Tag Archive | chi health

Stethoscopes & Tiaras

This week, I celebrated my 36th birthday the best way possible… with Influenza A.  I’ve written about this before, this has NOT been my season of health.  In baseball terms, I’m trying to hit for the cycle of ailments, I suppose.

Sunday, I texted my friend Natalie for her over-the-phone diagnosis.. poor girl is my only physician BFF, and therefore, I bother her on the weekend when I can’t reach a doctor.  Thanks to her help and advice, I (hopefully) turned onto the road to recovery sooner than waiting a few extra days.


Photo courtesy CHI Health

My friend Natalie may look familiar.. because she’s Dr. Natalie Stuntz, a highly respected and admired pediatrician on all of the CHI Health commercials in eastern Nebraska. She’s also a former Miss Omaha contestant and 2-time 1st runner up to Miss Nebraska USA.  She’s a busy mother of two, wife, and yet she still she donates her time across Omaha and to communities around the world.  She’s beautiful, brilliant, and kind.

Maybe it’s a doctor thing.. the same dedication, intelligence and drive required to get through medical school and residency is also exemplified in other facets of life.  An Elkhorn teenager hoping to pursue medicine herself is already following in Dr. Stuntz’s footsteps in more ways than one.

Miss Elkhorn’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Emily Lenser

“I plan on attending UNL as a pre-med student, dancing on the Scarlet Dance Team and moving on to medical school,” Emily told me recently.  “My dream is to be a pediatric surgeon.”

Big goals for a young woman who can’t yet drive a car.  Emily credits her focus to her participation in pageants, including her preparation for this year’s Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant in Omaha.


“I love competing in pageants and have been doing so since first grade,” said Emily.  “Sometimes even my friends had a negative view of pageants.  I have really talked to them about pageants and all that is involved with pageantry.  I focused on telling them about interview skills which will help me in my future, speaking in front of an audience, confidence and grace on stage, and the wonderful opportunities to serve my community.”

Emily has been a titleholder within the National American Miss system and continues to mentor younger participants.  She’s a student at Elkhorn South High School, where she’s active with the Storm Dance Team.  Emily also finds time to do what she loves most, to joke around and to’shop, shop, shop!’

 “As a busy teen, it’s very important to stay organized with my schoolwork, activities, dance team and competitive dance,” said Emily.  “[Being organized] is the only way I can do so much!”

Those are the kinds of things Emily is excited to share with not only a panel of judges, but to any group who will listen as she advocates for pageant girls everywhere.


“My platform is ‘Don’t Judge The Sparkle: Changing Pageant Perception’,” said Emily.  “There are so many people who do not understand the world of pageantry.  I am making this my mission and want to change the negative stereotypes that some people have of pageants.  The general public does not understand all of the wonderful opportunities that take place through pageants.  College scholarships, interview skills, public speaking skills, poise, grace, resume skills just to name a few.”


I’ve done the name dropping, giving you proof of the incredible women who’ve been part of the Miss Nebraska Organization.  Brook Matthews-Hudson, co-founder and producer of Omaha Fashion Week.  Brittany Jeffers, Emmy Award winning broadcast news journalist.  Dr. Natalie Stuntz, role model for young women dreaming of being a doctor.. and Miss America.

“My goal/dream is to become as involved as I can in the state pageant,” said Emily.  “Of course I want to win and along the way I hope to make new friends, promote the Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Organization, serve my community and continue to do well academically.  [There are] so many wonderful opportunities available to serve others.  It really makes a person feel good.  I hope to continue promoting serving others.”


The Miss Nebraska’s Outstanding Teen Pageant takes place April 21-22 in Omaha, Nebraska.

CLICK HERE for more details, HERE to follow on Twitter, HERE to follow on Facebook. For more information about becoming a contestant, email Director Heather Edwards at heatheraloseke@gmail.com


PREVIOUS.. Miss Sarpy County’s Outstanding Teen 2017 Phoenix Stanford

NEXT.. Miss Old West Balloon Fest 2017 Tristen Wecker

To read more about this year’s contestants, or the Miss Nebraska/Miss Nebraska’s OT classes of 2014-2016 click the THERE SHE IS link at the top of the page!

