Amber’s Army fights for her life

When Pineville, Ky. native Amber Bailey, a registered nurse at Barbourville ARH Hospital, learned she had stage four cholangiocarcinoma, she knew she had to fight this terminal cancer for her three children. What Amber didn’t know was her ARH co-workers would form an army to join her in the fight.

ARH Nurse Amber Bailey and children.

ARH Nurse Amber Bailey and children.

“Getting news that you have terminal cancer is beyond anything you can imagine,” shares Bailey. “As a registered nurse, I understand it medically, but as a single mom of three, I can’t accept that it’s happening to me. That’s why I am fighting this horrible disease with all my might, and I’m so grateful that my ARH family is fighting with me.”

Bailey has worked as a nurse at Barbourville ARH Hospital for almost 10 years. She described her work family as going above and beyond to help her since her diagnosis.

“I have the best work family at Barbourville ARH,” says Bailey. “They make me feel loved with every wonderful act of kindness they give to me and my children.”

Some of the ways her ARH family has shown their support is through preparing food and bringing groceries to her home, organizing gift baskets and holding silent auctions and selling t-shirts to help with expenses and donating over 200 hours of their own paid leave so she can keep her health insurance benefits. Because ARH is a large healthcare system with 13 hospitals, numerous clinics, and other groups, employees throughout the system who are learning of Bailey’s fight also are donating paid leave to her.

“My heart is so full and we are so blessed to be a part of an organization that goes far beyond all expectations to help one of their own,” shares Renee Carton, Barbourville ARH Surgical Director and Bailey’s supervisor and friend. “There has been an outpouring of love and generosity from our ARH family, through prayer circles and donating hours of paid leave so Amber can keep her health insurance. So many employees want to help Amber in her fight.”

And a fight it continues to be as she has days of excruciating pain which brings her to the Emergency Department at Barbourville ARH periodically. According to ARH Oncologist Mohamed Shanshal, MD, who is Bailey’s local oncologist, cholangiocarcinoma is an aggressive form of cancer in the slender tubes that carry the digestive fluid bile through the liver. “This is a very rare yet aggressive cancer and unfortunately for Amber, it has metastasized to her bones,” says Dr. Shanshal. “Still, there is hope through a clinical trial being conducted in Houston, Texas at MD Anderson Cancer Center.”

Bailey will be traveling to MD Anderson Cancer Center within two weeks. She will be staying in Houston for three weeks to participate in the first stage of the clinical trial.  To help raise funds for Bailey’s expenses, long-time friends and co-workers Ashley Carter, RN and Shannon Smith, CRNA, began a fundraiser Facebook page requesting help with Bailey’s travel and medical expenses while she is undergoing immunotherapy during her clinical trial.

“We call ourselves ‘Amber’s Army’ because we are rallying around her and fighting for her,” explains Carter.

Carter who has known Bailey for years and who was with her when she received the devastating news about the cancer, wants the community to know who Bailey is. “Amber is only 39 years old and a single mom of three with the youngest being age 10,” shares Carter. “Amber is a true friend and a very honest person. She enjoys helping others and now it’s our turn to help her.”

Smith also wanted to establish the fundraiser page for Bailey stating that this is exactly what Bailey would do for her or any friend or co-worker.  “I love Amber dearly. She is a great nurse and a wonderful friend,” Smith says. “Amber has a giving nature. In fact, just days before she received the cancer diagnosis, she and I served free Thanksgiving dinners in the Pineville community. She never complained about not feeling well—her focus was on others.”

Many staff at Barbourville ARH are keeping Bailey in their prayers as well as donating time and money to help her with her fight against cancer. They invite the people of Kentucky to pray with them and donate any amount to help her with expenses.

“I invite you to join Amber’s Army and help her fight this deadly disease,” says Smith. “I know that Amber is fighting as hard as she can, and she will continue to fight . . . not for herself but for her kids!

