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How listening proved to be powerful medicine for this Oregonian

Springfield | March 13, 2020
Rhonda McNeal smiles now that she's on a path to better health
No health challenge will keep Rhonda from living to the fullest—thanks to care from a provider who simply listened.

You can’t help but notice the deep sense of joy that bubbles from within Rhonda McNeal.

“I’m in my golden years and I want to live!” she says.

Her outlook hasn’t always been so rosy—for good reason. A long time ago, she underwent a series of brain surgeries as the result of a very violent incident in her life. What followed were years of painful recovery.

Too many pills

“At one time, I was on 42 different medications,” she recounts. “I don’t like to take a lot of pills.” As a believer in more natural remedies, Rhonda slowly weaned herself off the pain medications and mood stabilizers with help from an acupuncturist and the support of her son.

But one thing wasn’t going away.

Severe back pain continually plagued her, day and night. Her doctor, at the time, chalked it up to post-traumatic stress disorder. “I felt like I was just patted on the head and told all my physical problems were related to mental illness,” she says.

On the verge of giving up

Rhonda didn’t want to believe it. On the “verge of giving up,” she sought care at PeaceHealth from Titus Kosgei, NP, a nurse practitioner at the Santa Clara clinic in Eugene, Oregon, which meant driving from her home in the next county over.Rhonda McNeal with her dog Minnie

On her first visit, Titus ordered a simple in-clinic x-ray and found Rhonda had suffered a fracture in a few places in her spine from an accident. “Titus was the first provider who ever ordered an x-ray and it turns out I had been walking around with a broken back for three years!” she cried. “It wasn’t in my head.”

He immediately referred her to a spine specialist at PeaceHealth for follow-up care, which went remarkably well.

A wild ride

As if healing from a broken back weren’t enough, Rhonda also had a heart condition and, again, a specialist in the area was able to help address her concerns.

Rhonda says, “Every time some new health concern comes up, Titus will say 'how are we going to fix this?’”

Titus agrees. “It’s been a wild ride for Rhonda, to say the least,” he says. “When I met Rhonda, she was in bad shape. She had a lot of anxiety and a lot of generalized pain.”

Breast cancer diagnosis

Her most recent challenge came in the form of a breast cancer diagnosis. No surprise, Titus is the one who assisted her in finding the help she needed.

Rhonda opted to have a double mastectomy. “I know what I want…I know what works best for me,” she notes. “I’m perfectly happy with a straw hat, bare feet and no (fill in a colorful reference to a woman’s chest here) any day.”

Someone to truly listen

Titus Kosgei, NP at PeaceHealth in OregonWhen all was said and done, it turns out that the most powerful medicine Titus put into practice with Rhonda was simply to pay her the respect and attention she had been missing.

“All she needed was for someone to truly listen to her,” according to Johanna Maynard, the supervisor of clinic operations at Santa Clara.

Titus credits Rhonda’s progress on her willingness as a patient to follow her providers’ treatment recommendations.

She even quit smoking at his encouragement. But he never wants to use a “bossy” style. “I always ask for her feedback,” he says, noting the “give and take” nature of a successful relationship between a patient and provider.

Always upbeat

“Rhonda has a very good attitude. She’s not defeated. She’s always respectful and appreciative of the care we give her,” says Titus. “Even when the breast cancer diagnosis came up, she was always upbeat and had the right attitude and mindset.”

He also likes to point out that he’s not the only one who has had a hand in helping her—from clinic nurses and an on-site counselor to surgeons and other specialists—all have played key roles in Rhonda’s healing journey. 

Still, it was his listening ear and compassionate heart that first got Rhonda’s attention.

Walks in the woods

Now, with some major health issues largely behind her, Rhonda considers her journey to be a “miracle.” She’s elated to be in vocational therapy…a good sign of healing.

She enjoys walks in the woods with her 8-year-old service dog, Minnie, and eating lunch with her spirited 91-year-old neighbor.

“I can’t say enough about PeaceHealth, the clinic and Titus,” Rhonda says. “I want everyone to know Titus is the one credited with my return to health. I’ve got the confidence I’m on the right path now.”

Top and second photo: Rhonda McNeal and her dog Minnie (courtesy of Rhonda McNeal)
Bottom photo: Titus Kosgei, NP


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