Paging Dr. Husker

A few years ago, photojournalist Dave Hynek and I chronicled an AMAZING story about a father, donating a kidney to his young son.  We followed their journey from start to finish, including in the moments leading up to the transplant.  We interviewed a very brave Dad as his anesthesiologist inserted his IVs to prepare him for sedation.

You’d think I would’ve learned…

I don’t handle needles well.  Like, I pass out when I see one.  (Really.  It’s not embarrassing AT ALL.)

So here I am, in the surgery preparation area of the Nebraska Medical Center, getting more and more lightheaded, trying to conduct an interview.

Right at the moment I feared I was going to lose my breakfast or crash head first into the floor, I STOOD UP AND LEFT THE ROOM MID-INTERVIEW. Dave finished it for me.  Apparently, it was pretty obvious I was having ‘problems’.  Dave came out of the area laughing, and noted that the anesthesiologist had noticed, too.

‘You know who that was, right?’ Dave asked me.

DR. ROB ZATECHKA.  As in Husker legend turned doctor Rob Zatechka.

REALLY.  Not embarrassing AT ALL.

Clearly, I was not destined for a career in medicine, but a lot of Huskers have been.  ‘Dr. Rob’, Judd Davies, Sean Fisher… and now..

mike stuntz nebraska

Dr. Mike Stuntz, Nebraska Free Safety (photo courtesy Nebraska Athletics!)

#16 permanently sealed his place in Nebraska Football history as a freshman, taking part in one of the most memorable plays in recent years.  Nebraska versus Oklahoma in 2001, a key game in Nebraska’s journey to the national title game and Eric Crouch’s to the Heisman trophy.  Out of nowhere in the 4th quarter, Crouch tosses the ball to Thunder Collins, who tosses the ball to Stuntz.  Stuntz, just 18, delivers a rocket to Crouch downfield, who runs for a 63-yard touchdown.  Nebraska beats the #2 team in the country, 20-10.

“I can’t think of one [play] that meant more to our team that I contributed to. I can’t think of one that people talk about with me more often than that one,” Stuntz told me in a recent interview.  “We started practicing it early in the week.  I knew about it, even starting that Monday, I think.  We ran it throughout the week and it never really worked that well in practice.  During the game, they told me even in the first half they were think about running it.  Whey they finally called it, I was a little surprised, it was so late in the game and the game was so close.”

During what many might consider a nerve-rattling moment, Stuntz just ‘played the way he’d always played’.

“It’s almost one of those ‘ignorance is bliss’ things,” said Stuntz.  “I didn’t really realize just how much people cared about Nebraska football, college football in general, how big of a game it was.  You’re just kind of oblivious to all that when you’re 18 years old.”

You want to talk nerves, imagine this: HOLDING YOUR NEWBORN DAUGHTER FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Dads, do you remember that moment?  Mike Stuntz does; it just happened a month ago when he and wife Natalie welcomed their first child, Blakely Autumn.

“I knew what I was doing on that play, I played football all the time. I’d never been a dad before,” said Stuntz.  “So that was, definitely, without a question, more nerve wracking, the first time I saw Blakely.”

“He did use the football hold, though!” added Natalie with a smile.

Stuntz doesn’t just know football, he was pretty darn good at it.  An incredibly versatile player, Stuntz saw time at free safety, split end, and reserve quarterback at Nebraska.  Off the field, Stuntz also excelled in the classroom, a 9-time Academic Honor Roll member in the Big 12 and a 2005 First-Team Academic All-Big 12 student.  His college major also attracted attention; Stuntz earned his degree in professional golf management.


This photo shows Stuntz golfing Lilongwe Golf Club in Malawi in 2011, his former career colliding with new.  See, Stuntz told me he loved golf, but didn’t know if he had passion to pursue it for 40+ years.  He discovered a new passion: medicine.

working in africa 2

Natalie Stuntz is also a doctor, a pediatrician with CHI Health.  Mike is in his first year of residency at the Nebraska Medical Center, specializing in ophthalmology.  The two didn’t meet in medical circles, but certainly have A LOT in common professionally now, including the summer they spent together in Africa working at a Pediatric AIDS hospital.

mike in clinic

They even found a Husker fan, thousands of miles away!

working in Africa

THAT is pretty normal for Dr. Mike Stuntz, still recognized nine years after hanging up his cleats, 13 years after that legendary play.

