“Thank you” goes both ways

Posted February 25, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: advocacy, awareness, end of life, hospice, Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, spiritual care

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by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

thank you 2014At Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, we get thank you notes every day.  They are beautiful, heartfelt expressions of gratitude, written by loved ones, and reading them makes our job a whole lot easier.  I’ve said before that caring for patients at end of life is a calling for our clinicians, but that’s not to say it doesn’t take a toll emotionally.  We have hearts.  We get attached to patients too.  And saying goodbye isn’t easy for us either.  But reading these notes keeps us going.  The words on the paper make us realize that what we do is special.  Meaningful.  And always appreciated.  Here are just a few tidbits:

From a niece: “I did not have a positive experience with hospice care during the loss of my father in Virginia and was somewhat skeptical about hospice care here for my aunt.  I am so glad our doctor referred my aunt to HPCCR.”

From a daughter: “This was our first experience with hospice and we were very impressed with the care and comfort given to our mother.  Attention was paid to every detail for her and the family.  You were honest with us and made helpful suggestions.”

From a family: “Thank you for helping our family through the most difficult time of gradually and painfully parting with the most gentle husband and loving father.  Each member of your team has been kind, supportive, and thoughtful every step of the way while providing only excellent care.”

From a husband: “Without you, we could not have made it with so few scars.  You showed us the way and provided the knowledge and caring services.”

From a daughter: “You are helping us to get through this difficult time in our lives, watching and loving our precious mother as her health declines and she slips away from knowing us and remembering her own vibrant life of 97 years.”

From a husband: “The feeling of confidence which you instilled came not only with supplies and medication, but with the sense that your very personal attention and true understanding of the total situation was always only a phone call away.”

From a son: “I got to spend every second of the last week of my mother’s life with her because of all of you and that is a gift I can never repay.  So I hope ‘thank you’ is enough.”

These notes show gratitude to us, but what these precious, grieving family members don’t realize is that we should be thanking them.  Because these notes remind us why we do what we do.  They refuel our capacity to offer love when our compassion tanks run low.  Their words demonstrate the faith and trust that was given to us; they boost our spirits and renew our dedication to our mission on a daily basis.  You really can’t put a price on that.

Ice won’t stop us

Posted February 18, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: advocacy, awareness, caregiving, end of life, hospice

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Editor’s note:  This blog was originally published in January 2011.  Given the recent pattern of icy weather we’ve been having, I thought it was appropriate and worth reposting.  Rest assured, if more bad weather comes our way, our clinicians will again make their patients a priority and exceptional care will be delivered.  We’ve made a promise to them and we will deliver.

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

It’s a new year and a new age in health care.  Even as hospices around the country anxiously await the coming changes, we remain committed to providing expert end-of-life care to our patients.  Because, after all, that’s why we’re here.  To comfort.  To serve.

Here in Charlotte, we got hit with our first winter storm of 2011.  The snow was beautiful, the sledding great.  The ice that followed, though, literally shut our town down.  Schools have not opened their doors in days, neighborhood streets are treacherous, and parking lots are sheer sheets of ice.

Parents with cooped-up kids are not the only ones who have suffered.  Many of our hospice patients who receive treatment in their homes did not receive visits from their care teams early this week and they (along with their caregivers) really depend on those visits.  HPCCR care team members were anxious about the welfare of their patients and made every effort to stay in contact with them.  They braved the icy roads yesterday so that they could ease the minds and bodies of the patients in their charge.  They embodied the very nature of dependability and committment.  And the dedication did not end there.  Staff members at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville even spent the night at the facility so that  the patients there could continue to receive 24-hour care.

Over the past few days, HPCCR staff members rallied to the cause.  Schedules were rearranged, creative solutions were crafted, and our patients received the superior care to which they’ve become accustomed.  Teamwork and cooperation reigned and patient care was the priority.

Postal workers have traditionally received the accolades when it comes to bad weather.  “Neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail. . . ” and all that.  Well, postal workers, you’ve got some competition.  And they work for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region.

