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Saving Her Life

Karl Holmes, certified physician assistant at UnityPoint Health Family Medicine – Belle Plaine with Arlene Ledger, lung cancer survivor and nurse Maria Cernin.

St. Luke’s Lung Check catches Belle Plaine woman’s lung cancer at its earliest stage

Arlene Ledger wasn’t interested in getting screened for lung cancer. After all, the retired nurse didn’t have any symptoms despite a lifetime of smoking. But her health care provider wouldn’t let up.

Ledger sees Karl Holmes, certified physician assistant at UnityPoint Health Family Medicine – Belle Plaine. “Karl was adamant. He said after 50 years of smoking, it was time I got checked. He kept after me until I said OK.”

Ledger came to UnityPoint Health – St. Luke’s for a Lung Check. This non-invasive screening tool uses a low-dose CT scan to provide detailed, three-dimensional images of the lungs to find cancer at its earliest, most treatable stage. In Ledger’s case, a nodule was detected and she was referred to the Lung Care Clinic at Nassif Community Cancer Center.

“If a lung nodule is found, the patient is referred to us for follow-up,” explains Connie Dietiker, nurse coordinator with the Lung Care Clinic. “Our pulmonary physicians review the test results, meet with the patient and recommend next steps.”

The Lung Care Clinic brings together pulmonologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists and radiologists to provide the highest level of care in lung cancer screening, diagnosis and treatment. The doctors meet weekly to review lung cancer cases and share their expertise to determine the right treatment plan for each patient.

When additional tests determined Ledger had early-stage lung cancer, Dietiker says, “I got going right away. My job is to schedule appointments with specialists and coordinate any tests that need to be done. By scheduling tests and follow-up with the doctor on the same day, we make it easier for the patient and less stressful, too. They don’t have a long wait for test results and they don’t have to make multiple trips.” Because Ledger was going to have surgery, Dietiker also scheduled a meeting with the Center’s exercise specialist, Matt Schmitz. “Matt gives patients exercises to work on before surgery. It helps with their recovery.”

In October 2016, Dr. James Levett of Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa Surgical Specialists removed part of Ledger’s right lung. No follow-up radiation therapy or chemotherapy was required. “Because we caught my cancer early, I didn’t need those things,” says Ledger. “We got it taken care of and I feel very fortunate.”

Drs. James Levett, cardiothoracic surgeon, with Physicians’ Clinic of Iowa and Vijaya Gogineni, pulmonologist, with UnityPoint Clinic – Multi-Specialty.

Today, Ledger receives follow-up care at the Lung Care Clinic from her pulmonologist, Dr. Vijaya Gogineni with UnityPoint Clinic Multi-Specialty. “They’re keeping good track of me,” says Ledger. “I am very thankful. And the best part is I quit smoking! The cancer was a good reason for me to quit and I’m proof it can be done.”

She adds, “At first I was angry at Karl for talking me into all this. Then Dr. Levett said next time I see Karl I need to give him a big hug. Karl Holmes saved my life!”

If you’re a current smoker or you quit smoking within the last 15 years, call (319) 558-4876 to find out if St. Luke’s Lung Check is right for you.


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