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Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Northern Arizona head football coach Chris Ball shares a moment with his son Brennan Ball (left), Wednesday evening at the Twin Arrows Casino during a signing day event.

Flagstaff physician assistant donates handmade heart pillows

In April 2017, Flagstaff Medical Center patients were in need of heart help, and not just the surgical kind.

When the shipment of heart pillows to the hospital was placed on backorder, members of the cardiovascular surgery unit (CVSU) frantically sought an alternative to this longtime tool.

Days stretched into weeks without any pillows arriving, but patients remained in constant need.

“The nurses were doing the best they could, wrapping up blankets with tape while these pillows were on backorder,” said Jill Austin, a certified physician assistant who has worked in Flagstaff since 2015.

Weighing more than five pounds each, though, these bundles were heavy and cumbersome for older patients. When one man coughed so hard he actually ripped his sternum back open, Austin knew the time for waiting was over.

So she made the pillows herself.

Using free online templates, she sewed and stuffed various pillow prototypes, allowing hospital staff to choose the one that would be most useful for patients. Once they did, she started making as many pillows needed to cover that month’s patients.

With their diverse designs and personal touch, the pillows were an instant hit, so Austin continued to make them – and has ever since. Donations from her coworkers to a “pillow fund” have helped her do so.

Since she started, Austin has created and donated more than 450 unique pillows for FMC patients.

Dr. Nicole Sydow, a cardiothoracic surgeon at FMC, said patients absolutely love the pillows.

“I have a lot of patients that make comments about them and they bring them back to the clinic to show they are still using them and that they appreciate them,” she said.

As in hospitals across the country, for years, FMC has provided heart and lung surgery patients with a heart-shaped pillow following their procedures. When a patient is going to cough, sneeze or breathe deeply, they simply squeeze the pillow to their chest – or under their armpit, for lung surgery patients – to prevent their incision from reopening. The pillows can also be used when the patient leaves the hospital, to prevent a car seatbelt from rubbing against their chest.

FMC had ordered simple red heart pillows common to many hospitals – featuring a depiction of the cardiac anatomy and the hospital’s logo – until Austin’s dedicated handiwork made them obsolete.

Austin’s pillows are made of four parts: three pieces of fabric and a loop to hang the pillow from a patient’s IV pole for easy access. The distinctive front fabric can vary from simple patterns to holiday or seasonal themes and hobbies. If the nurses know something about the patient, they can choose a design specific to that individual.

The design is paired with a matching solid color for the backside of the pillow, to allow space for cardiac anatomy drawings that explain the procedure to patients or for the signatures of the individuals who helped with the procedure.

To gather necessary materials, Austin visits craft stores in Flagstaff, Phoenix and online to purchase specific designs and other materials like stuffing and thread. She makes batches of up to 20 pillows at a time, but said if she were to make just one from start to finish, it would take about an hour. Although she uses coupons and often buys in bulk, she expects each pillow costs about $2.25 to $2.50 to make. She said they are not a financial burden to her, though, because she enjoys creating them. It has become one of her hobbies, she explained.

Sydow said the pillows are like a badge of honor for many patients – proof that they made it through the surgery. It also shows the high level of care in the CVSU.

“It exemplifies our team and our commitment to our patients. Jill saw a need and knew she could make it better, so she did,” Sydow said. “Despite everything else she does, she still finds time to make our pillows.”

Kurt Brydenthal was one recipient of Austin’s pillows. He said it was essential to his recovery after heart valve surgery in August. For the three months he used the pillow, it was both functional and comforting.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done without it. I can’t imagine not having a pillow, especially right after the operation," he said. "The first month would have been really horrible without it."

His wife, Barbara, said her mom received a standard manufactured heart pillow over 25 years ago following surgery in South Carolina; however, it lacked the personality and meaning of Austin’s pillows.

Kurt reached out to the hospital to find out who had created the pillow that made such a difference to his recovery, so he could thank her and contribute to her pillow fund. Expecting an organization to be responsible, he was surprised when he learned Austin was behind it all.

“I never felt so appreciated by somebody who doesn’t even know me. I wanted to donate so Jill could buy the materials to make someone like me feel great again,” he said.

Through these simple but meaningful creations, which she intends to continue producing, Austin provides patients with a piece of her heart in their journeys to heal their own.

