Prevention Pays Off

Donna Emter makes sure she always schedules an annual wellness visit with her primary care physician.

One such visit with Sherry Stein, MD, a family medicine physician at Sanford South Clinic in Bismarck, potentially saved the 60-year-old’s life.

Going into her January 2012 visit with Dr. Stein, Emter had been feeling unusually fatigued and had been experiencing trouble breathing.

“I just attributed it to my age and sandbagging during the flood from the summer before,” Emter said, “so I just waited until my yearly appointment.”

Emter didn’t have the chance to bring up that particular concern during the exam. Dr. Stein, Emter’s long-time primary care physician, knew right away something wasn’t right when she heard a murmur in Emter’s heart that never was there before.

“I just trusted her so much,” Emter said. “She’s so open and willing to listen. I was just amazed. She heard the murmur and went running with it because she knew there was a problem.”

Before she left Dr. Stein’s office, Emter had an appointment with a Sanford Health cardiologist. After advanced testing, the heart team at Sanford Health found the cause of the problem and scheduled Emter for surgery.

Soon after, Sean Russell, MD, Sanford heart surgeon in Bismarck, repaired the mitral valve in Emter’s heart.

“Donna’s case is exactly why routine annual wellness visits are important,” Dr. Stein said. “People sometimes think they don’t need preventive visits, but they’re more important than anything. They allow us to catch things early and develop a treatment plan.”

In October, Emter returned to Dr. Stein’s office. The patient noticed blood in her stool, and, because of her familiarity with Dr. Stein, Emter had no problem discussing such a sensitive topic.

“When you’ve got something wrong with you, you don’t want to ignore it,” Emter said, “but you don’t want to believe that there’s something else wrong with you.”

Stein set up an appointment with Douglas Berglund, MD, a colorectal surgeon at Sanford in Bismarck, for later in the week.

A colonoscopy revealed a cancerous tumor in Emter’s colon.

Dr. Berglund removed the tumor, and, because they caught it early, the cancer didn’t spread to Emter’s lymph nodes or her colon wall.

“They worked together very well,” Emter said of Dr. Stein and the Sanford specialists. “She set up the appointments for me, so that was a big burden off of me. Not having anything wrong with me before, I would have been at a loss about how to take care of it. She made me feel that it’s more than her job—that she cared for me.”

Now, six months later, Emter is still regaining her strength, but she has returned to her full-time position at CenturyLink in Bismarck. She and her husband, Ron, look forward to summer fishing excursions to their lake home on Lake Tschida.

In the middle of her medical scares, Emter became a grandmother for the first time. Her granddaughter, Lydia, turned 1 on June 2. Because of her routine preventive exam and close relationship with her family medicine physician, Emter looks forward to watching her granddaughter grow up.

“That’s what we’re so grateful for,” Emter said. “I feel so blessed.”

Sanford Health operates three family medicine clinics in Bismarck and two in Mandan. To learn more about the locations and the services family medicine physicians provide or to request an appointment online, visit For more on all of Sanford Health Family Medicine in all regions, click here.

Posted Date: October 2013

Prevention Pays Off

Donna Emter’s routine annual wellness exam with her primary care physician led to potentially life-saving diagnoses and quick referrals to Sanford specialists.