If anyone would like to make a donation to Amber Bailey’s medical expenses, you can either write a check to Amber Bailey and mail it to Barbourville ARH Hospital, 80 Hospital Drive, Barbourville, Ky. 40906 or make your donation online by going to the Facebook page at this address:

Photo cutline 1: Amber Bailey, RN, is fighting stage four cholangiocarcinoma. She is a single mom of three children: John, Piper and Abby.

Photo cutline 2: Amber’s Army includes the Surgery Team at Barbourville ARH Hospital. Pictured from left to right (front row): Lyvonne Gibbs, CST; Rebecca Doolin, RN; Pam King, CST; (second row) Rebecca Wilder, RN; Jenetta Graham, ORT; Rebekah Aker, RN; Renee Carton, RN and Surgical Director; Ashley Carter, RN; and Shannon Smith, CRNA.



Appalachian Regional Healthcare Receives Honorable Award for Improving Opioid and Sepsis Outcomes

Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) is proud to announce five of its facilities have been named to the American College of Emergency Physicians’ (ACEP) Emergency Quality Network (E-QUAL) Honor Roll for leading the way in care for emergency patients.

ARH and the other 2019 Honor Roll awardees have been recognized for their achievements in improving outcomes for sepsis patients and reducing opioid-associated harm through safer prescribing and the implementation of evidence-based interventions. The ARH facilities included in the honor roll are:

  • Barbourville ARH Hospital
  • Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center
  • Mary Breckinridge ARH Hospital
  • Tug Valley ARH Regional Medical Center
  • Whitesburg ARH Hospital

In total, 192 emergency departments were named to the 2019 E-QUAL Honor Roll, all of which participated in a year-long learning collaborative that included virtual quality improvement activities and sharing of performance data.

“We’re so proud to be awarded this recognition by ACEP,” said Joe Grossman, ARH CEO, “and the fact that we’re the only Kentucky organization honored makes it even more exciting for us. Everyone at ARH is dedicated to providing the best care to the communities we serve and it’s wonderful to be recognized for that.”

To date, over 1,800 EDs and 39,000 emergency medical providers have participated in E-QUAL collaboratives. E-QUAL learning collaboratives have resulted in more efficient and better care and better outcomes for patients.

About ARH

Appalachian Regional Healthcare is a not-for-profit health system serving 400,000 residents across Eastern Kentucky and Southern West Virginia. Operating 13 hospitals, multi-specialty physician practices, home health agencies, HomeCare Stores and retail pharmacies, ARH is the largest provider of care and single largest employer in southeastern Kentucky and the third largest private employer in southern West Virginia. We employ nearly 6,000 people and have a network of more than 600 active and courtesy medical staff members representing various specialties around the region. To learn more, visit

About ACEP

ACEP represents more than 38,000 emergency physicians, emergency medicine residents and medical students. ACEP promotes the highest quality of emergency care and is the leading advocate for emergency physicians and their patients, and the public. To learn more, visit


Danielle Franklin Harmon

ARH’s Danielle Franklin Harmon: Investing in Tomorrow’s Leaders

Danielle Franklin Harmon is the Community Outreach Manager of the Big Sandy region of Appalachian Regional Healthcare. With about a decade of experience working with the community development and outreach, Danielle is committed to bettering her community. Most of the time, she says, that takes the form of health and wellness initiatives.

“We conduct a community health needs assessment and make a goal of what we want to do for the next three years. Then, I work for those next three years to make sure that we meet our goals for community health and wellness.” Eastern Kentucky, where Danielle’s programs are enacted, is largely an impoverished area with a huge need for preventative screenings and health education. “When it comes to health and wellness, many people in my area don’t take care of themselves the way that they should. My job is to create new programs in school systems, in civic organizations, and in the community, trying to bring people together for health and wellness education, and to create a better community.”

