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Chronic Illness, Palliative Care

Vorbach 620

Documented: November 2011

When Winifred Marie Vorbach's late husband was drafted and went off to fight overseas during World War II, his young bride saw no reason why she should sit around and wait for him to come home. So instead, she joined too and served in the Army for two years. That's the kind of person Wini Vorbach was - involved, independent, engaged in life and living it to the fullest.

Nothing stopped Wini Vorbach from making the most of each day that came along. Toward the end of her eighth decade, however, the painful effects of arthritis and rectal cancer became more and more difficult for her to ignore. That's when a personal war began for Wini - the battle for quality of life. Fortunately, Wini had allies in her fight. Along with a loving and supportive family, Wini had plenty of help from Neighborhood Health's Palliative Care Program.

Palliative Care at Neighborhood Health has the tools and staff to help manage pain and discomfort for adults with a serious illness or chronic medical disorder. The goal is to make it possible for these individuals to continue living life as comfortably and as fully as possible. Neighborhood Health's experienced staff was there to help keep Wini's pain from stealing away her independence and enthusiasm for life.

Wini was a resident of Villa Saint Martha, an assisted living community in Downingtown. Neighborhood Health's palliative care nurses were able to visit Wini at the Villa as often as needed to manage her discomfort, working closely with the Villa's nursing staff. Wini's daughter Joan Snyder, who lived nearby, stayed very involved as she watched her stoic mother quietly wage her battle.

"Neighborhood Health's team was just unbelievable. I think the most important thing is that they listened. They listened to my mother, and they listened to me," said Joan. "The nurses worked with her personality and respected her independence. They didn't try to force her to do anything, but got her to do what she needed to do to continue to have less pain, continue to be active, and go down to meals."

According to Joan, Wini was never one to talk about her challenges. In fact, Wini never complained at all, which could have been an issue for the palliative care team trying to help ease her pain. "She wouldn't ask for help even when in extraordinary pain, but it was amazing how the Neighborhood Health nurses could see it in her eyes," explained Joan. "That's how they knew when to increase medications, change medications, or try something different. Her eyes gave her away, but that's the only way they knew."

Although Wini's medical condition was declining, Neighborhood Health's nurses were able to keep her comfortable and strong enough to remain mobile and spend time with her friends and family. "She was one tough woman, but I don't think she would have been able to stay active if we didn't have the palliative care program," insists Joan. "She would not have been able to continue her friendships, participate in meals, or go to Mass. Literally, up until two days before she went to Neighborhood Health's inpatient hospice unit, she was still walking. It was amazing."

When July 4th approached, Joan spoke with the Neighborhood Health nurses to see if they thought it would be possible for Wini to spend the day at Joan's home. Joan was admittedly nervous about the idea, but felt in her heart that it might be the last time Wini would be able to make such a visit.

"I counseled with her nurses to see if they thought I could handle bringing her to my home, because I was really worried," said Joan. "They all said, 'Do it. You can do it.' And, so she came. She had a little barbeque. She sat on the porch. She enjoyed her son-in-law. She enjoyed our cats. All things she loved so much. The nurses gave me the courage to try. They made sure my mother felt up to it."

Wini passed away just 10 days later. Following her mother's death, Joan had lunch with some of Wini's friends at Villa St. Martha. To her surprise, the women hadn't realized how ill or in pain their friend had been. "They knew she passed away, but they really had no idea about her circumstances. No idea." said Joan. "When I told them, they were stunned. Absolutely stunned."

Palliative care is all about helping patients with debilitating chronic conditions and their family members - like Wini and Joan - better cope with the challenges of disease and/or the side effects of treatment. It is not about treating or curing disease. The medical specialty is designed to help make it possible for people to live life as closely to their own version of "normal" as possible. Unlike hospice care, palliative care is available regardless of a patient's life expectancy or medical treatment plan. And palliative care can begin at the point of initial diagnosis. There is no need to wait.

By Beth Eburn

For more information about palliative care, call Neighborhood Health at 610.696.6511. A customer service team is available to answer your questions. Learn More about the many programs and services provided by Neighborhood Health.

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