“I’ll be in the hospital or in the clinic or something like that, and it’ll be a patient and they’ll just say ‘aren’t you that guy?'” said Stuntz.  “It happens much more often than I thought it would.  I always enjoy talking about it.”

ESPECIALLY with his biggest fan.  Miss Blakey is also his smallest.

Mike and baby

“I come downstairs, and whether she’s awake or not she comes with me.  We sit on the couch right here, we turn on the TV and we don’t move for the next 12 hours or so,” said Stuntz.  “I’m pretty sure she’s very engrossed in the games, and then afterwards we have a nice group discussion about it.  Her input is limited, but it’s growing.”

Stuntz’s message for today’s players is about the bigger world outside of football.  Even when he bumps into his former teammates Dr. Judd Davies or Dr. Kyle Ringenberg, they talk about research and their goals in the hospital now, not what they used to be on the field.

And when Dr. Stuntz, Dr. Stuntz, and Lil Stuntz are at home, the focus is on family.

“I want to be Mom and Dad,” said Natalie.  “When we’re at home, we leave work.  We’re Mom and Dad, Mike and Natalie, and I want that for her.”

And when that little beauty opens up her gorgeous blue eyes to gaze up at her mom and dad, it’s easy to see why.


For more on #16 Mike Stuntz check out his bio with Nebraska Athletics.


Click here to Throwback to the Class of 2003, Brett Lindstrom!

Next week, A SPECIAL FINALE of the 2014 Throwback Thursday Series, Coach Milt Tenopir!

A Cinderella Story

Recently, KETV aired one of the most powerful stories of my career.

Do I have your attention?

In my 13 years here at KETV, I’ve seen some incredible things and been honored to share some amazing stories.  There are a handful that will always stick with me.  Derek Ruth, a teenager who suffered a traumatic brain injury on the junior high football field, sharing profound lessons much wiser than his 13 years.  Clayton Hildreth, losing his face and parts of his body to a fire as a toddler, overcoming all challenges to become an Eagle Scout as a young man.  Kayla Wilkins, a teenager who I never got to meet, though the love of her family and their grief after her death in a car crash, shook me to my core.

2014.  Add Gina Giaffoglione, excuse me, Gina Springhower, to that list.

Gina and John

Let’s state the obvious.  GINA. IS. GORGEOUS.  (Sorry, John, but your bride steals the show in this picture!)

I’m biased, having met and spoken with this incredible woman, but you can almost see through their engagement photo the sheer joy, happiness, and positive energy that spreads from Gina.

What you can’t see in this picture is that Gina is paralyzed from the belly button down.


It hasn’t always been that way.  Gina grew up in her dad Gary’s tumbling center in Glenwood, Iowa.  As the only girl and the youngest, Gina and Gary were athletes together, always in the gym.

March 22, 2008, Gina was in Wayne, Nebraska.  The car Gina was in flipped.  She was partially ejected and partially pinned.  The crash broke Gina’s back and changed her life.

Meeting Gina more than six years later, I wonder if she ever grieved for what she lost or allowed herself to be swallowed by self pity or sadness.  It’s really hard for me to picture because as you’ll see in our story, Gina is RADIANT.  She never stops smiling, never stops lifting up those around her.  When I asked her about the decision that sparked our story, she said it happened the day after her accident, March 23, 2008.  The moment Gina decided paralysis or not, someday, she was going to walk down the aisle.


Fast forward to December 14, 2012.


Gina had reconnected with a guy she knew in high school, John Springhower.

“He was a senior when I was a freshman, so he was just that older, hot guy I just kind of looked at when he walked through,” Gina told me, of course, with a smile on her face.  “I never would’ve had a chance with him because I had braces and.. it was just a disaster!”

The guy who led Gina and John to each other.. her dad, Gary.  And on a surprise date right before Christmas, John proposed.

“He’s taken on this whole disability thing like a champ,” said Gina.  “He’s just that wonderful guy, that he doesn’t see the chair.  He just sees me for me and forgets about how I get around.”

Gina said yes, on one condition.  Their wedding would have to wait.


in therapy

Almost immediately after Gina’s accident, she turned to physical therapists and support groups at CHI Health Rehabilitation at Immanuel Medical Center.  She made friendships and inspired nearly everyone she came in contact with, and over time, learned exactly what she wanted: to maintain her independence.  Alegent Creighton, now CHI Health, even profiled Gina in September of 2009.

