Archive for the ‘Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County’ category

On the road to Lincolnton (another great clinic story)

September 10, 2015

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

(L) Amy Atwell, nurse liaison, and Jessica Hill, nurse practitioner

Amy Atwell (l), nurse liaison, and Jessica Hill, nurse practitioner

I’ve worked in many different companies — a bank, a telecommunications firm, a branding agency — but none of these places afforded me the vast and varied experiences like the ones I’ve had working for a hospice organization.  I’ve been in patient homes, in long-term care communities, clinics, and in hospice houses and I’ve traveled through numerous counties in North and South Carolina to meet families and collect stories.  The opportunities are seemingly everywhere.  That’s not surprising when you take into account the outstanding care we offer our patients; they are usually more than happy to share their experiences with us.

So that’s how I found myself on the road to Lincolnton a few weeks ago, ready to once again put on my listening ears and take notes.  We recently started holding a palliative care clinic at Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County (HPCLC) and it was high time for me to check it out.

I’d been to the palliative clinic at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville a couple of times before I visited this clinic at HPCLC.  Both experiences were completely eye-opening and wonderfully educational.  But one was very different from the other.  The patients and families I sat with at the hospice house received advice and counseling about maintaining quality of life and accessing support; in Lincolnton, the patients were concerned with quality of life too, but the discussions rotated more around symptom management.  (Disclosure: At LDHH-H, the patients I observed had dementia while the patients in Lincolnton were cancer patients — very different situations and goals of care.)  So, from my observations, the clinic in Lincolnton felt more like a traditional “doctor’s visit” while the clinic at LDHH-H felt more like a counseling session.

There was one thing, though, that both clinics had in common: the clinicians were out-of-this-world fantastic.  In Lincolnton, I met Amy Atwell, nurse liaison, and Jessica Hill, nurse practitioner.  They were both utterly charming and approachable — qualities that (I believe) are crucial for interacting with chronically sick patients.  And what’s more important, it was so very apparent that Amy and Jessica care deeply about their patients.  They do not offer mere lip service; everything they say comes from a blend of engaged mind and passionate heart.  They are both intentional and well-meaning in their actions and the counsel they offer.

I watched them interact with two patients that day.  Both patients were women, both had cancer.  The process was the same with each  —  Amy, the nurse liaison, spoke with the patient first and Jessica would follow up.  Amy counted and documented medications, asked about pain levels, and took vitals.  She asked about their eating habits, took their weight, and made sure they understood the timing of their pain medications.  Obviously very familiar with her patients, she joked with them, was sympathetic, delightfully “bossy”, and wholeheartedly supportive.

Jessica (the NP) would come in after Amy was finished.  She asked more questions of her patients, probing a little deeper into their mental state.  She asked about their anxiety levels, and how their pain was affecting them.  The first patient she saw, Deborah, was still receiving radiation; Jessica gave her tips on how to deal with the side effects.  (“Radiation loves protein,” I heard her say.  Who knew?)  She was able to explain what happens to the body during treatment in a way that made complete sense, using layman’s terms that even I could understand.  Jessica praised Deborah for accomplishments that she’s made since she started coming to the clinic two months ago — staying on top of her pain, and making good food and lifestyle choices.

HPCLC patient Kim with her son, Steven

HPCLC patient Kim with her son, Steven

The second patient that day, Kim, was a true “success” story.  Several months ago, the pain and nausea from her disease and treatment were so bad that she literally couldn’t get out of bed.  But since starting her visits to the clinic in April, her pain and symptoms are under control, she’s been able to eat, and has even gained a few pounds.  When Amy and Jessica saw her, they both had nothing but compliments — Kim had recently cut and colored her hair and, on that day, she had even put on makeup. (Another disclosure: Kim knew she was going to be observed and potentially photographed so she came prepared!)

Kim will be facing a detailed surgery soon and, understandably, had some concerns (I believe the words “dreading it” were used) over what would be happening.  Jessica calmly walked her through the steps of the procedure (again using terms that everyone in the room understood) and I watched as Kim visibly relaxed.  Jessica has an unbelievable knack for explanation.  She doesn’t sugarcoat but she doesn’t make it sound scary either.  She seems to sense the emotions that her patients will experience before they do and, as such, she tailors her words to compensate for those potential fears.  It’s a ministry of sorts that is extremely inspiring to witness.

