Convenient care for the common and complex at VCU Health in WilliamsburgApril 18, 2022
By Jeff Kelley
Pamela Harris struggled with chronic pancreatitis since age 10. Now 54, she estimates she’s had at least 30 flareups over the years, though she admits she’s lost count.
“The attacks would take my breath away,” said the U.S. Air Force veteran. “They would double me over in pain.”
In mid-2020, physicians near her Hampton home determined her condition was worsening to the point of pancreatic failure. Chronic pancreatitis can be fatal and for Harris led to weight gain, joint pain, sleep apnea and more. “I was absolutely miserable,” she said.
Specialists recommended removing her pancreas.
“Even though I’d lived with pancreatitis all my life, I didn’t think you could live without your pancreas,” she said.
But you can — and do so in a way that reduces your risk of insulin-dependent diabetes, which comes with total pancreatectomy. Doctors referred Harris to Dr. Marlon Levy, chair of the Division of Transplant Surgery and director of VCU Health Hume-Lee Transplant Center.
Until that point, Levy was 1.5 hours away in Richmond. But lucky for Harris, a new VCU Health location in Williamsburg made for a shorter round trip.
Bringing VCU quality to the Peninsula and Hampton Roads
VCU Health at William & Mary opened in April 2021 at 332 N. Henry St., steps from historic Colonial Williamsburg. Harris was one of the first patients that month.
The clinic has 22 exam rooms and is part of a long-term, 10-year strategic partnership between W&M and VCU Health. VCU specialists from across multiple disciplines regularly visit the clinic and offer transplant care, sports medicine, orthopaedics, physical medicine and rehabilitation, behavioral health and more.
For Harris, the initial visit with Dr. Levy led to a July 6 total pancreatectomy with islet cell autotransplantation (TP-IAT), a procedure that greatly reduces pancreatitis pain. It also lowers the risk of diabetes by removing the pancreas’ islet cells, which produce insulin, and transplanting them into the liver. There, the islet cells resume their role of regulating sugar.
“Part of our mission at Hume-Lee, and VCU Health as a whole, is bringing care to every person, wherever that person may be,” said Levy, who performed Harris’ TP-IAT procedure. “So it is worth my time as a physician to visit Williamsburg every few days and see patients, and for us to invest in the city and surrounding community to fulfill our mission of bringing academic, innovative and quality medical care to all.”
Today, while she’s still getting her glucose under control, Harris no longer suffers from pancreatitis. She regularly sees Levy at the Williamsburg location for follow-ups.
“Having VCU in Williamsburg is extremely convenient. It’s a plus that I can see my doctor there and go right upstairs to the lab and get my blood drawn, because I have to do that every three months,” she said. “I save so much time driving a half hour, with easy parking, compared to the three-hour round trip to downtown Richmond.”
Ortho and more at W&M
While Harris’ condition was more complex, the Williamsburg clinic provides access to care for patients with everyday needs.
Eleanor Hylinski and her husband moved to Williamsburg from Connecticut to be closer to their children. They had trouble finding quality health care in the region. And when Eleanor needed treatment for a sports injury and visited a nearby clinic, “we were not taken seriously or were misdiagnosed,” Hylinski recalled.
Eleanor called VCU Health, expecting to drive to Richmond. To her surprise, she learned the Williamsburg space had opened just a few months prior. There, she saw physician’s assistant Catherine Howard, who referred her to orthopaedic surgeon Robert O’Connell, M.D., who lives in Richmond but visits the clinic a few times a month.
Eleanor needed surgery for three ruptured hamstrings, which had separated from her pelvic bone. Although Eleanor had the surgery in Richmond at VCU Medical Center, she had four months of pre- and post-operative appointments, locally in Williamsburg.
“I love the clinic — it was very clean and new and as important, easy to park,” she said. “Everyone was so friendly and invested in providing the best care. I was so happy to learn that this location exists.”
For W&M students, staff and faculty
Also in Williamsburg, VCU Health offers enhanced services in conjunction with the College of William & Mary’s on-campus Student Health Center and Counseling Center. That includes mental health services to students and medical options for staff and faculty.
VCU Health also provides sports medicine and orthopedic care to the university’s athletics department, as well as club sports, intramural sports and other health and wellness activities.