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Healthy Lifestyles Online – July 28 Edition

Posted on July 28, 2015

LeConte’s Healthy Lifestyles is a health and wellness publication printed twice a month in local newspapers serving Sevier County and South Knoxville. And here online! We hope you find this information healthful.

Table of Contents

Living in “Paradise”
Surviving Melanoma
Join Us Under the Big Top
Thank You to Our Event Committee
A Valued Partnership
LeConte Medical Center Sports Medicine Recognized for Award-Winning Safety Measures
Concussion Vital Signs: Managing Concussions and Preventing Replays
Taking Sports Safety to the Next Level
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Living in “Paradise”

Sevier County Woman Grateful for Each New Day After Melanoma

“I’ve ridden a camel in Morocco, I’ve rappelled in Guam, and I’ve ridden a train in Japan,” Chris Bender says as she sits peacefully in a Sevierville coffee shop.

Bender, 62, has had a lifetime of adventures, but nothing could have prepared her for the ultimate adventure of fighting to live. Bender has multiple sclerosis (MS), cancer, and lupus.

She fought her most life-altering battles with support from Thompson Cancer Survival Center (TCSC) and oncologist Michelene Liebman, MD. Lingering over a vanilla frappuccino, Bender recounts the story of how her history with MS helped catch cancer in time.

Having temporarily lost her eyesight because of MS in the past, Bender didn’t take it lightly when she suffered intense pain in her right eye while she was at work one night in June of 2012. “I had a really bad headache, and my eye was throbbing,” Bender recalls.

Chris Bender received immunotherapy at TCSC-Sevierville to treat melanoma. Church friends and co-workers supported her through the challenges of cancer.
Chris Bender received immunotherapy at TCSC-Sevierville to treat melanoma. Church friends and co-workers supported her through the challenges of cancer.

Bender works the overnight shift as an operator and dispatcher for Westgate Resorts in Gatlinburg. She knew doctors’ offices would be closed in the middle of the night.

“Most people would have ignored it, but because of my background with MS, the very next morning I called my eye doctor,” Bender says.

He referred her to a specialist in Knoxville who performed a variety of tests just two days later. Bender was told she had a protrusion on the back of her right eye, that it was a sign she had cancer somewhere in her body, and that she needed to see an oncologist right away.

Not knowing exactly what to do or where to go next, Bender walked out and called her doctor’s office. She was told to come in as soon as she got back to Sevierville.

Bender was then referred to Thompson Cancer Survival Center and Dr. Liebman. Dr. Liebman ordered scans to be performed at LeConte Medical Center, and brought Bender into the Sevierville office soon after.

“I work at the outpatient cancer center in Sevierville 50 percent of the time, and the other 50 percent of the time I am at the White Avenue office in Knoxville,” says Dr. Liebman. One of the benefits of having a hospital like LeConte Medical Center is having access to the doctors and services of a larger city, without always having to travel to that larger city to access them.

“LeConte Medical Center and our cancer center attached to it have been a blessing to the Sevierville area,” Dr. Liebman says. “Patients now have quick access to excellent care, and quick referrals to our cancer center from the hospital.

“Patients don’t need to drive for an hour to Knoxville all the time,” Dr. Liebman says.

Having care close to home lifted a burden off of Bender’s shoulders, for there were many more tests and scans to come.

After seeing Bender for the first time, Dr. Liebman began to put the call out for other doctors to help find the source of the cancer. A biopsy on a lung lesion revealed Bender had melanoma.

There had been no tell-tale moles or mysterious patches on her skin. Bender had been to a dermatologist for a skin exam, and nothing had shown up.

“That was kind of hard for me to understand,” Bender confesses, “but at that point it had gone to my lungs, it had gone to my brain, and it was on my eye.”

“Melanoma can arise in both sun-exposed areas of the skin as well as in places that aren’t so obvious,” Dr. Liebman says, “such as the eye, nail bed, mucosal surfaces, palms of hands, and soles of feet.”

Bender says Dr. Liebman had made it clear that fighting the cancer would be warfare. It proved to be true, and Dr. Liebman was ready to do battle.

She immediately had Bender set up an appointment for brachytherapy on the affected eye. Bender lost her vision in that eye, but she won her first battle against cancer. Bender then returned to Knoxville so Dr. Liebman could attack the brain tumors.