Kim came to the clinic with her son, Steven.  Steven is Kim’s primary caregiver, sharing his mother’s journey and all the ups and downs that come with cancer treatment.  They both could not say enough good things about the HPCLC clinic and their interactions with Amy and Jessica.  They told me that coming to the clinic is so different from other doctor appointments.  I heard, “They don’t talk down to us here,” and “They spend as much time with us as we need.”

The mindsets and attitudes are just different here, born from a true desire to help combined with personal experience and perspective.  Jessica’s own father has cancer so she has been on both sides of the stethoscope.  She inherently understands the fear of watching a loved one fight this awful disease yet she also has the medical background and the clinical ears to assimilate information.  She acknowledges, though, that assuming the “loved one” role is often much harder than the “nurse practitioner” role.  Therefore, her empathy for her patients is real; her motivation to offer peace of mind is completely true and one hundred percent earnest.

I walked away from our Lincolnton office once again completely impressed with the staff members who work for this organization.  Like so many others I’ve had the fortune to observe, compassion, care, and concern simply radiate from the faces of Amy Atwell and Jessica Hill.  That, along with their dynamic personalities, goes a long way toward disproving the stereotype that “going to the doctor” is stressful and awful.  They had their patients laughing and smiling, a welcome relief (I would imagine) from dealing with cancer day in and day out.  It was truly a sight to behold and an experience that I won’t soon forget.

I’m telling you what.  You just don’t have days like that when you work at a bank.

Heartfelt gift

August 5, 2015

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

heart painting for LDHH-HThe painting hangs on the wall at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville, a beautiful reminder that love has a constant presence in this special place.  Perhaps it’s an homage to the hearts of the patients who were blessed to call LDHH-H their last home.  Or maybe it captures the kind hearts of the staff who so gently and passionately care for the patients and families inhabiting the rooms.  Most likely, it’s both of these things.

We have Gini Sellers, a Kindergarten teacher at Lincoln Charter School, to thank for the painting.  That’s because a while back, one of Gini’s fellow Kindergarten teachers was going through the process of getting her mother admitted to a local hospice house.  When visiting her mom, this teacher was struck by a painting of hearts she saw there; hearts that were all different sizes, shapes, and colors.  She came back to work and told her coworkers about it and the image stuck in Gini’s mind.

Soon enough, Gini found herself in a similar situation.  Her mother-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and came under the care of Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County in November last year.  When her symptoms could no longer be managed at her home, Gini’s mother-in-law was moved to Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville.  She passed away there about a week later.

Gini told me that they were expecting the hospice house experience to be terrible; they were frightened of every implication it held.  Instead, she found herself surprised at almost every turn.  She was touched that the staff members were just as concerned about her family’s needs as they were about her mother in law’s.  She was shocked at how hands-on the doctors were.  She was not expecting the environment to be so comfortable and she certainly didn’t think that she would describe the experience as positive.  But it truly was.

Through it all, Gini remembered that heart painting her coworker had told her about.  And an idea began to form.

All of the grade levels at Lincoln Charter School are required to complete a certain number of community service hours each year; the Kindergarten classes must complete five.  Gini thought that creating a heart painting (like the one she’d heard about) for LDHH-H would be the perfect service project to cross off that requirement.

heart painting hanging_LDHH

The heart painting hanging on the wall at LDHH-H

Hearts were drawn on a large canvas and children began painting, choosing the heart they wanted and the color they wished to paint it.  More and more hearts were added as the previous ones dried, creating a multi-layered (and extremely bright) effect.  All 66 Kindergarten students and their three teachers participated in the project.  The art teacher helped add the finishing touches.

The result is a beautiful, happy collage of color and texture with an all-encompassing, all-important theme — love.  It’s the sentiment Gini and her family felt at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville, it’s the emotion that drove the creation of this beautiful piece of art, and it’s the strongest feeling we have for those we hold dear.  And this painting portrays exactly where we hold those precious ones — in our hearts.

