When you first glance at Frank and Ellenora "Llen" Ryan, the word "fighter" likely isn't the top quality that pops into mind.

Between the two of them, they have defeated cancer twice, overcome debilitating spine pain and triumphed over a cardiology episode. Now, they’re fighting Parkinson’s disease with the same energy, confidence and heart.

Taking Charge of Their Health

The most rewarding part of what I do is making a difference in my patients’ lives. I can help catch medical issues early before they become bigger problems and develop treatment plans that work best with my patients’ lifestyles.
Dr. Ryan Cantwell
Wellstar Family Medicine Physician

The common thread? Wellstar. The physicians and staff throughout the health system have helped them navigate their health journeys through primary care and specialty services, as well as surgery and therapy. As the Ryans—happily married for 53 years—continue on their path to wellness, Wellstar provides them everything they need, every step of the way.

“At Wellstar, we work as a team to take care of our patients,” Dr. Cantwell explained. “I enjoy being my patients’ quarterback and coordinating their care with other physicians. Through our electronic health records system, the referral process and communication with other specialists is easy and accurate.”

“At one point, we thought I might have had throat cancer,” said Frank. “Within a week, I was referred to a gastroenterologist and had an upper endoscopy that showed I actually had a hiatal hernia, not throat cancer. But it was really impressive, how quickly I was referred and seen, and that’s down to Dr. Cantwell and the Wellstar referral system.”

Wellstar provided support to Llen after diagnosing her with diabetes nearly 20 years go. Type 2 Diabetes runs in her family, she says, but her care team helped empower her to take better care of herself to turn the disease around.

“The most rewarding part of what I do is making a difference in my patients’ lives,” Dr. Cantwell said. “I can help catch medical issues early before they become bigger problems and develop treatment plans that work best with my patients’ lifestyles. In Llen’s case with her diabetes, we came up with a diet and exercise regimen that continues to be successful today.”

“When I got diagnosed, it was a scary thing. But I have since said it's one of the blessings in my life because I changed. I started walking, which I do practically every day now. I ate better and lost 65 pounds, which I’ve kept off for 10 years.”

Seamless Specialty Care

Through speedy diagnostic services, referrals and treatment, Wellstar has helped both Frank and Llen become warriors for their own wellness.

Frank also overcame prostate cancer with the guidance of retired Wellstar Urologists Dr. Ron Roper as well as Urologist Dr. Murphy Townsend. He first beat melanoma with the help of Dr. Sartaj Sanghera, Wellstar Oncology Surgeon. Frank also overcame prostate cancer with the guidance of Wellstar Urologist Dr. Murphy Townsend.

It was at Wellstar where Frank managed his AFib heart condition with cardiologist Dr. Paul Simonoff, allowing him to continue an active lifestyle. Today, neurologist Dr. Marat Reyzelman keeps Frank in the ring fighting Parkinson’s Disease through medication and therapy at a non-combat boxing class at Wellstar Health Place.

Llen is no stranger to fighting for her health and independence, either. After dealing with debilitating back pain for years, Llen found relief through surgery by Dr. Franklin Lin. She once couldn’t bear to stand, but she now walks three miles every day around Kennesaw Mountain.

A Wellness Partnership

Today, Frank and Llen spend time at their cottage-style home on Church Street while chasing their dreams.

Frank keeps working on his jabs in boxing class with the same dedication he brings to his music at New Horizons, a local Kennesaw band he has been with for 10 years. Llen paints rocks with inspirational pictures and phrases which she distributes along her daily walks around Kennesaw Mountain. Additionally, Llen volunteers each Monday at Kennestone Hospital.

“One of my gifts is I'm a good listener. I like to be around people and I'm compassionate,” said Llen. “Volunteering has given those gifts purpose and it’s given me joy. It's made me look at life differently and helps me value my family, my husband and relationships. It's just pumped me up.”

The Ryans keep Wellstar near to their hearts and close to home, as they live a short walk from all their healthcare services. And from there, they continue the fight as a team.

“We are in collaboration with Wellstar. We work together. It's not just them alone,” Llen said. “It's a decision we make to stay healthy, to get up in the morning and ask yourself: ‘What drives me?’”

“I feel that my life is here because of Wellstar,” Frank said. “There’s no doubt about it. I wouldn’t have beaten prostate cancer and melanoma. I may have even had a heart attack because of my heart issues. Without Wellstar, I wouldn’t be here.”

Heart of the Band

As the tuba player in his band, Frank sets the bass tone for every other instrument, for every song.

“I enjoy being in the New Horizons Band at Kennesaw State University. There, I’m part of a community who loves and supports one another,” Frank said. “I love playing the tuba because I can visualize the people who played before me. And it constantly reminds me that being part of a community makes life worthwhile.” So, when his heart lost its pace, skipping beats and banging against his chest, he knew there was something wrong with the most important instrument in his body.

“I was working out on the elliptical at Wellstar Health Place, and the heart rate monitor on the machine was jumping to 200 beats per minute. I knew something was wrong,” Frank said. “I was already a patient of Dr. Paul Simonoff’s, so I called his office and he took me in right away.”

“Frank’s heart was racing,” said Dr. Simonoff. “He was also experiencing heart palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath. That’s when I discovered his heart was out of rhythm.” Dr. Simonoff diagnosed him with atrial fibrillation (AFib), which occurs when the upper chambers of the heart—known as atria—beat irregularly and fail to pump blood efficiently to the rest of the body.

The symptoms of AFib are sporadic. You might notice a skipped heartbeat, and then feel a thud or thump, followed by your heart racing for an extended period. You might feel fluttering or jumping, mimicking the effects of a heart attack.

“Dr. Simonoff had to do other diagnoses and perform more tests before I could receive electrical cardioversion shock treatment,” Frank said. Electrical cardioversion shock treatment is a procedure that restores a normal heart rhythm in people with certain types of abnormal heartbeats, Dr. Simonoff explained.

“It often takes only one shock to restore the heart to a regular rhythm,” Dr. Simonoff said, noting that the patient is under general anesthesia during the procedure. “They’re asleep and don’t feel a thing. They’ll wake up from the procedure and ask, ‘So, when are we getting started?,’ and it’s all done. Their heart is already back in rhythm.”

“I haven’t had a problem ever since then, and I’ve been taking my medication to prevent it from happening,” Frank announced. “It’s fully under control.” Dr. Simonoff sees these symptoms frequently and knew that the AFib Clinic at Kennestone Hospital could help Frank. This highly-specialized team provides a thorough clinical evaluation of patients with AFib.

To this day, this is still the only comprehensive and dedicated atrial fibrillation clinic in Georgia. Frank now manages his AFib with medication, regular exercise and checkups. “Frank is doing great,” Dr. Simonoff smiled. “I see him on regularly and his heart has remained a steady rhythm. Our goal is to have patients like Frank be as healthy as possible so they can get back to their lives.”

Thankfully, Frank resumed his place in the New Horizons Band without skipping a beat.

“I don't think we are thankful enough to our doctors or to people who work in healthcare. We are here because they're there,” said Frank. “We’re here because they've done their job and they're dedicated.”