Danielle has piloted a number of programs about which she’s incredibly proud. For example, Teen Health Ambassadors. Danielle trained four high school students to go into the community and teach health and wellness to younger peers. “We’ve noticed that elementary school students tend to look up to high schoolers and listen to them more than they listen to an adult like me when I go in to try to teach a class.”

The Teen Health Ambassadors go into elementary schools and teach students about health and wellness, using visual aids like the “jar of tar,” which demonstrates how much tar the average 20-a-day smoker takes into their lungs yearly (about a cup.) They teach about preventative screenings, the dangers of smoking and drugs, and the benefits of getting enough sleep. Danielle created the Teen Health Ambassadors program with the UK Markey Cancer Center, and in the past year alone, they’ve educated over 250 students in the area.

Each ambassador has a tenure of two years, at the end of which, they’re granted a small college scholarship. The Teen Health Ambassadors program is just one example of the kinds of programs that Danielle creates in her role, and her commitment to bettering the region is evident in the work that she does daily. That’s why she jumped at the chance to be involved in BRIGHT Kentucky.

BRIGHT Kentucky, funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission with support from the Whitaker Foundation and others, was designed for young leaders (ages 20-40, on average) in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, who are driven to better the community. Through the course of the program, participants travel around the state attending five three-day sessions. During each session, BRIGHT attendees go through extensive education, networking, and professional development training. Danielle says that her cohort was “taught about things like ethical leadership, managing different personality types, and building a positive image for eastern Kentucky.” The group also learned about Kentucky’s biggest challenges, and then brainstormed solutions. “I was in a room with really intelligent, exceptional young people,” Danielle says. “It was very intimidating, actually!”

Danielle said her group talked at length about bettering the region’s health and wellness, as well as the local economy and investing in young people. “We want to create new jobs in the area, and keep young people here. Hopefully, from this group of young leaders, we’ll have a whole host of new programs that change the future for our community.”

Danielle was one of 50 accepted into the program in 2019, out of roughly 100 applicants, and she is incredibly grateful for the opportunity. “What we were taught in the BRIGHT program, you’re not going to learn in college, and oftentimes, not even after college. We are thrown into the workplace and don’t get to learn things like ethical leadership, for example, unless you studied business in college.” Danielle says the same thing is true for a lot of the topics they studied. “We can feel very disconnected and siloed. Sometimes, there are important things happening in our region, right next to us, and we just don’t know about it.” Danielle was amazed to discover great programs and resources that she didn’t know existed. “The networking and connectivity elements of this program have been amazing,” she continued. “I learned about programs and approaches that have worked in other areas and could work here. I’ve been connected with people who can help me in my job, or people whom I can help. We all had different areas of expertise, so the networking was a huge plus.”

One of Danielle’s most important takeaways was her conviction that every BRIGHT Kentucky class should include an employee of Appalachian Regional Healthcare. “Part of ARH’s strategy is to invest in our employees and leaders, and I think continuing their education and professional development through BRIGHT is one of the best ways that we can do that.” As the largest healthcare provider and employer in eastern Kentucky, Danielle thinks it’s natural to have a representative from ARH in each class to champion health and wellness in the area.

As we enter a new year and decade, Danielle is delighted with what she gained through her participation at BRIGHT Kentucky and how she’s going to put that into practice in the future. “I’m really grateful to the program for all of the great content that was provided, and also to ARH for allowing me to participate in the program and learn how to make an even bigger positive impact on my community.”

Candy Cooper

From The Mountain State to the Las Vegas Strip: ARH’s Candy Cooper Wins Trip of a Lifetime from ERP!

Candy Cooper always wanted to be a nurse. “I love caring for patients and taking care of those who are unable to take care of themselves. I feel like that’s what’s in my heart. Nothing makes me feel better than when a patient comes in sick, and I can send them home feeling good.” That’s exactly what Candy has been doing for 25 years in the Telemetry Unit at Beckley Appalachian Regional Healthcare.