Special thanks to Gini Sellers and the students at Lincoln Charter School for creating this beautiful painting for LDHH-H.  It is truly a special gift and is most appreciated!

Celebrating end-of-life care in November

November 25, 2014

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

After October, which is awash in glorious shades of pink to recognize breast cancer, we come to the month of November, which most of us associate with the beginning of the holiday season. But that’s not all November has to offer. It’s also the month when we acknowledge an important (and often overlooked) service in our community: end-of-life care.

Brooklyn and her brother, Nathan

November is National Hospice Month. Hospice is comfort-oriented care for individuals at end of life (typically with a prognosis of six months or less) who are no longer seeking curative treatment. When we picture hospice patients, we often think of men and women who are our grandparents’ age. But this is not always the case. Brooklyn Cockerline is a perfect example.

On the day that I visited Brooklyn in her hometown of Lincolnton, she was a little under the weather. Thanks to congestion in her chest, breathing was a little more difficult than normal. But you couldn’t tell that she felt unwell at all. In fact, there was a beautiful, joyous smile on her face which became even more pronounced once she got settled in her mother’s lap for our interview.

Brooklyn just turned six years old in October. Typical six-year olds would be running around the house, talking non-stop and getting into everything. Unfortunately, Brooklyn can’t walk and she can’t talk. But she is a most wonderful blessing to her family and everyone who meets her.

Brooklyn was infected with congenital CMV (Congenital cytomegalovirus infection) while in the womb. Her mother, Alicia, contracted the infection while pregnant and unknowingly passed the virus onto her daughter. At the time, Alicia was working for a day care where CMV is a fairly common infection (between 50 and 80% of Americans will have had it by the time they are 40 years old). But for unborn children, the infection is much more serious. It keeps the baby’s brain from developing fully and leads to seizures, low birth weight, hearing loss, and vision impairment.

When she was seventeen weeks pregnant, Alicia learned that Brooklyn had developed congenital CMV. Despite outside pressure to terminate the pregnancy, Alicia and her husband refused to give up on their daughter; Brooklyn ultimately made her appearance at 35 weeks, about a month early.

Alicia and her husband did not know what to expect when Brooklyn was born. But she surprised them. Her birth weight was very normal and she was breathing on her own immediately.

That’s not to say, though, that Brooklyn and her family have had it easy. She’s had seizures throughout her short life which have caused untold damage to her brain and nervous system. She gets sick extremely easily; a seemingly simple cold can turn into an extended hospital stay if not treated immediately. Fortunately, Brooklyn has Dr. Benton in her corner, a wonderful physician who, two years ago, asked Brooklyn’s parents a simple but life-changing question, “Have you thought about hospice care?”

To any parent, it’s a completely terrifying question. But hospice care for children, for the most part, is different than hospice for adults. It is typically harder to know what path an illness might take in a child and prognosis is much more difficult. Dr. Benton was talking about Kids Path®, the pediatric program of Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region (HPCCR) that provides care to children who are living with a serious illness or condition. Kids Path offers physical, emotional, and spiritual care with the goal of enhancing the quality of life for children and their families. For most of the children in the Kids Path program, their illness continues for much longer than the typical six months that is generally associated with hospice care.

In Brooklyn’s case, her Kids Path team consists of a physician, nurse, and social worker who work alongside Dr. Benton to care for her every need. She also has access to a chaplain, an in-home aide, and a volunteer whenever she or her family feel the need for those services.

Having such a diverse and well-rounded team at their disposal has created an almost house call-like situation for Brooklyn’s family. “All I have to do is make a phone call and someone comes out to check on Brooklyn,” explains Alicia. “We don’t have to take her into an office where she risks picking up other germs or infections.”

