Older couple Fred and Cheri Stilwell standing on a beach covered in driftwood in the rain, smiling at each other and holding hands.

Department: Island Sports & Spine

You don't have to be a special agent to receive special care

Fred and Cheri Stilwell have been coming to Island Health (IH) for two decades, which in itself is not remarkable. What is unique is that the Stilwells have lived all around the world—Fred served as a Naval Surface Warfare Officer for 10 years and 14 years in the Reserves, retiring as a Commander. He also spent 20 years as an NCIS Special Agent.

They say they’ve received some of the best care in Anacortes.

At 88 (Fred) and 82 (Cheri), they credit their vibrant life—boating, traveling, fishing, crabbing, shrimping, clamming and duck hunting—with the outstanding care they’ve received from the doctors and staff at IH, and particularly from Dr. Billow and Island Sports & Spine. They say they’ve always been treated like family.

“It’s a small-town hospital with small-town attention and care, but big city quality. Just top notch,” Cheri said. Both Fred and Cheri have had their share of joint pain over the years and say they owe a lot to Dr. Billow.

What first brought the couple to Billow, though, was Fred’s hip pain. He was referred to Billow for a potential hip replacement. But first, Billow wanted an updated MRI, and it was on this scan that Diagnostic Imaging found a mass on Fred’s right kidney. The next day Diagnostic Imaging also confirmed a second mass on his left kidney. “He [Billow] can read images and identify issues like no other,” Cheri said. Fred ended up going to Virginia Mason where he had 25% of his right kidney removed and an ablation on his left kidney.

Chronic back and knee pain has kept Fred a regular with Island Sports & Spine, but it’s the “top flight” care that makes him Billow’s loyal fan.

An attractive older couple in their living room.

“The office staff are knowledgeable, friendly and attentive. Nancy [clinic nurse] always calls to follow up and make sure I’m okay after a procedure, and she can answer any question. Jackie [clinic scheduler and medical assistant] is on top of the calls, responding immediately to messages and squeezing you into a cancellation if you’re really in pain,” Fred said.

The Stilwells praise Billow for his exhaustive efforts to treat Fred’s arthritic knees. Age and medication disqualify Fred from surgery, so interventional pain management has kept Fred active, including, most recently, the Sports & Spine clinic’s first-ever knee ablation. Billow had performed the innovative procedure before but never at IH. Fred is proud to be the first IH patient to have had the ablation, and can’t speak highly enough about his hospital experience.

“They make it the best it can possibly be. The nurses, technicians, staff—they all are so caring and thoughtful,” said Fred.

Over the years, Fred and Cheri have come to think of Billow as a friend, though they suspect the treatment they receive is given to all of Billow’s patients. “When you go there, you feel like you’re his only patient. He spends as much time as you feel you need. It’s genuine care.”

If you suffer from chronic pain, it is important to talk to your primary care physician. To schedule an appointment with Island Sports & Spine, please call 360.299.4929.

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