Candy Cooper and her son head to Las Vegas, NV

Not only does Candy care for her community’s critical chest pain and congestive heart failure patients every day, she also helps to mentor the region’s next generation of nurses. When nursing students from the University of Charleston or Bluefield State College need to do clinicals, they spend all 180 clinical hours with Candy, learning first-hand what it’s like to be a telemetry nurse. When one of her nursing students, Beth, expressed how much she learned from Candy and that she’d like to continue working at Beckley ARH, Candy encouraged Beth to apply after graduation.

After Beth graduated, she applied and was hired at Beckley ARH. Beth received her $5000 sign-on bonus, Candy received her $1,000 employee referral program (ERP) bonus, and Candy’s name was also put into an ARH-wide ERP drawing with a very special prize: an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Las Vegas, Nevada, including airfare, hotel, and $500 in spending money.

When Candy’s name was drawn, she was shocked. She’d never traveled far outside of West Virginia, and she’d never flown before. Candy decided to take her son, who had just turned 21, along on the trip. Towards the end of November, the pair arrived at the Yaeger airport in Charleston, ready to embark on the first leg of their journey. “The flight was an experience,” Candy says. “I was excited but scared at the same time. My heart was beating fast, but I was trying to control my anxiety because I knew my son was really nervous too!” Excitement won over nerves, and they boarded the small plane that took them from Charleston, WV to Charlotte, NC. Thankfully, their flight from Charlotte to Las Vegas was on a bigger jet. “The bigger plane was better” she says, before repeating “but for our first flight ever, it was an experience.”

When Candy and her son arrived in Las Vegas, they were dazzled by all there was to see and do. They were joined by Candy’s sister, who flew from Louisiana to Las Vegas to spend time with the family. “We had to learn how to get around, and then we got to see and do a lot of things.” In the four days that they were in Nevada, they were able to go to the casinos and a nightclub, go shopping, and see three Las Vegas shows.

Candy Cooper, ERP trip winner, lives it up in Las Vegas!

Candy’s favorite part? Seeing “Tenors of Rock”: five singers and their band covering classic rock songs in an epic Vegas stage show. “I’m an eighties girl!” Candy says, “so I really enjoyed that.” She also enjoyed the experience of going to unique shops, like Hershey’s Chocolate World and the Coca-Cola Store, and simply seeing the breathtaking sights along Las Vegas Boulevard. “At night it was so beautiful with all of the lights,” she says, mentioning the unmistakable facade of the Excalibur Hotel and Casino, and the famous water show at the Bellagio Hotel and Casino.

Candy’s son’s favorite part? The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, home of History Channel’s Pawn Stars. “We didn’t get to see the ‘Stars’ that day,” Candy says, “Chumlee had an earache. But my son really enjoyed getting to see the shop.”

Gold & Silver Pawn

Gold & Silver Pawn
Photo Credit: Candy Cooper

After an incredible three nights and four days, Candy and her son landed safely back at home in West Virginia, but Candy feels forever changed. “It enhanced me to be able to explore other places. You just don’t know what’s out there until you get there. It’s something that I’ll never forget, and I’m so thankful for this experience that I probably would never have gotten in my lifetime and might never get again.” Even so, Candy would love to take another trip someday. “I would have to be prepared for the flight though…that’s the scary part!”

Updated: Story has been published in Harlan Daily & Beckley Register-Herald.

Cole Williams

ARH Scholars Fall 2019 Winner: Cole Williams

Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Cole Parker Williams.

Cole is a senior at Knott County Central High School. His main focus is his studies, which is why he’s maintained great grades and attended AP classes, in addition to being part of the archery, tennis, and golf teams. Throughout his schooling this far, Cole says his mother has been his biggest mentor and inspiration. As a librarian at Knott County Central, she’s always encouraged him at school. “My mom really pushed me in my education. She’s helped me see the value of getting good grades, she’s helped make sure that I’m in good, positive friend groups, and helped ensure that I have fun at school.”

