Published on June 21, 2021

At Home Half a World Away: Laila’s Story

Laila standing in a burnt orange blouse smiling at the camera

“I remember thinking, wow, Almaty City has a population over 1.7 million. Duluth’s population is less than 100,000. This may be a really big challenge to find a specialist,” Laila reflected.

6,177 miles. That’s the move Laila and her husband made when they relocated from Almaty, Kazakhstan to Duluth, MN in 2016 for his new job as a marketing professor at the University of Minnesota. Since then, they have enjoyed exploring Duluth during the school year and spending summers with family in Kazakhstan.

In summer 2019, Laila had decided to pursue IVF treatments back home after years of infertility. But what she thought would be a routine appointment actually turned everything upside-down when a biopsy revealed she had endometrial cancer.

Laila deeply trusted her doctor in Kazakhstan. She decided to have him perform the surgery to remove the cancer—but she needed to find a specialist in the United States for continuing treatment.

“I remember thinking, wow, Almaty City has a population over 1.7 million. Duluth’s population is less than 100,000. This may be a really big challenge to find a specialist,” Laila reflected.

Luckily, her worry didn’t last long. Laila was connected with Colleen Evans, DO, a gynecologic oncologist at Essentia Health-Duluth. Dr. Evans is one of the only specialists of her kind north of Madison, WI, and she serves gynecological cancer patients across the Essentia Health system.

From their very first meeting, Laila trusted Dr. Evans completely. She was aligned with the care plan initiated in Kazakhstan and diligently shared progress updates across the ocean during each step of Laila’s care journey. “Dr. Evans is professional and cites scientific proof for my treatment plan. She is also energetic, positive, and always makes me feel like a priority,” says Laila.

Recently, when Laila was invited to share a note of gratitude with a caregiver, she immediately made a gift to celebrate Dr. Evans for her expertise and thoughtful care coordination between the two countries.

A speaker of three languages, Laila knows that the language of appreciation is universal. “I’m so grateful for the hope Dr. Evans has given me,” she shared. “I remember lying in bed one morning before an early surgery and thinking about Dr. Evans getting up at dawn to start her day. I am just so grateful she dedicated her life to practicing this specialty, and I feel lucky to have her here caring for me. I hope my gift lets her know how thankful I am, and it helps other patients like me.

Laila’s personal message to others is, “Don’t wait! Don’t be afraid to face your problem and seek medical help, and don’t wait to show your gratitude!”

Today, Laila has a lot to be grateful for thanks to Dr. Evans. She is cancer-free, approved to resume IVF soon, and hopeful for the future.

Have you experienced remarkable, comforting care like Laila’s? If so, share your message of thanks with your physician or care team by contacting Robin Pestalozzi at Robin.Pestalozzi@EssentiaHealth.org or (218) 940-3731.

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