Mystery Illnesses Uncovered by Persistent Physicians
Feb 1, 2023
Sutter Health
Photo of Susan and Dave Howard

Susan and Dave Howard recently honored two Bay Area physicians with a significant philanthropic gift in recognition of their excellent care and compassionate listening.

By Kathy Engle, Vitals contributor

Shortly after San Jose resident Dave Howard turned 79, he started feeling awful. He had no energy. He was having problems with balance. His liver enzyme tests were coming back with erratic results and his list of medications kept growing: one for high blood pressure, another for cholesterol, a beta blocker and a diuretic.

With a new primary care doctor, he began to find answers.

“For decades I felt rushed through primary care visits, but Dr. Zieske really disrupts that status quo,” says Dave, reflecting on what makes Palo Alto Medical Foundation physician Dr. Lawrence Zieske different. “He is young, enthusiastic and full of a kind of idealism – centered on engaging with patients – that is so refreshing. It changed my life.”

Dr. Lawrence Zieske with his wife and daughter

Dr. Lawrence Zieske with his wife and daughter.

Dr. Zieske listened to and addressed each of Dave’s concerns in their first meeting. He also ordered an A1C test to measure Dave’s average blood sugar levels.

“I was surprised I had never been tested for this before,” Dave recalls. “I was obese, but learning I had pre-diabetes motivated me to lose weight. I dropped 70 pounds in about two years, and everything started working and feeling better as a result.”

Dr. Zieske continued to proactively measure Dave’s liver enzymes and scrutinize test results. But severe intestinal pain landed Dave in the emergency department, where he met a second medical maverick, Dr. Danagra Ikossi, general surgeon.

Dave soon learned that his pain was being caused by a blockage in his small intestine. Finding very high levels of calcium led Dr. Ikossi to diagnose Dave with hyperparathyroid disease—an enlargement of one or more of the parathyroid glands. Hyperparathyroid disease is one of the most common hormonal disorders, affecting approximately 100,000 Americans annually. Left untreated, hyperparathyroidism can lead to weak bones, kidney stones and a decline in kidney function.

“I needed surgery, but previous bad experiences elsewhere led me to ask about having the surgery performed at a community hospital instead,” Dave shares. “Dr. Ikossi arranged for this to happen and kept my wife, Susan, informed throughout the process. It was so comforting.”

The Howards recently honored the two PAMF physicians with $50,000, in recognition of their excellent care and compassionate listening.

“While there may be demands on physician’s time to spend less time with patients, that is certainly not the case with Drs. Zieske and Ikossi,” Dave says. “I’ve learned over the years that not all doctors are the same. That’s why we wanted to honor these two for breaking norms, taking the time to listen to the symptoms I was experiencing and tenaciously investigate ways to help me thrive.”

The Howards’ donation will help fund the Palo Alto Foundation Medical Group’s pre-med scholarship program. In place since 1993, this program awards scholarships of $30,000 each to high school seniors who aspire to become physicians. In addition to providing funds, this philanthropic program pairs a physician mentor with each scholar, helping to build the next generation of doctors while also providing a valuable relationship for both physician and student.

The Howards stress that the little bit of extra time these two PAMF doctors spent with them made them feel heard and exceptionally well cared for. Recognizing how special these doctors made him feel, Dave urges others to ask questions and look for doctors who take the time to answer them.

As a not-for-profit network, Sutter Health relies on philanthropic gifts to innovate care, create vital new programs, fund clinical research and expand access to care for our patients and their families. Making a tax-deductible gift can show your appreciation for a doctor or employee who has touched your life in an important way. To learn more about making a donation in someone’s name visit:


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