Brooklyn’s social worker helps her play with the iPad

Brooklyn’s nurse, Cyndi Jo, visits once a week to take assess her health, review her medications, collect labs, and discuss her plan of care. Her social worker, Candace, comes every other week to provide emotional support to the entire family and to interact with Brooklyn. She uses an iPad, along with other therapeutic interventions, to engage her young patient, and also includes fun activities like painting Brooklyn’s nails. And around every sixty days, Brooklyn has face-to-face visits with an HPCCR physician who recertifies her for hospice care, allowing her to stay in the Kids Path program. For almost two years, Brooklyn has been lovingly supported by this wonderful team, adding stability and comfort where it is most needed.

Brooklyn is an extremely happy and social child who loves watching her seven-year old brother play soccer and enjoys time with her cousins and other family members. She laughs spontaneously and is quite adept at communicating what she needs, even without words. “Since Brooklyn has become a Kids Path patient, she has had fewer seizures and her quality of life is much better,” Alicia says with relief.

Alicia and her husband do not know how much time they will be allowed with Brooklyn. She’s already had a few extremely frightening stays in the hospital over the past few years; one time in particular, Brooklyn became septic and was extremely close to death. But what they do know is that they are surrounded by a caring, compassionate Kids Path team whose goal is to keep Brooklyn healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Brooklyn and her family show us exactly why hospice care is celebrated and acknowledged in November. They remind us that life is meant to be lived with simple joy; that with the exceptional care that end-of-life services provide, anyone – young or old – with limited life expectancy can make every day count.

Kids Path® is a program of Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region serving eleven counties in North and South Carolina. For more information, call 704.735.0100 or visit hpccr.org.

Pancakes!

July 25, 2014

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

pancakesPancakes are delicious.  And I’m pretty sure there aren’t many people who could argue that point.  What’s not to like about crisp-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside, warm circles of utter delightfulness??  Who would turn down a nice, tall stack of pancakes with butter and syrup dripping off the edges?  (If you would, I don’t want to hear it.  You’re warped in the head.)  My mouth is watering just thinking about it. . . .

So if you like pancakes and you like a good cause, then we’ve got the perfect event for you!  This Saturday, from 8-11am in Lincolnton at Fatz Café (1430 East Main Street), you can come out to the Short Stacks For Big Change Pancake Breakfast where you can indulge your pancake craving to your heart’s delight.  For a mere $8 (This is for adults.  It will be $5 for kids eight and under), you can eat a ton (three pancakes, sausage, bacon, orange slices, and a beverage) and you’ll feel great knowing that the proceeds will support our newly renovated and expanded Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County (HPCLC) office on Dontia Drive.

Want more incentive?  The Timken Foundation has promised to match every single dollar we raise for this new building.  That means that when you buy a ticket for $8, it’s like making a donation of $16!  Truly a win-win!  So bring your whole family out tomorrow to eat pancakes (and the fixin’s!) and show your support for Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County.  Oh, and any of you warped-in-the-head pancake haters out there don’t have to come.  We don’t feel like arguing with you.

 

Pancake haters need not attend, but we will take your donation (you know, because it will be matched)!  Visit the donation page on our website and choose Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County in the designation drop down menu.  Many thanks to the Timken Foundation for matching every gift made to the HPCLC building project until July 31.  For more information about the pancake breakfast, contact Julia Moore at 704.602.0903.

The humble hero

June 19, 2014

by Walt Windley, Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County Chaplain

Jim Kelly pic

Dr. Jim Kelly, the dental miracle worker

Bestselling author and award winner Jodi Picoult writes in her novel Second Glances that “[h]eroes didn’t leap tall buildings or stop bullets with an outstretched hand; they didn’t wear boots and capes. They bled, and they bruised, and their superpowers were as simple as listening, or loving.  Heroes were ordinary people who knew that even if their own lives were impossibly knotted, they could untangle someone else’s.  And maybe that one act could lead someone to rescue you right back.”

If you ask Dr. Jim Kelly, he would tell you that he is certainly no hero; in fact, he would probably describe himself as a Gastonia “good ole boy” who loves hunting, fishing, and yes, working with teeth.  For those who know him, they are quick to point out a humble man of deep faith who loves in really big and generous ways.  He kind of fell into the profession, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, father, and older brother — graduating from UNC dental school and coming back to the place where his roots grew strong in a local family-owned practice.  Today, he and his wife carry on the tradition in a new shiny building with the same warm smile and Southern hospitality that has so long defined his family name.