Physical Therapist Diana Palm was working with Gina when she met John, and was there the first time Gina returned to therapy after her engagement.

“She shows up, day one, and she’s like, ‘I’m getting married.  I have to walk 90 feet.  With just my Dad.  On one crutch.  In grass.  In a big dress.”

What was once a dream was now a goal.  Gina was going to walk down the aisle.


August of this year, I pulled up to Immanuel’s Rehabilitation Center for a story shoot.  We were meeting a paralyzed young woman, in therapy three days a week, trying to learn how to walk down the aisle for her wedding.  I walked into the huge room, filled with patients, family, friends and therapists, and immediately saw a stunning brunette, with a thousand-watt smile, warmly welcoming me to her session.  By this point, Gina had been working toward this for more than a year.  After sitting for so many years, Gina spent months in therapy just to stretch her body tall again.  Every accomplishment meant more work, more therapy.  Sitting to standing.  Standing to a walker.  From a walker to a forearm crutch.  Walking in tulle to get used to moving in a dress.

“I mean, I’ve had days where I’m like, this isn’t going to work! I’ve been working at all this for nothing!” said Gina.  Gina says John, close friends and her family propelled her to keep going.  Her biggest inspiration was also right at her side; her dad, Gary.

gina and dad

“[This walk] is our moment.  That’s the last time that I’m a Giaffoglione and I’m on his arm,” said Gina.  “He deserves it.”

“I told her whether we roll down that aisle, or whether we walk down that aisle, we’re gonna do this,” said Gary.  “Whichever way we have to do it, it’s been her dream.  Obviously, it’s a Dad’s dream of having the honor of walking your daughter down the aisle.”

Gary joined Gina at therapy for the last several months, working on every, single detail.  Helping Gina stand.  Locking her brace. Right step, left step, too far, stop!! Turn.. slower.. hold hands, step again.  Gary, his hand clenched tightly around his daughter’s, stared straight forward with a mix of pride and intense concentration on his face.  Gina positively glowed; grinning ear to ear with every step.  Joking with her therapists, looking at her feet and the reflection in the mirror of herself on her dad’s arm.

I stood in the corner of the center, holding back tears and trying to ‘remain professional’, in awe of what I was witnessing.  I also thought, wow, these two have been here, over and over, several days a week, at home, at the venue, inside, outside, all for ONE MOMENT.

“If she’s doing it for us, or she’s doing it for herself, she’ll never tell us,” said Gary.  “She always has that big smile on her face, so we don’t know.  All I know is we’re gonna do it together, and we’re gonna love the moment.”

And here’s the catch… the Giaffogliones knew about Gina’s goal.  John knew.  Their close friends knew.  To the rest of Gina’s guests, this dream becoming a reality, was a moment NO ONE ELSE KNEW ABOUT before the wedding.

Even Gina and Gary, who planned and worked so hard for months, were anxious about how everything would go… on grass.. on a hill.. in front of guests.

“There’s so much to it,” said Gina.  “It’s going to be kind of crazy and I think, when it’s over, it’s gonna be like, AAAAAH, LET’S EAT SOME CAKE!”


September 13, 2014.  The day Gina would walk down the aisle.

This is where I stop.  Yup, that’s all you get for now.  Because despite 13 years in television news writing stories, nothing I can type out will adequately describe what happened that beautiful Saturday in Pacific Junction, Iowa.  Thanks to photojournalists Dave Hynek, Ashley Nodgaard and Tyler White, you can witness it for yourself.

Click here to watch Gina’s Cinderella story with KETV

I truly hope you make time to watch this one.  It will take your breath away, and leave you in tears.  Happy tears.


Gina is a reminder that fairy tales can become reality, dreams can come true.  And since I don’t have the words, I will leave you with Gina’s.

“I look at it as I might be having a bad day, but I’m HAVING a day.  I’m here. I’m having a day.  This walk down the aisle might not be what I always envisioned it would be, but we’re having a walk down the aisle. It’s happening.  You’re here.  You’re blessed.  And if I can help somebody in some way to maybe look at their life a little bit differently and be blessed to have their own day, that’s why I’m having a day in my eyes.”


Gina has a blog and is available to speak for groups and events.  Check out her website, Perfectly Imperfect Gina, or visit her on Facebook!