RIVERVIEW: An act of kindness

Published on: August 8, 2018

Stranger’s act of kindness saves woman’s life

By LOIS KINDLE

LOIS KINDLE PHOTO
Veterinarian Lorraine Ellwood, 66, was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma four-and-a-half years ago. Despite her horrific battle with the disease and its aftermath, she’s now back to work at Boyette Animal Hospital in Riverview.

Veterinarian Lorraine Ellwood had her career seriously sidelined by a diagnosis of an aggressive form of T-cell lymphoma in 2013. But because of the generosity of a total stranger, she survived the life-threatening illness and was able to return to work.

Ellwood was employed for seven years by veterinarian Bob Encinosa at Boyette Animal Hospital in Riverview before learning she had cancer. The month following her diagnosis, she began receiving chemotherapy at the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa and went through three different types of treatment over the next five months. None worked, and her physician at that time told her she needed a stem-cell transplant. That was when she began working with medical oncologist Dr. Ernesto Ayala.  

The next step was waiting for Moffitt to find a donor whose stem cells matched hers.

“They did it through bethematch.org,” Ellwood said. “I was so lucky. Many people are never matched, and I quickly had three almost-perfect matches. The first man they called agreed to donate.”

In July 2014, she had the transplant and was confined for a month in an isolation ward at Moffitt, which was followed by a two-month stay at a nearby Residence Inn. 

After her release, Ellwood developed graft versus host disease, a potentially serious complication of allogeneic stem cell transplantation. It’s a condition where the donor’s stem cells view the recipient’s body as foreign, and they attack it, producing a wide array of symptoms that severely affect quality of life.

Over the next two years, these included skin tightening; abdominal swelling; liver problems; joint stiffness (which required extensive physical therapy); dry eyes; dry mouth; mouth sores; swallowing difficulty and fatigue.

They began subsiding late last year, and in March her doctor said she could go back to work.

That was great news, but before she could do that, she had to undergo cataract surgery.

“I went through so much, but I always had a positive attitude, which helped me persevere through the complications and immunosuppressive drugs involved,” Ellwood said. “I credit my donor, the great medical care I received at Moffitt, my mental outlook and God’s Grace for getting me through it all. I just knew I was going to make it.

While vacationing last year in the United Kingdom, Lorraine Ellwood and her husband, Ron, met stem-cell donor, Morgan Williams, in Cardiff, Wales.

“And thanks to great insurance, I was able to pay my medical bills, which came to more than $1 million.”

Encinosa had told Ellwood she would always have a job at Boyette and, as promised, made space for her to return two months ago. 

“This is where I wanted to be,” Ellwood said. “Working here is like being with family. I love the staff and know many clients. 

“Veterinary medicine is a passion for me,” she added. “I enjoy what I do and love working with and helping animals. It’s very rewarding.”  

Having kept in touch with Ellwood throughout her illness, Encinosa said he greatly admires her tenacious spirit. 

“Whenever I talked with Lorraine, she always said she was ‘doing better,’ regardless of what was going on,” he said. “We’re so glad she’s back. When it comes to veterinary medicine, she’s a jack of all trades and master of many.” 

Last year, while she and her husband vacationed in the United Kingdom, Ellwood met her donor, a young man living in Cardiff, Wales.

Dr. Bob Encinosa, owner of Boyette Animal Hospital in Riverview, is delighted to have veterinarian Lorraine Ellwood back on his staff after a long illness.

“We clicked right away,” she said. “He was like part of the family. We’ve since become Facebook friends, and he’s coming next month with his family to visit.”

Ellwood earned her bachelor’s, master’s and doctor of veterinary medicine degrees from The Ohio State University. When her husband retired from the Columbus, Ohio Police Department after 31 years, the couple moved to Apollo Beach in 2001.

Ellwood worked with veterinarian Hal Ott at Ruskin Animal Hospital for five years and for the Animal Coalition of Tampa as its medical director. Her special interests are in all kinds of surgery and working with exotics, dogs and cats.

She is the mother of a son and two daughters and the grandmother of three.

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