His relationship started with hospice about a year ago.  Some would call it an accident, but Dr. Kelly would say his sense of adventure has led him to moments like this.  A local Veteran under hospice services lost an incredible amount of weight rather quickly.  He was primarily bed-bound and was no longer able to leave his home.  His appeal for new dentures had been rejected since the patient was under hospice and “would be dying anyway.”  This patient grew weaker every day and found himself only able to eat extremely soft foods.  He told me that his great wish would be to enjoy a juicy steak one last time — something that seems insignificant to most of us who pull up to any restaurant whenever we get the craving and order at our heart’s delight.  In comes Dr. Jim.  He agreed to see the patient in his home and figured out a plan to grant this final wish, in between the swapping of stories about motorcycles and service to country.  Over a series of a couple of visits, Dr. Kelly would completely grind down and realign this patient’s dentures.  Weeks before he died, a large steak was delivered from Longhorn Steakhouse and completely devoured!

This single experience was enough to get Dr. Kelly hooked.  He would invest in the tools to create his own mobile clinic of sorts, eager to help other hospice patients that may need assistance.  And maybe the best gift of all — he has offered all of his services completely free of charge.  Dr. Kelly has made a significant investment in community and people, seeking to untangle the lives of those in front of him.   And he would say his life has found a deeper sense of meaning and understanding in the process.

There was that patient in an assisted living community whose dentures could be dated back to the 1950’s.  Dr. Jim stepped in to answer the call, working tirelessly with the patient to give him a new smile that became his deepest joy.  He convinced a local lab to donate their time and services as well.  And when the patient needed more than could be offered in the community, Dr. Kelly would help arrange for the patient to be brought into his office and bring in staff early one morning to address all of his needs.  He realized in a man who many had forgotten that his life was worthy of respect and love.

And finally, there is the family to whom he will always be known as “the angel brought from God”.  The patient was an elderly woman with three daughters who served as primary caregivers.  This patient desperately needed to have her dentures realigned but the family feared that she would not survive the transport to the office as she grew increasingly weak.  Dr. Jim agreed to make a visit.  During that first encounter, the patient was nervous; she’d never taken out her dentures in the presence of a man.  Dr. Kelly offered a loving presence, simply engaging in conversation while building rapport.  He visited several times before he even got around to working on her teeth, realizing that socialization was an equally important gift.  The patient did eventually pass away, but she passed away a very happy woman.  She had a freshly aligned set of teeth and enjoyed a marathon of all of her favorite foods during her last weeks.  For her daughters, seeing their mom, who had turned away food time and time again, finally ask for something to eat was simply a miracle.  Their tears spoke volumes, having found some peace in the most unlikely of places.

Dr. Jim hasn’t leapt over any tall buildings, and he certainly hasn’t stopped any flying bullets.  But he has taken the time to listen, to love, and to serve in ways that have left us speechless, all while maintaining his sense of humility and faith.  A valuable relationship has been formed in Gaston County that has rich potential to redefine the ways we think about community.  Never has the power of a smile had more meaning.

Love letters

May 15, 2014

 by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

Love-Letter-HeartWe receive letters almost every day from relatives of patients who were under our care.  The letters are filled with emotion, gratitude, and respect.  Reading them is extremely gratifying for us.  I guess if you think about it, it’s kind of a quid pro quo.  The care that our clinicians offer each patient and each family member is a unique love letter in its own way.  For these individuals to put their thanks on paper is simply a love letter back.  So for today’s post, I’m going to let the letters do the talking.  Here are some of our favorites:

“I don’t know what I would have done without your help.  Losing Frank was like losing half of me.  Your care was indeed palliative and much appreciated by Frank, me, and our families.  How glad we are that there is an organization like hospice that will step in when the end is near and be there for us all in unbelievable love, compassion, and expertise.”

“From answering numerous questions (at all hours of the day) from worried family members, to ensuring Dad had what he needed, the staff at Levine & Dickson Hospice House was there.  EACH and EVERY staff member went above and beyond to provide the type of service any health care system would be proud to be known for.  Thank you.  Thank you for caring.  Thank you for keeping us informed.  The best way I can say it is: Thank you for tenderly, sweetly, lovingly, unselfishly taking care of my Dad in his final days of life.”

