fiber-rich foods

Eating a nutrient-dense, high fiber diet not only keeps the walls of your colon strong, but it can also prevent hemorrhoids or pouches in your colon. Katie Routh, Ringgold County Hospital dietitian adds, “It also may prevent colon polyps, and potentially, cancer.” A typical American diet is low in nutrient density with larger portions of processed meats and refined grains, such as breads and cereals. “Our mid-western diet tends to be lower in nutritional value,” says Katie.

Fiber-rich foods, like fruits and veggies, whole grains, nuts and seeds, are also more nutrient-dense.
And the fiber keeps you regular and controls the amount of bacteria in your colon. “The nutrients in those foods also may be beneficial in preventing digestive diseases as well as other chronic diseases, such as diabetes, and help you manage your weight,” says Katie. When increasing fiber in your diet, do it gradually, and drink plenty of water.

Moving to Mt. Ayr Improved Health Care

Jennifer Kellner and her father Lonnie Hawbaker are enjoying time together after his successful surgery.

The expression, “Having it all,” means different things to different people. To 70-year-old Lonnie Hawbaker, “having it all” describes his ability to have all his healthcare needs met in one place without having to travel. A retired civil engineer, he worked for the city of West Des Moines for many years before joining a national consulting firm and traveling the country. When he retired, he settled in Winterset, IA. After an ankle injury and with the encouragement of his daughter, RCH employee Jennifer Kellner, Lonnie moved to Mt. Ayr in April 2019.

It was the move to Mt. Ayr that helped him get a better handle on his health. A Type 2 diabetic, Lonnie wanted to get established right away with a local primary care physician. Jennifer recommended Katie Willcox, DO at the Mount Ayr Medical Clinic. “Dr. Willcox lives in Winterset, so I knew they’d have a shared connection,” she said. When Dr. Willcox learned that Lonnie had not had a colonoscopy in more than 20 years, she urged him to do so right away. “I wasn’t excited about getting one,” admitted Lonnie. “I thought why bother? We have no family history of colon cancer and I wasn’t having any issues. But with a new start and a new doctor, I thought I should probably listen to her.” The fact that he could have the screening at Ringgold County Hospital with Ed Wehling, DO also factored into his decision. “If I had needed to go to Des Moines, I wouldn’t have done it. It was convenient to do it here.” Dr. Wehling discovered some polyps that were not unusual, but he also found a pre-cancerous mass where the upper and lower colons come together. Lonnie explained, “They didn’t think it was cancer yet, but wanted to take it out as a precaution.”

About two months after Lonnie’s colonoscopy he had the surgery after getting clearance from his heart doctor and the rest of his medical team. During that time, Lonnie was able to work with physical therapists at Ringgold County Hospital too. “Both Dr. Wehling and the cardiologist thought it was a good idea to get my body in good shape before the surgery.”

“We were able to coordinate everything locally,” added Jennifer. “His pre-surgery physical, physical therapy, lab work, everything was done right here. We didn’t have to travel anywhere. From a patient’s perspective, it was wonderful.” Lonnie had surgery in late October 2019 and Dr. Wehling removed about 8 inches of his colon. “I’m feeling great today,” reported Lonnie. “It took about three days to recover from the surgery and then I spent about a week in skilled care. I had very little pain. Melissa Friedrich, the anesthesiologist, used new pain blocking techniques that really worked. I hardly had to take any pain medication afterward.”

About a month after the surgery, Lonnie celebrated his 70th birthday surrounded by his family. “For me, his birthday was a really big deal,” said Jennifer. “Finding the mass in his colon scared me a little. I realized that if we hadn’t found it, we might not be celebrating many more birthdays with him. We might not have had much more time together.” Both father and daughter agree that since Lonnie moved to Mt. Ayr, it’s been nice to be closer together. They go to church together. They make weekly grocery runs and spend family time together. It seems that for now, they really do have it all.

March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month. To schedule a colonoscopy for yourself or a loved one, contact Ringgold County Hospital at 641-464-4433.

Is it an Emergency?

Ask Dr. Haroon Ferhut: Is this an emergency?

“I’m serious! As serious as a heart attack!” That old expression may seem amusing, but not if you’re experiencing symptoms that could be heart related. How do you know when to head into the Emergency Room? When should you just wait for an appointment with your regular physician?

Dr. Haroon Ferhut, Emergency Room physician at Ringgold County Hospital, explains. “Chest pain that feels heavy, like there is someone sitting on your chest is most concerning. If you’re feeling that way, you should go immediately to the ER.” He continued, “You may not even have chest pain. Sometimes shortness of breath can be heart related. It could be COPD or asthma, but if the sensation is new to you, come in and get checked out.” Often patients arrive at the ER thinking they’re having a heart attack when they’re actually experiencing thoracic pain. “There’s a tiny bit of fluid beneath the chest wall and on your lungs,” said Dr. Ferhut. “When a patient has a little bit of inflammation, it can cause pinpoint pain that’s often described as sharp, or stabbing. It understandably provokes anxiety because people feel as if they’re having a heart attack. I’ve seen it in all ages, from young children to geriatric patients. It can be scary. But the treatment is simple ibuprofen.”

There are some symptoms that are worth an Emergency Room trip, he said. “If you’re feeling sweaty, and have shortness of breath, especially if you’re feeling something that hasn’t happened before, come to the ER. Also, if you have a cough and you’re coughing up blood, even if it’s not that much, you need to come in. We’re always worried about blood clots. If you have cancer, or have recently had surgery, there’s an increased risk.”

Another symptom that should send you to the Emergency Room is one-sided swelling in the lower leg or thigh. It could be a sign of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) which is a blood clot that forms deep in a vein. The fear is that the clot could break loose and cause a serious problem in the lung, called a pulmonary embolism.

Unnecessary visits to the Emergency Room can be stressful and expensive. There are many aches and pains that can be treated by a primary care doctor or nurse practitioner. “Anything that is skeletomuscular can wait,” said Dr. Ferhut. “If you press on the chest wall where it hurts, and it feels better or worse, hang at home and see your regular doctor.” He adds that if you have an upper respiratory infection and the pain gets worse with coughing, it’s not likely your heart. “If you don’t have a high fever, you can see your doctor in the clinic” Of course, the best way to stay out of the Emergency Room is to take care of your health, and your heart, every day. Dr. Ferhut’s advice is practical and relatable – even if it’s something we’ve all heard before. “If you smoke, quit. Or at least decrease the amount you smoke. Get daily exercise. Eat a heart healthy diet. And if you’re on cholesterol medications, take them. They really work!”

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