Trump-GOP meeting boosts optimism about border deal

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump appears to be taking a more positive view of Capitol Hill talks on border security, according to negotiators who struck a distinctly optimistic tone after a White House meeting with a top Republican on the broad parameters of a potential bipartisan agreement.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby of Alabama said Thursday's session in the Oval Office was "the most positive meeting I've had in a long time" and that the president was "very reasonable."

Down Pennsylvania Avenue at the Capitol, the mood among negotiators was distinctly upbeat, with participants in the talks between the Democratic-controlled House and GOP-held Senate predicting a deal could come as early as this weekend.

There's a Feb. 15 deadline to enact the measure or a stopgap spending bill to avert another partial government shutdown, which neither side wants to reprise. Republicans are especially eager to avoid another shutdown after they got scalded by the last one.

Trump had previously called the talks a "waste of time," and he's threatened to declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. But Shelby said Trump during their meeting "urged me to get to yes" on an agreement.

Publicly on Thursday Trump took a wait-and-see approach.

"I certainly hear that they are working on something and both sides are moving along," Trump said. "We'll see what happens. We need border security. We have to have it, it's not an option. Let's see what happens."

The White House is committed to letting the negotiations play out, with some saying they are "cautiously optimistic" about getting a deal they could live with, said a senior administration official who lacked authorization to publicly discuss internal deliberations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The new openness comes after Trump delivered a well-received State of the Union speech in which he preached the value of bipartisanship.

Despite the newfound optimism, Trump continues to threaten to declare a national emergency to circumvent Congress if lawmakers fail to reach a deal he can stomach.

Still, Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-S.C., a close ally of Trump, said Thursday that the deal could be a good starting place — suggesting Trump could take additional action if needed to secure more wall funding without congressional approval.

"I would recommend that this will probably be a good down payment and what else is lacking, the delta between what you want and what you get, there are other ways to do it, and I expect the president to go it alone in some fashion," Graham told reporters.

Shelby said he and Trump didn't discuss whether Trump still might use an emergency declaration even if there's a deal, saying: "The president's got constitutional powers. ... I would think he wouldn't, but I don't know what the situation" will be.

Beyond the border security negotiations, the measure is likely to contain seven appropriations bills funding domestic agencies and the foreign aid budget, as well as disaster aid for victims of last year's hurricanes and western wildfires.

"I'm hopeful," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "I do like the idea of getting all of last year's work finished, and I hope that's where it ends up."

Any move by Trump to fund a border barrier by executive fiat, however, would roil many Republicans on Capitol Hill, raising the likelihood that both House and Senate could pass legislation to reverse him. Trump could veto any such measure, but he's also certain to face a challenge in the courts.

"If Congress won't participate or won't go along, we'll figure out a way to do it with executive authority," Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney said on Fox News Channel's "Hannity" on Wednesday.

Mulvaney said that the administration has identified well more than $5.7 billion to transfer to wall construction, saying they would try to avoid legal obstacles.

"Find the money that we can spend with the lowest threat of litigation, and then move from that pot of money to the next pot that maybe brings a little bit more threat of litigation," Mulvaney said.

It's clear that Trump won't get anything close to the $5.7 billion he's demanded for wall construction, just as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will have to depart from her view that there shouldn't be any wall funding at all.

Last year, a bipartisan Senate panel approved $1.6 billion for 65 miles of pedestrian fencing in Texas — in line with Trump's official request. The negotiations aren't likely to veer very far from that figure, aides involved in the talks said, and newly empowered House Democrats were looking to restrict use of the money.

A key negotiator, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said details on nettlesome border wall issues haven't been worked out. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., another participant, said both sides are showing flexibility, including Democrats who insisted during the recently-ended 35-day shutdown on no wall funding at all.

"They are not opposed to barriers," Blunt said about Democrats. "And the president, I think, has embraced the idea that there may actually be something better than a concrete wall would have been anyway."

Pelosi told reporters Thursday that she was hopeful of an agreement that would "protect our borders as we protect our values."

County Supervisor Art Babbott to run for AZ House seat in 2020

Another northern Arizona leader is looking to the future with the intent to run for office in 2020.

Art Babbott, current chairman of the Coconino County Board of Supervisors, announced Thursday he will be running as an independent for the Arizona House of Representatives in Legislative District 6 to replace Bob Thorpe, who will reach his term limit after the current term. Legislative District 6 includes parts of Coconino, Navajo, Gila and Yavapai Counties.

Although Babbott said he formed his committee more than two years ago and considered running in 2018, 2020 felt like the right time to do so.