Cole’s mom is also the one who suggested that he research the ARH Scholars program scholarship, which he was ecstatic to receive. “I really didn’t think I’d get it, but now I can be debt-free for the first year of college. That’s a big help, because I can focus on being the best student that I can be without the stress of my financial situation. College is very expensive, so trying to minimize the amount of student loans that I have to take out is really important to me.”

Of all the classes he takes at school, Cole’s favorite subject by far is science. “I’ve always really liked science,” Cole says. “I like the idea of science in general, and I’ve always enjoyed learning about it. I’m fascinated by the complexity of science, and how small and specific the pieces are, and how science provides an explanation for almost everything.”

His fascination with science is what initially drew Cole to the medical field. For his anatomy classes at Knott County Central, he shadowed pharmacists and physicians at his local hospital, and began thinking more and more about pursuing a career in medicine. That’s why in the fall he’ll be attending Morehead State University to pursue a biology pre-medicine degree. At Morehead, Cole is looking forward to taking more challenging and specialized science courses (and visiting the lake in his free time.)

While he’ll likely graduate from Morehead in 2024, Cole is already looking ahead. “My ultimate goal is to attend medical school to become a laparoscopic surgeon.” Cole says laparoscopic surgeries are particularly interesting to him because they are low-risk and minimally invasive. “I’ve always been interested in surgery, but laparoscopic surgeries use smaller incisions, take less time than open surgeries, and patients get back to normal faster.”

This ties in with Cole’s ultimate goal of returning to the mountains of eastern Kentucky to serve his community. He says in 10-15 years, after medical school, internship, and residency, he’d like to work in a local hospital close to home. “I don’t want to go too far; my friends and family are here, and I know the area quite well.” Cole hopes to serve the members of the community where he was raised. “I just hope that I can help people with what I do. I want to help people get through their days easier and generally make life easier to manage for my patients.”

Madison Noe

ARH Scholars Fall 2019 Winner: Madison Noe

Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Madison Noe.

Madison Noe is originally from Harlan, Kentucky and is currently attending the East Tennessee State University Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy, class of 2021. Madison received her undergraduate degree at Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College, where she earned her Associate in Science Degree. Madison was accepted into pharmacy school early. “I start my rotation in May of this year, so I’m almost finished,” Madison says. “I’m a little ahead.”

In her spare time, Madison is also a self-described pageant girl. “I’m competing for Miss Tennessee Volunteer this year. Last year I competed for Miss Tennessee, as Miss Kingsport and this year I’m competing as Miss Carter County. That’s a little side thing that I like to do!”

While she always knew that she wanted to do something with the medical field, it was the chemistry aspect of medication that initially sparked Madison’s interest in pharmacy. “While I always knew that I wanted to do something in medicine, I wasn’t sure exactly which direction I wanted to go. I became aware of medications and the way that they can affect the body; medications can have positive and negative effects, and responses will change from person to person. So, it was the chemistry that really got me interested in pharmaceuticals as a profession.”

Madison says her grandfather is her biggest supporter and source of encouragement. “He’s always supported me in every decision that I make,” Madison says. Outside of family, Madison says that Dr. Wheeler Conover, her chemistry professor at Southeast Kentucky Community Technical College and the school’s provost, has been her biggest mentor. “I had a lot of roles at Southeast, for example, I sat on the board of directors as a student representative. Throughout all of that, Dr. Conover always pushed me to be the best student I could be. He helped me with a lot of projects throughout undergrad, and he let me help him with projects as well. He’s definitely had the biggest impact on my career.”

Throughout pharmacy school, Madison has participated in drug take back events, flu shot clinics, as well as Remote Area Medical (RAM) clinics. RAM clinics are designed to provide no-cost healthcare to underserved and uninsured populations. Madison says that these clinics were particularly impactful to her. At RAM clinics, healthcare professionals from different disciplines join forces to care for these in-need populations at no cost to them.

