Loren's Story

Rehabilitation Services
“Research your options, slow down to learn more, ask your doctor lots of questions — be an advocate for yourself.”

Coordinated care helps Becker man get back to his passion after cancer

When Loren Haataja of Becker started receiving medical care at CentraCare, he’d already been through a lot. His tongue cancer diagnosis had resulted in numerous surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, intense pain killers and complications from his feeding tube.

“When we came to CentraCare, we were completely lost and didn’t know where to turn,” said Loren’s wife, Kami. “By that time, Loren had lost 60 pounds and was in grave condition. He had a feeding tube but the fluids didn’t agree with him and he couldn’t keep any nutrients in his body. He was in a wheelchair. The hospitalist at St. Cloud Hospital brought in a gastroenterologist who fixed Loren’s feeding tube. We’d finally rounded the corner.”

Loren’s medical needs were complex. At one point, he was seeing nearly 20 providers, including specialists — from oncology and infectious disease to oral surgery, wound and otolaryngology. Eating was next to impossible since he couldn’t open his mouth more than a centimeter — roughly the width of a finger. The pain clenched his jaw and his tight neck muscles restricted the range of motion and his ability to drive. Ten teeth were removed to prevent further bone damage, should one of them get a cavity.

“Arranging his care took massive coordination,” Kami said. “I spent a lot of time making appointments, but the coordination of care was made easier thanks to Epic, the electronic medical record. No matter where we went, the doctors knew his situation and we didn’t have to explain the whole thing all over. Dr. Todd Magnuson, St. Cloud Ear, Nose & Throat Clinic, was the main ring leader. When Dr. Magnuson made referrals, the handoff of information was smooth. We didn’t have to retell the story. He was also very good about knowing what he could do and where to turn when we needed additional help. The care team was so good about treating all of Loren’s needs. Even if they were only seeing him for their specialty, they were very good about referring us to others when they saw that we needed it — either physically, emotionally or spiritually.”

Loren Haata Loren saw many specialists in St. Cloud and was able to receive his physical therapy and see his primary care provider, Paul Spinner, MD, in Becker just blocks from his home. “It’s been awesome to have physical therapy right here in town,” Kami said. Physical Therapy Assistant, Liz Lind, is tasked with getting Loren back to his passion of training dogs for search and rescue for which he has volunteered for nearly 10 years. Bronson, his 3-year-old German Shepherd is waiting to complete his training. “I had to put our training on hold when all of this came up,” Loren said. “Knowing he’s waiting for me is more than a motivator for me. My goal is to get back there on search and rescue with Bronson. That is the core of who I am; it has become me.”  

Today, Loren and Kami are very thankful for everyone on Loren’s care team. They still see about four care team members on a regular basis. They’ve been celebrating the milestones that are big victories in their journey. In early January, Loren’s trach tube was removed after six months. Then, a few weeks later, he was drinking a cup of coffee. His lighthearted sense of humor and drive has helped him through his experiences and keeps his goal in focus.

Their advice to others? Even with a colossal sized care team, remember how important the patient and family are to that team. Research your options, slow down to learn more, ask your doctor lots of questions — be an advocate for yourself. And, if something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Start asking questions. Knowledge is power.