An unexpected gift

Posted February 12, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: awareness, end of life, hospice

Tags: , , ,

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

The quilt square lovingly made in honor of Shannon's mom, Yvonne.

The quilt square lovingly made in honor of Shannon’s mom, Yvonne.

I do a lot of writing for my job.  And because I do, I typically try to avoid clichés.  It’s not that clichés are bad, it’s just that I feel like I can come up with something on my own to express what I’m trying to say. But today, I’m resorting to a cliché because, well, sometimes a cliché perfectly conveys what it needs to.  So here it is:

Hospice is a gift that keeps on giving.

Yes, I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase a million times about a million other things, but when it comes to hospice care, it’s really true.  And I’ve got a story to prove it.

Shannon Armstrong has been a nurse since 2002; she is currently working toward her Masters in Nursing from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.  Through the course of earning this degree she has been meeting with a Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region nurse practitioner in our Medical Services department.  Well, at one of these meetings, Shannon looked up at the wall of our boardroom and was shocked to see something that she recognized.

It was a quilt square.  Made by her stepfather’s mother to honor the memory of Shannon’s own mother.

Shannon’s mother died in 1993 when Shannon was only 22 years old.  Her mom, Yvonne, was under the care of HPCCR (then called Hospice at Charlotte).  After Yvonne had passed away peacefully, Shannon’s step grandmother made the quilt square and, along with Yvonne’s name, included Shannon’s name and those of her stepfather and siblings.  Shannon had heard that the quilt square had gone to hospice, but she never saw it again.  Until November.  And that’s when she saw it hanging on the wall at the HPCCR office.

Shannon was shocked to see it but, at the same time, incredibly pleased.  She took a picture of the quilt square to send to her family members and she called her stepfather to let him know what she had seen.  Needless to say, he was just as thrilled.

When I talked to Shannon, I asked about her hospice experience with her mother all those years ago.  She had nothing but praise for the nurses who cared for her mom.  She said that the care team members helped her family know what to expect and were completely supportive throughout her mother’s illness.  When she saw the quilt square on the wall, she said that it made her feel like she was in the right place in her life.

You see why the cliché I picked is so appropriate?  The end-of-life care Shannon’s mom received in 1993 was certainly the original gift.  Seeing that quilt square on the wall of the hospice that cared for her mother over twenty years later?  Gift number two.  Being able to see, remember, and take pictures of the meaningful memento lovingly made in honor of Yvonne?  Gift number three.  Being able to share that picture with other family members who also loved Yvonne?  Another one. Seriously, I could go on and on.

Suffice it to say that hospice is a beautiful gift.  A gift that, without a doubt, keeps on giving.  Which is exactly what the cliché says.  And I honestly couldn’t say it any better.

Fueled by passion

Posted February 5, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: awareness, hospice, Levine & Dickson Hospice House

Tags: , , , ,

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

Joe Gibbs racingLiving in Charlotte, NC makes you extremely well aware of NASCAR and its popularity.  We’ve got the NASCAR Hall of Fame in our uptown, many of the big-name drivers live in our neck of the woods, most of the huge racing shops are here, and our city hosts two very large races each year.  I tend to think of Charlotte as ground zero for NASCAR passion.  And since all this stuff is RIGHT HERE, we sometimes forget that there are other places in this great country where NASCAR fans dwell.  People who eat, sleep, live, and breathe fast cars and loud engines.

Like Texas.  That’s where Kymberlea Wallace grew up and she might be the biggest NASCAR fan I’ve ever met. Kymberlea was a child of the 1970s which meant that, growing up, she had three or four channels to choose from on her black and white TV.  She vividly remembers one Sunday after church, turning on the TV, and seeing a NASCAR race featured on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.  That’s all it took.  One race and she was hooked.

Cale Yarborough was her very first idol.  She’s had many more since.  (Dale Jr. is her main man right now.)  Over the years, Kymberlea left her home state of Texas many times (her parents and friends shaking their heads in perplexion) to travel to various locations (Atlanta, Pocono, etc.) for her NASCAR fix.

