Unity House wellness programs save employee’s life

Elspeth Peterson has been taking advantage of Unity House’s biometric screening since it was first offered 14 years ago.

She liked that Unity House offered incentives, including extra time off, to encourage employees to record their weight, complete bloodwork and track other health indicators.

“It was kind of a routine thing,” she said. “I didn’t really give it much thought at the time.”

In February 2022, Elspeth
underwent a stem cell transplant
at the University of Rochester’s
Wilmot Cancer Center.

She never anticipated, however, that the screenings would help save her life.

In 2021, Elspeth noticed swelling in her arms and legs. Then, she began losing her breath climbing the stairs at Sheffield Road IRA, where she has been the program manager since 2008.

Initial bloodwork showed high cholesterol and blood pressure. Her doctor brushed it off: probably a preexisting condition, he said.

Elspeth knew better.

“We sort of had a little disagreement,” Elspeth said. “I went back to work and I had kept all of my biometric results … I took them with me to the next visit and he was quite surprised.”

Since 2008, Elspeth Peterson has been the program manager at Sheffield Road, where she supports Crystal, left, and other residents.

Elspeth’s doctor ordered further testing. She was diagnosed with AL amyloidosis.

The median survival for the rare bone marrow disease can be less than five months. Thanks to the biometric screenings, though, she was able to start treatment early. She underwent kidney and bone marrow biopsies, weekly chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.

Hospitalizations left Elspeth exhausted, struggling to maintain a routine and too weak to go to work at Sheffield. Although she was able to fulfill some of her work responsibilities from her home, it wasn’t the same. As soon as she was able, she returned to the people and workplace she loves. Today, she feels much stronger. She looks forward to the last of her post-transplant immunizations this month.

Elspeth is grateful to be back at Sheffield. Every day, she gets to empower its residents, and she feels empowered herself.

“It’s important just appreciating people for who they are, and I don’t think that’s just the people we serve,” Elspeth said. “Encouraging folks to do what they want to do, to become who they want to be, to try the things they want to do … I love that freedom.”