“People are hungry for a different way to do politics. As an independent and as someone who has worked hard with people all over the county, this is the right time for me to do something in Arizona that will help improve governance and responsiveness of government to people’s challenges,” he said.

Courtesy, Art for AZ 

Art Babbott

Babbott has operated the Flagstaff Community Markets for nearly 20 years. He was also a managing partner in the renovation and operation of the Orpheum Theater from 2002 to 2009.

In local government, he has represented District 1 for the county for two terms and previously served on the Flagstaff City Council. He is the current co-chair of the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI) and has also served on a variety of commissions including the Economic Collaborative of Northern Arizona (ECONA) and the Coconino Plateau Water Advisory Council.

“What initially drew me to local government was the importance of building relationships and collaborating with diverse groups of people to solve really tough challenges and create opportunities for the generations that come behind us," he said. "My career has been not about party affiliation or party identification on either party, but about keeping my eyes and ears open for opportunities to change lives and impact our communities and neighborhoods."

Babbott says he will use the experience he has gathered locally in the state legislature -- especially in the areas of transportation, education, criminal justice and economic development -- to bring together people who would not normally be in the same room.  

His county biography explains that he has created such partnerships previously by aligning the county with the Flagstaff Extreme Adventure Course, the Pepsi Amphitheater and North Pole Experience at Ft. Tuthill County Park, therefore linking the public and private sectors.

Local control and perspective will also be an important piece of his campaign and his work with the legislature.

“One of the things that is really important to me is that the Arizona legislature and the House of Representatives understand the impacts of their decisions on local governments and local communities. … Having that experience, being a recipient of the legislature’s work, will allow me to be really effective in crafting legislation,” he said.

By running as an independent, Babbott hopes to serve as an alternative to the “rigid partisanship” that has caused frustration to constituents.

“I looked at my skill set and how I go about doing my work in a collaborative manner and talked with a lot of folks for many, many months and felt this is the right time to build an independent bridge across that partisan divide,” he said. “I know this is not the easy way to run as an independent. But for me it is an important way and the only way that I would run.”

Jury finds man guilty of sexually assaulting co-worker

On Thursday afternoon, Noah Best was taken into custody following the jury’s decision that he is guilty of sexually assaulting a co-worker in his home in 2016.

The jury also found him guilty of two counts of obstruction of a criminal investigation when Best attempted to stop the victim and a witness from speaking with officers about the sexual assault.

During the trial, Best’s defense attorney Jason Lamm accepted the charges of obstructing a criminal investigation in court, and instead focused on pointing out the inconsistent testimony of the victim and witness.

“We had hoped the jury saw things differently than they did, but we have to respect the American judicial system and process,” Lamm said about the verdict. Lamm felt he was unable to comment on behalf of his client.

Coconino County Attorney Bill Ring spoke on behalf of prosecutor Ammon Barker, who worked to portray Best as guilty through the course of the trial utilizing victim and witness testimony.

“We thank the jury for their service and we are grateful for the victim’s courage. Trial work involves a careful process,” Ring said. “This trial ripened just in time for the bitter fruit to deliver sweet justice.”

The official length of his prison sentence will be determined by the judge at sentencing; however, the 47-year-old could serve a maximum sentence of 18 years.

Best will now be held in custody without bond until his sentencing hearing, set for March 8. Several continuances had held up Best’s trial after the crime occurred in 2016.

In court, Best admitted he committed the crime in aggravation, waiving court processes that would have asked the victim to return to the stand and the jury to determine whether he committed the act in aggravation.

Aggravation has various meanings according to the Arizona Revised Statutes, but can apply if the victim “suffered physical, emotional or financial harm” because of the defendant’s actions. Crimes committed in aggravation allow the judge the option to apply the most severe sentencing limit.

Lamm said he and his client had made the decision to avoid that part of the process.

“[The aggravation hearing] certainly entailed requiring the victim to take the stand again,” Lamm said. “We made a conscious decision not to put her through that.”

Ring did not see Best’s actions as genuine.

“There is no chivalry in it, only strategy,” Ring said, denying to comment further.

The judge is allowed to use his or her professional discretion to determine how long defendants should be placed in prison, and can weigh both aggravating and mitigating factors in their decision.

The victim in the case took to the stand to recount her telling of events during the trial.

She described her assault and was certain of Best’s guilt, a fact witness Christopher Green also testified to earlier last week.


Noah Best