During these clinics Madison led Naloxone training for opioid overdoses and triaged patients. “These patients don’t have charts, so we went over medications lists to see what they’re taking and how they’re taking it. We try to get as much information as possible, so that when they see the doctors, they have an idea of where they are. I realized through those clinics that I made the right choice by pursuing my pharmacy degree. There are so many people in our area who are in need, and so many opportunities to give back to those people.”

That’s why Madison hopes to return to Harlan after education and training. “I haven’t decided if I’m going to go the residency track yet, but if I do, I’d like to specialize in pediatric oncology. If I don’t go the residency track, I’d like to stay with a community pharmacy. I grew up in a medically underserved area, so I feel really strongly about working with that patient population. With my experience and my values, I think that’s how I can make the biggest impact.”

Abigail Hamilton

ARH Scholars Fall 2019 Winner: Abigail Hamilton

Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Abigail Hamilton.

Abigail was born and raised in Barbourville and is now at Union College working toward her nursing degree. “I have two years left at Union, and then I plan on going straight on to the University of the Cumberlands to become a nurse practitioner. That program is a little over two years long.”

Neither of Abigail’s parents are in the medical field. “My mom is a paralegal, and my dad is a deputy jailer,” she says, “but I’ve always liked to care for people, I’ve always jumped to make sure that people are okay and taken care of before taking care of myself.”

Despite growing up with a desire to care for others, it was in the summer between her sixth and seventh grade year that Abigail’s interest in medicine was initially piqued. “I was diagnosed with a precancerous spot that had to be removed. The amount of tissue that they took off was pretty big, an inch all around, so it was really painful. I had to get a lot of shots to numb it, and I ended up with almost 30 stitches.” Abigail’s grandfather had just passed away from cancer, making the diagnosis and time spent in the hospital extra frightening. But throughout the process, from the diagnosis to the spot removal, Abigail remembers one nurse being exceptionally kind. “My parents weren’t able to go back with me during the procedure, but she was so comforting. It really made a difference to me and stuck with me. That’s why I started thinking about going into medicine myself.”

For the next few years following her procedure, Abigail continued to spend time in the hospital, but this time, she was volunteering. “I logged over a hundred hours at a local hospital. Every summer I would volunteer 5 to 8 hours a day while my mom was at work, taking water to patients, making care packages for the nursery, and working at the surgery center.” Abigail says that program, and speaking to cousins who’ve pursued nursing, helped her decide to pursue nursing herself. “Also, I know that it’s a great field to go into. We always need nurses.”

The need for nurses, especially in rural areas, inspires Abigail to return home to Barbourville after achieving her degree. “I might go away from Barbourville for a while to finish my education and training, but ultimately I see myself settling back here. I want to be able to serve the people around my hometown. It’s a very small community, and right now we’re overtaken with drugs. We need more people helping here and investing back into this community.”

Whether in Barbourville or elsewhere, Abigail just wants to make a difference. “My mom says I’ve got the care-taking gene. I just want to help people feel better when they’re sick and improve the lives of the people in this area. Wherever I am, I just want to make an impact on my patients like that nurse made on me when I was a child.”

Lukas Ritchie

ARH Scholars Fall 2019 Winner: Lukas Ritchie

Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Lukas Ritchie.

A senior at Knott County Central High School, on the academic team, and ready to attend the University of Louisville in the fall 2020 semester, Lukas has a full schedule and big plans for the future. “I toured several colleges, but UofL was my favorite tour” Lukas says. “I’m planning to major in Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology, pre-med. I want to be a doctor of pathology.”

Lukas has always been exposed to science and the medical field in particular. “My mom is a science teacher and my dad is a physician assistant at ARH. A lot of my family is in the medical field.” Seeing his father’s interactions with patients has enforced Lukas’ desire to give back to the community. “I’ve always seen my dad taking care of people, and they’re always so grateful. He makes a difference in the lives of his patients, and I’d like to do the same.”

