For the media

Extraordinary care was a breath of fresh air

By The Health News Team | September 26, 2023
Amy Britcher, Valerie Markarian and Dr. Michael Keefe at Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Center.

(Left to right) Amy Britcher, lead vocational nurse; Valerie Markarian, patient; Dr. Michael Keefe, ear nose and throat (ENT) doctor.

For years, Valerie Markarian knew something felt off. Unable to breathe through her nose properly, she couldn’t sleep at night. Her sinuses were blocked, and she dealt with uncomfortable postnasal drip. What’s more, nasal sprays just weren’t cutting it.

“It was going on for so many years,” says Valerie, a senior development officer for the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare. “I didn’t even remember life otherwise.”

In June 2023, she met with Dr. Michael Keefe, an ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy. He repaired her deviated septum, collapsing valves, and cartilage in her nose.

It was his bedside manner, constant communication in the months since, and the care she received both from Dr. Keefe and his assistant, Amy Britcher, a lead licensed vocational nurse with Sharp Rees-Stealy, that influenced Valerie to honor them with Guardian Angel awards. The awards, exclusive to Sharp, are a way for patients and their loved ones to pay tribute to caregivers who have made a difference.

“He gave me a quality of life that I am forever grateful for,” Valerie says.

Landing in ‘the right hands’

This wasn’t the first time Valerie underwent a procedure on her nose. When she was 15, she underwent a rhinoplasty procedure, performed by the late Dr. Jack Sheen, a renowned plastic surgeon. At that time, the surgery was a success.

“I don’t think I would be the person I am, with the confidence I have, today without having rhinoplasty done at a younger age,” Valerie says. “For me, it corrected a distracting barrier so my personality could shine.”

But Valerie encountered persistent breathing issues. The structure of her nose changed over time, and it took Valerie years to find the proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Enter Dr. Keefe, a specialist with nearly 40 years of practice, including the past 18 at Sharp. After seeing her CT scan, he was taken aback at how long she had been experiencing this level of discomfort.

“In talking with her, you can really feel how much it bothered her,” Dr. Keefe says.

When it came time for the surgery, Valerie says she wasn’t at all nervous. Rather, she was thrilled someone was putting in the effort to fix her. “I absolutely landed in the right hands,” she says.

Showing her gratitude

The Guardian Angel Program at Sharp offers patients and their loved ones the opportunity to recognize their caregivers during their visit or hospital stay while also supporting Sharp through a donation.

Valerie is no stranger to giving to Sharp HealthCare. She’s a member of the Employee Hour Club to donate her paid time off, and she has frequently presented Guardian Angel awards in the past.

It wasn’t a question of if she would give awards to Dr. Keefe or Britcher, but when.

At one of her follow-up appointments, Dr. Keefe immediately asked Valerie how she was feeling. But Valerie needed to interrupt.

That’s when she presented Dr. Keefe and Britcher with Guardian Angel pins. She also gave them each a heartfelt note detailing her appreciation and a gift, including a cycling shirt, since she knew that was one of Dr. Keefe’s hobbies. “To us, a Guardian Angel award is one of the greatest gifts,” Britcher says.

What matters most, Dr. Keefe and Britcher say, is the joy on a patient's face as they leave, knowing they made a difference in their lives.

“He really gave me a new lease on life,” Valerie says.

Recognize a Sharp doctor or caregiver through the Guardian Angel program today.

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