A self-professed “greasehead”, Kymberlea has never lost her passion. Her passion is so strong, in fact, that she picked up and moved to the Charlotte area in 2012 just to be near the sport.  Her husband had recently passed away and she remembers that, before he died, he said to her, “When I’m gone, you’re going to move to North Carolina, aren’t you?”  Well, she absolutely did.

In July 2012, Kymberlea was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Told that with chemotherapy and radiation, she might expect to live two years, she bravely opted to forgo treatment, choosing to live her life on her terms for as long as she had left.

The cancer spread.  In November 2014, she came under the care of Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region but later that month, an overabundance of fluid in her lungs put her in the hospital.  Her prognosis looked fairly grim.  Luckily, that’s when Kymberlea learned about Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville. She got settled into her room at LDHH-H the day before Thanksgiving.

Kymberlea loved being at LDHH-H.  The staff answered her every need and took exceptional care of her.  And while there, she met Naomi and Robin, little NASCAR fairy godmothers who conspired to give her the experience of a lifetime.

Kym with 18 car

Kymberlea in her number 18 jacket beside the 18 car (driven by Kyle Busch)

Here’s what’s amazing: as die-hard of a fan as Kymberlea is, she had NO idea that Joe Gibbs Racing was practically across the street from LDHH-H.  What’s more, she didn’t know (how could she?) that LDHH-H staff member Naomi was married to a Joe Gibbs employee and that the volunteer assigned to her, Robin, was one of the original Joe Gibbs employees.  Pure coincidence?  I really don’t think so.  Pure kismet, if you ask me.

As soon as Naomi and Robin realized what a huge NASCAR fan they had on their hands, they began plotting.  Naomi got approval from Kymberlea’s doctors and steamrolled everything along.  She and Robin got in touch with the folks at Joe Gibbs Racing and explained the situation.  They graciously agreed to take Kymberlea on a tour of the facility and give her a VIP experience.  It happened just days before Christmas.

Let me tell you, they pulled out all the stops.  You should see Kymberlea’s face when she talks about the tour.  In fact, she almost has no words to describe the events that unfolded.  It was, quite simply, a dream come true.

Back in her room, sporting her number 18 hat and jacket

Back in her room, sporting her number 18 hat and jacket

They took her places where most people don’t get to go.  She saw the administrative offices and the break room.  She basically got to walk through the life cycle of a car, stopping at each station on the assembly line to learn exactly what happens at that point in time when Joe Gibbs Racing builds a new racecar.  She met some of the crew chiefs.  She spent over an hour with the guys in the truck shop, eating donuts and listening to them talk about their jobs.  She peeked into Joe Gibbs’ office and saw Joe’s son, J.D.  (She actually recognized him from the back of his head.  Didn’t I tell you she was a fanatic?!)  She got to smell oil and gasoline and hear engines roar so loud she vibrated.  If there is a heaven for Kymberlea Wallace, this was it.

When I met with Kymberlea in mid January, she was still buzzing from the experience.  She was in awe that the folks at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville would go to such great lengths to make her so happy.  “I feel like angels lifted me up.  These people have been more than amazing.  If I could hug every one of them right now, I would!”

Joe Gibbs Racing was very generous with their swag!

Joe Gibbs Racing was very generous with their swag!

I looked around Kymberlea’s room that day and saw all the swag that she had been given — books, shirts, hats, and a really slick jacket — and I saw something unique.  It was the room of a person who was embracing life.  I saw a woman who had chosen her own path, bravely beating the odds (so far) that were set for her over two years ago.  I could sense the passion that fuels her, could hear the strength of spirit in her words.  She’s independent, fierce, and driven.

I seriously think Kymberlea missed her calling as a NASCAR driver.

Kymberlea would like to sincerely thank every single person at LDHH-H and Joe Gibbs Racing who helped make this experience possible for her.  It was truly one of the highlights of her life.