A first MRI had shown three tumors. The new MRI revealed a total of eight. “That’s how fast it was growing,” Bender says.

“We chose to use the Gamma Knife for targeted radiation to the lesions,” says Dr. Liebman. The Gamma Knife delivers 192 finely focused beams of gamma radiation to small targets inside the brain.

The beams converge at a point to treat the affected tissue, while minimizing the damage to healthy brain tissue. “This spares the patient some of the side effects of radiation, which may include memory loss, and difficulty concentrating,” Dr. Liebman says.

Next, Dr. Liebman attacked the three lesions on Bender’s lungs. Chemotherapy was started within two weeks of Bender’s first Gamma Knife procedure.

Dr. Liebman recommended the relatively new cancer drug, Yervoy (Ipilimumab), and it worked. But just when it seemed like the worst was over, Bender was diagnosed with lupus.

An important decision had to be made. Should Bender stop cancer treatment for lupus, the same way she’d stopped MS therapy to focus on treating the cancer? After consulting with Dr. Liebman on the matter, Bender was certain that staying on course with the oncologist’s recommended treatment was the right thing to do.

“If I had gone to some other doctor somewhere else, I don’t know that the outcome would have been the same.”

The oncologist receives Bender’s praise because Dr. Liebman is direct, honest, proactive, and in Bender’s words, “doesn’t treat me like I’m just another medical record in her hand.”

Bender is also grateful for the support of what she refers to as “my two families.” Friends from her church and her co-workers stepped up to guide her through the challenges of fighting cancer. This was especially important to her since she has no family here in East Tennessee.

Today there is no evidence of cancer in Bender’s body. She remains fully aware that it could come back with a vengeance at any time, but that simply motivates her to make the most of her life.

“Every day is special,” Bender says. “Every day is paradise.”

To learn more about cancer diagnosis and treatment at Thompson Cancer Survival Center, visit thompsoncancer.com/sevier, or call (865) 541-1720.

Surviving Melanoma

doctor examining a moleMichelene Liebman, MD, says recent years have brought rapid advancements in melanoma treatment. Patients who might not have had hope when they were diagnosed a few years ago now have a fighting chance. Chris Bender is one of them.

“The disease-free survival we have obtained with Christine is almost unprecedented except in some clinical trials for stage IV melanoma,” Dr. Liebman says. Bender’s chemotherapy medication, Yervoy, was administered only at initial diagnosis with complete response. “That means she has not had recurrent disease needing frequent chemotherapy.”

Staging is the extent of involvement of cancer throughout the body, and the stage of the disease directs the treatment recommendations. “Most cases of malignant melanoma are diagnosed at an earlier stage, when surgical excision can be curative,” Dr. Liebman explains.

“However, a few patients have metastatic disease at presentation, which means the cancer has spread to other areas in the body.” Some patients develop metastases after their initial definitive treatment.

Bender received immunotheraphy, which uses new drugs like Yervoy to enhance the body’s ability to kill cancer cells by increasing the killing power of the white blood cells.

For some patients, targeted therapies which inhibit cell proliferation are preferred. “Some melanomas have a particular gene mutation,” Dr. Liebman says. When targeted gene inhibition therapy is used, the result is the killing of the cancer tumor cells.

“Stage IV melanoma carries a poor prognosis with few months survival if not treated,” Dr. Liebman says. “Increased survival by months to years is quite gratifying and a great milestone in the treatment of this disease.”

Since her initial treatment in 2012, many more immunotherapy drugs have become available for use in metastatic melanoma. Dr. Liebman says these treatments do have side effects, but in general are not as toxic as chemotherapy.

Signs of Melanoma

Melanoma is more than “just” skin cancer. Dr. Liebman says it is very serious, and is sometimes deadly.

“Statistics show that melanoma has been rising at an alarming rate in young people aged 18-39,” Dr. Liebman says, and she indicates this is likely the result of indoor UV tanning combined with significant repetitive outdoor sun exposure.

“Once the damage is done in the skin, the disease process continues for life, and skin cancer can show up at any time,” Dr. Liebman says. “It is very important to protect the skin, use sunscreen, and check out any lesion on the skin that does not look normal.”

