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Pittsburg woman back to cooking after stomach surgery

Glenna Pentola

Every November since 1942 when she married, Glenna Pentola has made dozens of French cookies. At age 94, she’s making 45 dozen of them for children, grandchildren, and friends for the holidays — thanks in large part, her family says, to the medical care she received from Brett Dunbar, DO, a general surgeon at Ascension Via Christi Hospital in Pittsburg.

It’s been several months since she was in pain and in need of surgery. Before the holiday season began, her children are gathered around her in her living room, making a verbal list of all the foods they hope she’ll again be able to cook now that she’s recovered and back on her feet.

“Every other Sunday for many years, she fed our whole family, which including kids and grandkids is about 20,” says her son, David Pentola. “Spaghetti, meatballs, lasagna ...”

“... Raviolis, chicken and noodles ...” adds her daughter, Janice Evans.

“... And roast beef,” finishes her son, Vince. “I love her roast beef.”

It was Vince who found Glenna incoherent, in pain, and unable to get dressed one day in March when he paid her a visit at the urging of his sister, Marsha Palmer.

Glenna had been suffering from a mild stomach ache on and off over the course of a few days, but as a typically healthy person who had been in the hospital only to have her four children, she wrote it off as a bug. Something in Glenna’s voice when Marsha called alerted Marsha that it was something worse.

Perforated stomach

Vince took her to the Via Christi ER, where exploratory surgery revealed the cause: A perforated stomach, or a hole that had developed in the stomach wall.

Dr. Dunbar performed surgery to close the hole and seal off the area from possible infection.

After time in the Intensive Care Unit and the step-down unit, she finished her recovery and physical therapy at Via Christi Village before returning home.

“Life was on hold for everybody,” says Janice of those weeks, who with her siblings took turns staying with their mother nearly round the clock.

'Very reassuring'

Glenna’s memories of her sudden illness and going into surgery are fuzzy. But her memory of Dr. Dunbar and Via Christi medical staff in during her hospitalization and subsequent follow-up visits: They provided excellent care, she says, and they kept everyone in the family informed.

Her children agree.

“We all feel Dr. Dunbar saved Mom’s life,” says Janice. “He was the most compassionate doctor I’ve ever seen. We can’t say enough good about him. He had a great bedside manner, he gave me his cell phone number if I had any problems or concerns at all, and he was very reassuring.”

“He came up to the hospital on his weekends off to check on her, always took time to talk to us, to explain — he wasn’t in a rush. He made us feel secure when we didn’t know what would happen next.”

Dr. Dunbar says he is humbled by their praise, but says it’s his philosophy to ensure there’s a high level of understanding in his patients and their families every step of the way.

“I’ve been a patient and had surgery myself,” he says, “so I have seen it from both sides. I want everyone to be comfortable, to be ready and feel secure. That’s an important element of healing.”

For Glenna, that healing allowed her to return to what she enjoyed most:  Venturing outside last summer to watch the hummingbirds that visited her front porch feeders, and of course now she's making those irresistible French cookies.

“I feel like life is normal again,” she says. “Everything’s good.”