Thursday, April 26, 2012

CVHC patient makes full recovery from colorectal cancer

This article was written by Trent Morgan CRNA, MSNA, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist, who performed Nellie’s anesthesia for her surgery and procedures. 

Nellie Clifford is what you would call a true “go-getter.” Her strait forward approach hints of a life rich in real experience and overcome hardships. Add one more accomplishment to her 74 years; proud cancer survivor. 

“And, I’ve got the certificate to prove it,” she points out, “99.9% cancer free.” She does not mince words either, “I tell it like it is even though my words aren’t right sometimes. I only was schooled to the eighth grade.” Despite her admitted lacking in formal education, she is engaging and entirely pleasant. Her still thick east coast accent adds a bit of mystique to the conversation. 

Moving to Orofino in 1975 from New Hampshire, “following my kids,” Nellie clearly loves the Orofino community. “That is one reason I decided to have my surgery in town,” she offers. “My kids are here and I can’t see traveling. They [Clearwater Valley Hospital and Clinics] have good doctors, surgeons and nurses; so why travel down river?” 

She also is certain that the CVH Emergency Department saved her son and daughter-in-law’s lives. “They were in a bad head on collision on the river road,” she describes. “The initial officers on the scene didn’t believe it was possible we could be alive,” offers Nellie’s son, Ken Clifford Jr. 

According to Nellie, local EMS was able to transport Ken and his wife Barbara to CVH where, “Dr. Petersen saved his life.” Ken adds jokingly, “they all got to meet the real Ken and Barbie that day.” This experience was one of many that helped Nellie form positive opinions and trust in Clearwater Valley Hospital. 

Nellie was diagnosed with aggressive and invasive colorectal cancer late in 2010 following a routine screening exam. The need for the exam was identified by Clearwater Valley’s Family Practice Physician Dr. Vanessa Brown and performed by hospital surgeon Enrique Montana MD, FACS at CVH. Dr. Michael Meza, MD assisted with the surgery. 

Dr. Brown says, “Nellie was a bit stubborn about having the test [a colonoscopy] done and took some convincing.” When asked about her initial reaction to the diagnosis, Nellie says; “You can’t get excited, just hold onto God’s hand and have a good attitude.” 

Dr. Montana attributes Nellie’s outcome, in part, to this positive outlook. “That is a very complex operation and you must have the right mindset to be successful,” Dr. Montana explained. 

Nellie underwent an Exploratory Laparotomy, abdominal-perineal resection and hemicolectomy with transverse anastomosis and colostomy.” In laymen’s terms; “We basically located the cancer and removed it putting things back together so the plumbing works,” Dr. Montana explained. 

Though attitude is an important aspect of recovery, the complexity of the surgery required a great deal of expertise and equipment that CVH surgical services maintain for just such a challenge. Dr. Montana stated, “We have the capabilities and staff to handle this type of surgery in otherwise healthy patients.” 

Having full surgical services at the local hospital is important to Nellie. “You need ‘em.” Nellie points out with passion. “You’re going to croak before you get to Lewiston,” she says with a grin. Why more rural residents don’t utilize the full services of the community’s hospital, she’s not certain. 

With CVH and her sister hospital in Cottonwood named the Outstanding Rural Healthcare organization last year by the National Rural Health Association there is recognition that supports that excellent care is provided at both facilities. 

Following Nellie’s “all day surgery,” Nellie spent a week recovering at CVH. “They treated me well… I have nothing to complain about,” Nellie offers with regards to her post-operative care. Ken points out the family was grateful during the long surgery for the constant updates; “Thank God for the operating room staff that kept us informed.” 

Following discharge from CVHC, physicians at CVHC worked with oncologists to coordinate chemotherapy and radiation at St. Joseph Regional Cancer Center. Dr. Montana states that timing is very important in cancer treatment following surgery. “They worked well with us to coordinate postoperative treatment during the ‘golden time’, giving the best results.” 

Nellie agrees that the entire process of treatment following surgery was well planned and easy for her and her family to accommodate. 

Nellie’s most recent triumph was a final visit to the Clearwater Valley O.R. for removal of a port-a-catheter previously placed for her chemotherapy treatment. “They said I’m cancer free, so why keep it?” she rationalizes. “I got stuff to do anyway”, she again grins, “I was chopping wood two months after the surgery; I’ve got to get on with my life!” The visit to the OR gave staff members a chance to see how their part of the team that participated in Nellie’s surgery contributed to her survival. All agree it is a very satisfying feeling.


  1. Colorectal cancer prevention and diet have a lot in common. After all, your colon and your rectum are responsible for things like nutrient absorption, water management and elimination of waste. You don't need a scientist to tell you that garbage in equals garbage out. But let's hear what the experts have to say anyway.


  2. just linked this article on my Facebook account. it’s a very interesting article for all.

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