Melanomas on the skin (cutaneous lesions) are usually visible to the naked eye, and have common signs, no matter where they show up on the body. If you see a mole or freckle on your skin that seems to be growing or changing, remember the “ABCDE” signs of melanoma:

  • It’s asymmetrical, meaning the two sides don’t match up
  • It has a border that’s uneven or irregular
  • It is dark or black in color
  • It is large in diameter
  • It evolves or changes over time

See your doctor if you have concerns, and ask for a referral to Thompson Cancer Survival Center if you find you are in need of an oncologist.

Join Us Under the Big Top

26th Annual Evening of Elegance Set for August 15

David Verble, Hope and Scooter Reagan enjoy last year’s Evening of Elegance event at the Sevierville Convention Center.
David Verble, Hope and Scooter Reagan enjoy last year’s Evening of Elegance event at the Sevierville Convention Center.
Lyndsey and Wes Ramey and Cheryl and Pete Owens mingled during the silent auction at the  25th annual Evening of Elegance.
Lyndsey and Wes Ramey and Cheryl and Pete Owens mingled during the silent auction at the 25th annual Evening of Elegance.

The Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation is bringing the circus to town for the 26th annual Evening of Elegance ball and auction. The event includes a night of fantastic entertainment and auctions to benefit LeConte Medical Center, Helen Ross McNabb, Mountain Hope Good Shepherd Clinic, and the Boys and Girls Club of the Smoky Mountains. The 2015 Evening of Elegance is generously underwritten by our Diamond Sponsor, Dollywood.

The doors of the Sevierville Convention Center will open at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 15, for the event. Guests will be greeted by circus-style entertainment including fire eaters, fire hoops, stilt walkers, jugglers, aerial performers and more!

Under the Big Top invitation

The evening begins with a reception featuring a gourmet popcorn station, strongman meatball barbells, and signature drinks from Old Smoky Moonshine. While enjoying these delicious appetizers, guests can place their bids on a variety of silent auction items. The reception will be followed by a delicious seated dinner featuring beef tenderloin and scallops and a decedent Baked Alaska Circus Tent dessert.

Among the live auction items up for bid this year is a four-day getaway to romantic Charleston, South Carolina. The trip features three night’s lodging for two at the historic Francis Marion Hotel and a carriage tour of Charleston’s historic downtown district. Following the live auction, guests will enjoy dancing into the night to the music of the Jay Eric Band.

“For this year’s event, we are thrilled to recognize our Diamond Sponsor, Dollywood, for longstanding support of the Foundation and its efforts to improve the health of our community,” said Debbie Dowling, executive director of the Thomas Foundation.

The Thomas Foundation expresses special thanks to our 2015 Platinum Sponsors: Citizens National Bank, Covenant Health, First Tennessee, Knoxville News Sentinel, and Riverside Towers. We also thank our Gold Sponsors: The Blalock Companies, Burchfiel Medical Park, Food City, MIX 105.5, The Mountain Press, Sevier County Bank, TeamHealth and Vista Radiology.

A limited number of tickets for Evening of Elegance are still available for purchase. Tickets are $200 each. For more information, contact the Thomas Foundation at (865) 446-9628 or email Amy Woods at awoods5@covhlth.com.

Thank You to Our Event Committee

The Evening of Elegance planning committee has been hard at work securing event sponsorships and fabulous auction items to make the evening a success. We appreciate you!


  • Jeannie Allen
  • Linda Ogle
  • Diann Simonis
  • Ellen Wilhoit


  • Linda Ogle


  • Jeannie Allen
  • Cade Dudley
  • Amy France
  • Selena Hodges
  • Laura Hughes
  • Elijah Kingery
  • Rebecca Latta
  • Kendra Patton
  • Sherry Spicer Dudley
  • Jama Spicer Sutton
  • Piper Sutton
  • Charles Williams

Reception Committee

  • Jeannie Allen
  • Kristin Lewis
  • Jenny Chance
  • Diana Moles


  • Laura Wallace

Auction Accounting

  • Donna Roland

Auction Assistants

  • Donna Roland
  • Michelle Jestice

Photography Assistants

  • Stacey Whaley
  • Colleen Fitch

A Valued Partnership

Dolly Parton at the opening of LeConte Medical CenterThe Dr. Robert F. Thomas Foundation is very proud to recognize Dollywood as our 2015 Diamond Sponsor for the Evening of Elegance. Dolly Parton and the leadership of Dollywood have been incredibly generous and supportive of the work of the Foundation throughout the years. Their contributions, unique auction items, special events and more have resulted in many thousands of dollars in support of the healthcare needs of Sevier County.