Touring Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center gave Lukas an appreciation for the intricate systems within the hospital environment itself. “When I toured ARH, I shadowed different doctors, my dad, the radiologist, the medical lab techs, and the pathologists. Pathology was the most interesting to me. There’s something really amazing about being able to look through a microscope and see the little pieces that cause such big problems, and then use that information to solve those problems and treat people.”

After shadowing medical professionals and volunteering at Hazard ARH Regional Medical Center, Lukas says that seeing how all of the different departments of the hospital work together to help patients get better was extremely compelling. “Understanding how all of the moving parts of a hospital fit together, I knew I wanted to be a part of that process of healing people in my community.” That’s why ultimately, years down the road, Lukas envisions himself working at ARH. “I want to end up back in my hometown area,” he says. “I don’t really like big cities too much and I always imagine myself settling in the country. I’ve lived here my whole life, and these are the people that I really want to help.”

Lukas says that his parents and teachers have been his biggest mentors. “I always go to my mom when I’m second-guessing myself and she reassures me,” he says. “And I’ve had tons of teachers who have encouraged me and bolstered my confidence about what I can do with my life. I can’t even name them all!” It was Lukas’ teachers who suggested that he apply for the ARH Scholars program, which was one of the first scholarships that Lukas had ever received.

Ultimately Lukas has three goals that he hopes to achieve through obtaining his doctorate. “First, I want to show myself that I can do it. I know it’s not going to be easy, and paying for it isn’t going to be easy, but I want to prove to myself that I’m capable of this. Second, as I’ve mentioned, I want to give back to my community. Third, I want to inspire the next generation of young people. I have a younger brother, and I want to show him that with enough hard work and determination, you can do anything.”

Montana Blair

ARH Scholars Fall 2019 Winner: Montana Blair

Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Montana Blair.

Montana Blair is finishing up her last semester at Alice Lloyd College as a biology pre-med student. She has already been accepted to the University of Pikeville College of Osteopathic Medicine, and is starting classes at UPIKE this summer, with the goal of graduating as a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine in 2024.

Born and raised in Whitesburg, Montana learned the importance of an education from her parents: “Growing up as a coal miner’s daughter, my family and I faced times of financial uncertainty,” Montana says. “I remember my father getting laid-off a number of times throughout my childhood. At that time, my mom stayed at home, but in order to provide a more secure future for her family, she went back to school and pursued her degree in nursing.”

“I’ve always admired my mom for taking that step, but it wasn’t until I had my son at 19 that I could really appreciate her decision,” Montana continues. “I can remember my mom staying up late at night studying after my sister and I were asleep. Now, I’ve had many of those long nights with my own son, managing a full-time course load, part-time employment, and motherhood all at once.” Montana credits her mother’s example of hard work and dedication for inspiring her to pursue her own goals with such intensity.

Having nurses in the family meant that she was always aware of the healthcare industry, but it was when she had knee surgery at age 13 that she really began to think about being a physician. Shortly after that surgery, Montana had the opportunity to attend a summer camp at the Southeast Kentucky Area Health Education Center (AHEC) where, Montana says, her love for medicine really bloomed. She nurtured that burgeoning interest by volunteering in a cuddle care program at a local hospital, where she spent hours comforting babies going through neonatal abstinence syndrome. She also had the opportunity to shadow an orthopedic surgeon, who Montana recalls demonstrating outstanding patient care to a 4th grade patient with an umbilical hernia. “I really admired that doctor’s ability to connect with his patients and their families. I realized that I wanted to have that kind of impact.”

Right now, Montana is hoping to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology. “I feel like women’s health is a field where continuity of care and surgical intervention intersect perfectly. Experiencing motherhood has solidified that desire and given me an outlook that I think will really help my patients.”

Aside from her mother, Montana’s greatest mentor has been Dr. Nathan Wade Baker, an OB-GYN at Whitesburg ARH Hospital. “I’ve shadowed Dr. Baker and spent a lot of time working with him,” she says. “He actually delivered my son. He’s always in my corner, motivating me and reminding me that I can do this, that the path will be hard, but I’m capable and smart, I have what it takes, and I’m persistent. I’m really thankful to have him in my life as my doctor, as my friend, and as my mentor.”