A life of meaning

Posted January 28, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: awareness, customer service, hospice, volunteering

Tags: , ,

by Carol Anne Lawler, HPCCR Faith Community Educator

Our most recent class of volunteer"trainees"

Our most recent class of volunteer”trainees”

For Hospice Month in November last year, our Vice President of Business Development and Marketing, Sheri Lowe, suggested that our team commemorate the month by doing volunteer work as our way of giving back to the community for all the ways the community gives to Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region, enabling us to serve our the patients and families.  We brought in cans of food for a women’s shelter in South Carolina; made sandwiches at the Culinary Community School of Charlotte that we delivered to Family Forum, a place that cares for homeless and disabled veterans; and spent time at Sally’s YMCA in Denver. (Note: we were going to help with the walking trail, but when we arrived, we were needed to literally move dirt from one location to another to create a “GaGa Pit”,  a surface for a popular outdoor game at the Y.  Who knew?)  As we volunteered, team members appreciated the camaraderie, enjoyed the ensuing laughter, and felt good about being able to give back.

In this season of unrest, when there are protests in the streets, jet liner crashes, as well as personal tragedies, what seems to give life its meaning is the ability to move beyond one’s own world; to enter another by extending a hand of friendship, a ride to the store, or volunteering for some cause that benefits someone or something besides oneself.

As we enter this New Year, filled with new hopes and aspirations, consider volunteering for a cause near and dear to your heart.  You may decide you would like to be a volunteer for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region.  We have upcoming volunteer trainings on March 24, 26, 31, and April 2 from 5:30-9:00 pm at our Levine Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville (11900 Vanstory Dr.)  Simply go to our website for more information or call our main number at 704.375.0100, and ask for Volunteer Services.  In whatever you choose to do to give life meaning, may you be enriched in 2015.  Happy New Year!

A reason to love January

Posted January 21, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: fundraising, hospice, Soup on Sunday, special events

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by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

Soup on Sunday logo_50Raise your hand if you like January . . . . Ok, pretty sure there aren’t too many arms in the air.  But I get it.  January is a tough month to love.  The holidays, which were full of family, friends, and time off, have faded into memory.  We’ve still got about three months of cold weather to look forward to and spring break is almost that far away too.  So what is there to get excited about?

One word: soup.

That’s right, folks.  Soup on Sunday is BACK for its 15th year!  And just like every year before, it’s going to be amazing.  For three solid hours, you can taste some of the most delicious concoctions Charlotte chefs have to offer.  We’ll have vegetarian soups, soups with chicken and sausage, various chilis and bisques, and even a gluten-free recipe (yep, that’s right!) for those of you with sensitive bellies.

And there’s more than just soup.  There will be gorgeous, hand-made pottery to choose from, breads from Great Harvest Bread Company, Coca Cola products, and Bojangles sweet tea.  And there will be desserts.  I’m talking some serious chocolate, people!  The chefs from the participating culinary schools always come up with some breathtakingly beautiful, sweet creations to rival their scrumptious liquid creations.

Ok, so now let’s see a show of hands.  Yep, that’s what I thought.  When you walk out of the Phillip L. Van Every Culinary Arts Center, warmly and pleasantly full of delicious soup, you’ll realize something: Soup on Sunday gave you a reason to love January again.  You’re welcome.

Soup on Sunday takes place THIS SUNDAY, January 25, from 11 am until 2pm at the Phillip L. Van Every Culinary Arts Center on the CPCC campus. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. $30 will gain you general admission and the $40 Soup Lovers’ Special allows you to pick your very own handmade pottery bowl. Call Maribeth Burke at 704.335.4323 for more information. All proceeds support the programs and services of Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region.