“Robert F. Thomas was an important part of my life – he delivered me! It has been my honor to support his foundation for many years,” says Dolly. “Our work together got us a women’s center, a birthing center and a new hospital for folks right here in Sevier County. The folks here deserve the best healthcare they can get and thanks to the Robert F. Thomas Foundation, they’re getting it.”

Dr. Thomas Foundation Board Chair Ashley Johnson expresses the feelings of the entire board membership and staff when he says, “We are thrilled to honor our friend Dolly Parton and the entire Dollywood family on their 30th anniversary as our Diamond Sponsor for Evening of Elegance. The legacy of the Dr. Thomas Foundation is stronger than we could have ever imagined, thanks to their generosity and support.”

LeConte Medical Center Sports Medicine Recognized for Award-Winning Safety Measures

High school football teams are in training, and the first games of the season are coming, soon. There will be wins there will be losses, and there will most likely be some injuries, too.

The risk of injury is a plain and simple fact of life if you want to play sports. But LeConte Medical Center’s Sports Medicine program is proving to be a game changer. For nearly 15 years, certified athletic trainers have been stationed on the sidelines at high school football games, ready to help, ready to evaluate, and ready to treat injuries that happen on the gridiron.

You might also find certified athletic trainers at area schools educating students about safety. Last season, freshmen and junior athletes began to go through screenings administered by LeConte Sports Medicine to evaluate concussions, and to prevent secondary concussions. This year, a new assessment program is being put in place to safeguard even more athletes.

These are just a few examples of the many ways LeConte Sports Medicine works to protect local students, and the program reaches far beyond Friday night lights to other school sports throughout the school year.

This intense determination to help protect young athletes has helped earn two more schools the honor of receiving a Safe Sports School Award from the National Athletic Trainers’ Association. The most recent recipients are the two high schools in Cocke County.

The award recognizes secondary schools that provide safe environments for student athletes. The goal of the award is to reinforce the importance of providing the best level of care, injury prevention, and treatment.

Safe sports logo“The Safe Sports designation is an honor to receive on behalf of the communities we serve,” says Scott Byrd, ATC, LAT. “It shows our level of commitment to provide quality healthcare to our student athletes, and shows LeConte Sports Medicine to be a leader in athletic training services nationwide.”

There are more than 370 high schools in Tennessee, and out of the first schools recognized in the state, four schools in Sevier County and two in Cocke County were selected for the honor. Only two other schools in Tennessee were recognized.

Since 2001 LeConte Sports Medicine has provided certified athletic trainers (medically licensed healthcare providers), to cover all sports at Sevier County’s high schools. LeConte Sports Medicine coordinates the athletic healthcare for students, providing comprehensive on-site services for Gatlinburg-Pittman High School, Pigeon Forge High School, Seymour High School, Sevier County High School, and Northview Academy. These services include injury/illness prevention and wellness protection, clinical evaluation and diagnosis, immediate and emergency care, treatment and rehabilitation, and organizational and professional health and well-being.

Last year, LeConte Medical Center began offering athletic training services in neighboring Cocke County, providing certified athletic trainers at Cosby High School and Cocke County High School.

“We have a medically licensed, board-certified athletic trainer at each high school every day,” Byrd says. “Not just after school, but during the school day, often teaching classes to prepare future healthcare professionals in various fields. Every athlete regardless of class or position or playing time can rely on the best care every time they need it.”

NATA president Jim Thornton, MS, ATC, CES says physical activity is important for young people, and the safety of the students who play sports has to be a top priority. “There has been an increase in competitive sports, which are, unfortunately, not without risk, Thornton says. “Brain injury, concussion, cardiac arrest, heat illness, exertional sickling (a medical emergency among athletes who carry the sickle cell trait), cervical spine fractures, and other injuries and illnesses are potentially life-threatening.”

Thornton says proper planning with proper equipment and personnel is vital to the safety of student athletes today.