“I think we have finally figured you out.  You all are actually angels sent down from heaven to ease our suffering and pain. We are truly grateful for each one of you who worked with us.”

“As a former employee and a current volunteer, I am very aware of the great gift that hospices give to patients and families.  Mother’s care team brightened her days and lifted her up in caring and love.  I was always exquisitely happy for their hugs and support.”

“The staff at Levine & Dickson Hospice House are truly great individuals who made the effort to make sure that everyone was comfortable with the decisions in Mom’s final days.”

“Dear Levine & Dickson Hospice House, please accept this donation.  My friends and I made rainbow loom bracelets and sold them in our neighborhood.  My mommy was there in the spring.  You took great care of her.  I will always remember that.”

“You have made the worst news we could have ever gotten so much more tolerable.  Your patience and understanding, the way you all communicated what was to be expected . . . . I can only say I will be forever grateful.”

“It was so helpful to be informed every step of the way what to expect, what was normal, and what we should be doing or not doing.”

“Knowing that the doctors and nurses kept Mom comfortable and as pain-free as possible made her passing more bearable.  What people don’t realize is that the hospice staff also counsel and guide the family.  We are so grateful for all the support!”

“In a time of extreme frustration, fear, and sadness, the hospice team came into our lives and enabled us to give our mother what she wanted — to die peacefully at home.  They came in, assessed the situation, helped us figure out what needed to be done, provided everything we needed, and cared for us so that we could care for our mother.  We are so very grateful to each of you who does this important work.”

We couldn’t have said it better.

 

Are you listening? Do you hear?

April 28, 2014

by Carol Anne Lawler, HPCCR Communities of Faith Liaison

listeningThe above title constituted the theme of the United in Hope for Our Community Prayer Breakfast that I attended several weeks ago at First Christian Church in Lincolnton, NC.  The minister, Rev. Kathy Naish, raises her own chickens, and so breakfast was made with her own organic eggs, directly from her hen house.  She even made gravy, to the delight of a few of the more boisterous ministers, who clamored for sausage gravy, at every turn, in the preceding weeks. Breakfast was indeed tasty and it was only the precursor of what was to come.

Kathy Vinzant, Executive Director of the United Way in Lincoln County, was the speaker who shared her life story, which included a number of challenges as she grew up.  As an adult, working on the issues of domestic violence and child abuse, she told us about a woman who called her to say she really needed to talk.  Well, Kathy met with her in a school parking lot, and they talked for several hours.  She later found out the woman had planned to take her own life that very afternoon.  Are you listening?  Do you hear?

That was just one example among a number of other personal ways Kathy’s life has touched others.  She concluded her remarks by saying that she couldn’t sew, couldn’t cook, couldn’t sing, etc.  But that God had given her a life – to use.  And so she has, and still does, make a difference by working with United Way, an organization that has consistently been generous to Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County.

Those sitting at their tables were given a slip of paper with a prayer topic –within the community and in the world – for those who suffer and were in need of prayer.  In a day and age when almost every subject begins and ends divisively, words of connection, thoughts for healing, and intention for one’s highest good was the order of the day.  We accomplished much in a short hour and a half that Tuesday.

So how does a prayer breakfast in Lincolnton relate to Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region?  For one thing, the community was able to meet our Lincoln County chaplains, Earlynne Bartley and Walt Windley, who do a wonderful job of meeting people’s spiritual needs for our organization.  Second, as Faith Community Liaison, part of my role is to build relationships, provide education, and be a resource within the faith community.  I submit to you that relationships were deepened and friendships formed because we came together for the common good.  And as HPCCR President & CEO Pete Brunnick recently said at the unveiling of the new Hospice & Palliative Care Lincoln County office, “This is your hospice. We couldn’t do this without you.”

That is so true. We simply need to take more opportunities to come together around what unites us.  In hope.  One faith community at a time.  Or, one community coming together in faith.

Are you listening?  Do you hear?