Gratefully awed

Posted January 15, 2015 by hpccr
Categories: advocacy, awareness, caregiving, dementia, hospice, palliative

Tags: , , , , , , ,

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

LDHH towerWhen I first started working for Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region (over seven years ago!), I remember that I was pretty much awed on a daily basis.  As I started learning about the powerful impact of end-of-life care, every story I heard was groundbreaking (it seemed). The results of every study extolling the virtues of comfort care were worthy of shouting from the rooftops.  I realized then (and still believe now) that every single person on the planet should know about hospice.  Wide-spread education about this amazing and crucial service is the linchpin to eradicating the fear that so often comes along with it.

The WOW factor is slightly different now at work.  Don’t get me wrong, I am still completely awed by the inspiring people around me who work for this organization.  That hasn’t, and won’t, change.  In fact, I am in tears almost daily from the stories that swirl around me.  But over the course of seven years, I’ve heard and seen a lot.  So it takes something truly special to bring me back to the doe-eyed, child-like wonder of my first days with HPCCR.

It happened back in December.  I was asked to sit in on a palliative medicine consultation at the clinic at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville because I’d never had the privilege of watching our palliative nurse team at work.  And I have to tell you, it was simply outstanding.

Our patient, Mrs. S, had been seen off and on at the palliative clinic since May for symptoms related to advanced dementia.  Since her last visit, Mrs. S had lost significant weight, was weaker, sleeping more, and her appetite had declined somewhat.  Her family was obviously concerned because these changes had all happened within the past several weeks.  They spent time giving examples and looking at the careful notes they had taken.

Then the magic started.  Once the family had finished describing their loved one’s symptoms, nurse practitioner Penny Zimmerman and nurse liaison Kim Driscoll began their gentle and surreptitious question and education session.

Questions asked were along the lines of “What do you want for Mrs. S?”, “What kind of support do you need right now?” , “Could you use more support?”, and “How would you feel if she went back to the hospital?”

Then the education: “We look to see if the brain-to-muscle and brain-to-hand connections are weakening”,  “Dementia patients usually pass away from complications, not actually from the disease itself”, “What we want to do is preserve the quality of life”, and “Having a plan will be important for us and for you”.

After listening to the questions and the comments, I pretty much knew what Penny and Kim had in mind in terms of the help they wanted to offer this family.  Like I said, I’ve heard and written enough hospice stories to fill a novel.  But hospice is a scary concept.  It has to be broached carefully and softly, when the time is right.  That is, once the minds and hearts of loved ones have opened up just a crack to the possibility.  That’s when the transition from palliative to hospice, once tenuous and uncertain, begins to solidify.

Over the course of 90 minutes, I watched a stunning transformation.  I watched a scared and rather tense family walk in with their loved one, worried about outcomes and next steps.  I watched as Penny and Kim, two masters at work, calmed their fears and offered a new lifeline; one that would give them additional, regular visits from an entire team of expert clinicians and 24/7 emergency support whenever they needed it.  This hospice lifeline would largely take the guesswork out of caring for Mrs. S.  It would allow the primary caregivers to go back to being a daughter-in-law and a granddaughter. The family left the appointment with relief and smiles on their faces, secure in the knowledge that they were doing the right thing for Mrs. S.

Sometimes caregivers feel guilty choosing hospice.  They feel like they haven’t done their job well enough and that’s why their loved one is declining.  But Penny and Kim said something that truly struck me.  They said, “Sometimes the vehicle starts to fail despite the work of the soul.”  Wow.  Now, that’s poignant.

You know what I take away from that statement?  That our loved ones want to be healthy for us at end of life, but they simply can’t. And it’s not anyone’s fault.  But it’s our job to make the very best decisions for them because we love them.  We want what’s best for them.  And in this case, what was best for Mrs. S was hospice care.

Caring for a loved one is hard.  There’s responsibility and pressure and decision-making.  And what makes it even more complicated is the enormous, messy love that floods our senses.  Once strong emotions get folded into the mix, it’s harder to separate the brain from the heart.  And making decisions regarding end-of-life care?  Not easy, to say the least.  Aren’t we blessed, then, when we find folks who help us through that process?  When we can be led, like a trusting child, to the right decision?  And then be gratefully awed at the outcome?


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