In order to achieve Safe Sport School status, athletic programs must do the following:

  • Create a positive athletic health care administrative system
  • Provide or coordinate pre-participation physical examinations
  • Promote safe and appropriate practice and competition facilities
  • Plan for selection, fit function and proper maintenance of athletic equipment
  • Provide a permanent, appropriately equipped area to evaluate and treat injured athletes
  • Develop injury and illness prevention strategies, including protocols for environmental conditions
  • Provide or facilitate injury intervention
  • Create and rehearse a venue-specific Emergency Action Plan
  • Provide or facilitate psychosocial consultation and nutritional counseling/education
  • Be sure athletes and parents are educated of the potential benefits and risks in sports as well as their responsibilities

“I feel we must continue to be proactive to provide the level of service that has come to be expected by our communities,” Byrd says. “The LeConte Sports Medicine program has set the bar high, and we continue working to lift it higher every chance we get.”

Byrd says sometimes coaches get so focused on coaching that the presence of the athletic trainers is vital, communicating the status of player injuries. “These young athletes are our future, and in many cases, our certified athletic trainer is the first medical professional these kids encounter,” Byrd says. “Those students develop a bond with them, knowing that – win or lose – our trainer is there for them.”

To learn more, visit lecontemedicalcenter.com/sportsmed, or call 865.446.7000.

Concussion Vital Signs: Managing Concussions and Preventing Replays

Scott Byrd, LeConte Sports Medicine coordinator
Scott Byrd, LeConte Sports Medicine coordinator

Football accounts for about half of all sports-related concussions, as players receive an estimated 2,000 blows to the head during one season of games and practice. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons says a student who has already had one concussion is three to six times more likely to have a second one.

So if a player has already had one concussion, what’s a coach to do? You might be tempted to brush off these statistics and say that the teams just need better helmets.

“There is no helmet made that can prevent a concussion,” says LeConte Sports Medicine coordinator Scott Byrd. “Helmets are designed to prevent skull fractures, but concussions are more from the movement of the brain inside the skull.”

“Coaches want kids who have a strong desire to be in the game and be competitive,” says Byrd, “and 90 percent of athletes aren’t real happy when you hold them out of the games.”

LeConte Sports Medicine is stepping in to offer support with Concussion Vital Signs. It’s a tool that helps manage concussions.

This new assessment program measures cognitive skills like attention span, visual and verbal memorization, sustained and selective attention time, response variability, non-verbal problem solving, and reaction time. Because Concussion Vital Signs is operating on a grant, Byrd and his team are able to administer the assessment to as many students as desired, as many times as desired, at no cost.

If a player is sidelined for a suspected concussion, an appropriate Sidelines Concussion Assessment Test (SCAT3) is administered by either a certified athletic trainer or other medical personnel. It measures symptoms, orientation, memory, recall, balance and gait, and the scores from that sideline test can then be used in addition to the Concussion Vital Signs test to determine the severity of the athlete’s injury.

The injured athlete may take the test again when there are no longer any obvious signs of concussion. This follow-up examination can nail down any lingering effects, and help coaches know when it’s truly safe for an athlete to get back in the game.

Byrd says keeping these athletes safe is a team effort. While LeConte Sports Medicine manages concussions that may have already happened, Byrd praises the high school football coaches in Sevier and Cocke counties for the way they teach injury prevention.

“The schools do an excellent job coaching proper technique,” Byrd says. “The coaches spend a lot of time and effort on teaching proper fundamentals, which helps reduce the number of concussions we see.”

Taking Sports Safety to the Next Level

In today’s society, where everyone wants quick answers and quick service, LeConte Sports Medicine meets the demand. Certified athletic trainers are stationed on the sidelines at high school games to take care of athletes the moment an injured player comes off the field.

LeConte Sports Medicine offers athletes injury prevention, evaluation and immediate care of injuries. That participation and help isn’t limited to football, but extends to all school sports. The certified athletic trainers can brace, tape, or strap to protect and enable movement, administer first aid, and give CPR, as well as emergency care.

They can provide health care administration, education and counseling about injury care and prevention, and professional development training. LeConte’s athletic trainers meet the educational and experiential requirements of the National Athletic Trainers’ Association, Inc., the largest organization representing ATCs. They must also pass a competency exam.

The trainers who staff LeConte Medical Center aren’t just personal trainers who help build muscle and increase speed. Certified athletic trainers are recognized by the American Medical Association as being part of an allied health profession.

To learn more, visit lecontemedicalcenter.com/sportsmed, or call 865.446.7000.

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