Mentorship is a huge part of Montana’s journey so far, and her ultimate goals, which are two-fold. “After I get my education and training, I really want to bring that knowledge home to the mountains and practice medicine here in my community” Montana says. “But another thing that’s really important to me is mentoring kids from this area, to help them know that they can do the same thing if they want to.”

Montana knows that young people often feel unsure of themselves, especially in rural areas, and she wants to combat that. “Sometimes, coming from a small-town area, we feel like we don’t have the education or the capabilities to go to medical school, or follow our dreams in general,” she says. “Working with AHEC, I want to mentor kids and teach them that they can follow their dreams and go to medical school, even if they are from a small-town area. Growing up in a rural, medically underserved community, my hope is that these kids will be inspired to come back and help their community.”

Jacob Boggs

ARH Scholars Fall 2019 Winner: Jacob Boggs

Twice a year, students from across the region are invited to apply for the Appalachian Regional Healthcare (ARH) Scholars program. The ARH Scholars are awarded a $5,000 academic scholarship to pursue a degree in healthcare. Their stories are unique, but a common thread unites every winner: a desire to make a difference to the people of Appalachia through healthcare. The Fall 2019 class of ARH Scholars included ten talented future healthcare providers, like Jacob Boggs.

Jacob was born and raised in Hazard, Kentucky, and is now a senior at Perry County Central High School. With a full schedule including classes, volunteer work, and a job, he keeps pretty busy: “I’m on the bass fishing team, I’ve got over 400 community service hours, and this semester I switched out of the ROTC program so that I could take another college class and get some of those credits out of the way.”

Jacob is getting a head start on college credits because he has a lot of credits to earn: he’ll be starting at the University of Pikeville in the Fall as a biology pre-med student. He’s already looking beyond his 2024 graduation. “After I finish my undergrad, of course, I’ll go on to graduate school. There’s a program at UPIKE that I’m really interested in called the Osteopathic Medical Scholars Program.” This eight-year program would see Jacob graduating as Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine in 2028, before continuing on to his internship and residency.

“I always thought medicine was interesting,” Jacob says, “how the body works, what causes certain things, but I was never really sure what I wanted to do.” Then, in the summer of 2019, Jacob attended the Professional Education Preparation Program (PEPP) at the University of Pikeville-Kentucky College of Osteopathic Medicine. “I got to shadow some doctors and take some classes at the medical school there.” Jacob says. “I thought ‘this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.’”

With the goal of a DO, Jacob is preparing for the long haul when it comes to school. That’s part of the reason he applied for the ARH Scholars program, after hearing about the program through his school’s guidance counselors. “When I got my acceptance letter in the mail, I was extremely excited. It’s a huge help, especially with how expensive college is these days.”

Jacob has big dreams, but thankfully his parents have always encouraged him. “My mom and dad, and the rest of my family, have always supported me and told me to do exactly what I want to do.” Jacob also credits his teachers and instructors for his commitment to his education and his future. “My ROTC instructors in particular have always pushed me (sometimes to my limits), but they’ve been a great influence on me.”

His dreams extend beyond achieving his Doctorate degree. “Once I’m established, I’d like to come back to a rural community and provide healthcare to people who really need it.” Jacob says through his community service and his work as a pharmacy technician, he’s seen that need first-hand. “I always deliver dinners on Thanksgiving, and that’s very humbling. I’m also working as a pharmacy tech right now, and I see a lot of people who, because of insurance or cost, can’t get their medicine.”

“People don’t always have access to the quality healthcare that they need,” Jacob says. “Someday, I’d like to provide that for them here. In Hazard, or in another rural community, I just want to provide the best healthcare to the people of the mountains.”

Story was featured as Special to the Hazard Herald on 1/30/20.