10,000 miles are no barrier for this patient

10,000 miles are no barrier for this patient

Retta Renich remains so loyal to those who have provided her medical treatment over the years that she travels halfway around the world to return to Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill., for follow-up care.

She just made the journey again from Papua New Guinea, one of the most remote places on Earth. And she received good news on a couple fronts: Her post-breast cancer mammogram showed no sign of disease, and her caregivers loaded her up with donations for the people back in her adopted homeland.

“It’s absolutely fantastic; it’s overwhelming that people would be so kind,” Retta’s husband, Bruce Renich, says as he looks with wonder at the heap of gifts piled around them. “This is amazing.”

The donations included socks, yarn, crayons, coloring books, eyeglasses, calculators and dozens of other items that may seem ordinary to people in the U.S. but are preciously difficult to come by in Papua New Guinea. Pulling them together was the brainchild of Charlotte Dioguardi, the manager of Advocate Good Shepherd’s oncology department. Dioguardi put out the call, and caregivers in the department stepped up, their generosity moving the Renichs to the brink of tears.

“I simply can’t believe it,” Retta says. “I had no idea they were planning this.”

Dioguardi set the plan in motion at the same time she and oncology nurse navigator Donna Smaga were communicating via Skype and email with Retta to schedule her medical appointments. Retta was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016, and was treated at Advocate Good Shepherd with surgery performed by Dr. Gia Compagnoni and intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) performed by Dr. James Ruffer. As with all breast cancer patients, follow-up care includes mammograms initially at six-month intervals and then annually for a couple years.

The follow-up mammograms are critical to ensure cancer hasn’t returned, but scheduling them conveniently alongside other needed care would be more difficult without Dioguardi and Smaga’s assistance, given that Retta lives 10,000 miles and multiple time zones away. They also help arrange her physician appointments, blood work and other health care visits at Advocate Good Shepherd, fitting them into Retta’s tight window of time in the U.S.

Retta says she continues to travel to Advocate Good Shepherd for her medical treatment “because of the wonderful friends I have made there and the quality care that I have always received.”

In July of this year, Retta and Bruce celebrated their 50th anniversary. Married in 1968, the couple moved to the Barrington area for Bruce to complete his undergraduate studies, after which he taught school in Libertyville, Ill. In 1973, the couple went as youth workers to the remote country of Papua New Guinea. In 1981, they moved from village work to the campus of Christian Leaders’ Training College in the highlands, where Bruce advanced through the years from lecturer to principal. They returned to the Barrington area in 1995 so their three children could be acclimated to U.S. culture; then Bruce completed his doctoral studies in education and accepted a pastoral position in the bucolic northwest suburb.

By 2011, their youngsters were grown and out on their own, so Retta and Bruce packed up again for Papua New Guinea. They live on the 400-acre property on which Christian Leaders’ Training College is located. Bruce works to get small schools started by churches around the country, accredited up to university level, while Retta mentors college staff and student women.

As Retta looks at the Good Shepherd donations given to her for the people back home, one could see that her mind already is 10,000 miles away, in the land that has captured her heart and that she affectionately refers to by its initials, P.N.G.

“These gifts will be treasured by the kindergarten and elementary school children on campus, and the adults will so appreciate the reading glasses,” Retta says. “All of these gifts are almost impossible to obtain in P.N.G.”

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About the Author

Kathleen Troher
Kathleen Troher

Kathleen Troher, health enews contributor, is manager of public affairs and marketing at Advocate Good Sheperd Hospital in Barrington. She has more than 20 years of journalism experience, with her primary focus in the newspaper and magazine industry. Kathleen graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, earning her degree in journalism with an emphasis on science writing and broadcasting. She loves to travel with her husband, Ross. They share their home with a sweet Samoyed named Maggie.