Families understand need for hospice center

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By Rachel Johnson, Staff Writer

For three local families the need for the new SECU Hospice House of Brunswick County is close to home.

Beryl Hall, Pamela Brown and Amy Davis all know the comforts provided through a hospice life care facility.

Hall’s mother suffered a severe stroke in December 2008. The family was told it was unlikely she would recover. They found comfort in the transition through the Lower Cape Fear Hospice & LifeCareCenter in Wilmington.

“They were wonderful and very caring of my mother, my sisters and myself,” Hall said.

The family stayed beside their mother 24 hours a day.

“It was a comfort because there was always someone with her,” Hall said.

Hall commuted from Brunswick County during the week to Wilmington to spend the night with her mother.

“When I’d leave her in the morning, I never worried that she was being looked after. That was very comforting for me,” Hall said.

After about a month in hospice care, Hall’s mother died.

“It was so important to have someone (the doctors) help us understand what was going on,” Hall said. “I don’t think we would have made it through without a care center. Everything was handled so discretely. They were very accommodating. If it was within their power to help us, they did. I am so glad the State Employees Credit Union is helping us get this one.”

Some of the comforts Hall and her family experienced included spacious rooms large enough for multiple family members in addition to having a place to sleep in the room.

“There is a lot of care for the family, not just the patients,” Hall said.

She is looking forward to having a care center in Brunswick County.

“There is such a need,” Hall said. “For families in Brunswick County it will offer them the opportunity to be closer to home.”

Hall decided she wanted the opportunity to do something to honor her mother’s name. She has donated a patio garden at the new center in memory of her mother, Clara Highsmith.


Gene Alton Hankins

Pamela Brown’s father Gene Alton Hankins spent his last days at the Lower Cape Fear Hospice LifeCareCenter in Wilmington.

“I was so impressed with the facility because it gave such a comforting feeling,” Brown said. “It was more like a preparation stage, not a hospital. It felt like our loved one was somewhere his last days mattered. They never treated my father like he was dying.”

Hankins wanted to stay at home, but he needed round the clock medical care. The LifeCareCenter offered the care he needed.

“He needed medical care we couldn’t give him,” Brown said. “At the center he had 24 hour care and we could visit anytime and stay as long as we wanted.”

While Hankins was at the hospice center, nurses added an extra touch Brown will never forget.

“They put olive oil on his skin. He just looked so pretty. It was soothing to his skin,” Brown said. “I am so glad to have had that experience knowing my father had a chance to prepare. The care and attention my father received made it so the family was able to go on and not be stressed out because we knew he was being taken care of. We were relieved he was in a facility that cared about him and us.”

Prior to her experiences with hospice, Brown thought hospice only cared for cancer patients. She discovered the services offered extend well beyond that.

Another gift Brown will always cherish is the words of one of her father’s nurses.

“The night before my father passed I was going to go home because I was planning to stay that Friday night. The nurse said, ‘You’re here now, stay now.’ That night as I was rubbing his head he mouthed ‘I love you.’ I am so glad that I spent that time with him,” she said. “It was like the nurse knew.”

Brown is a big supporter of the new center being constructed in Brunswick County.

“I think it will give other families a closeness and extra time to spend with loved ones,” she said. “They will have the comfort of being at a life care center and being at home. I think it is very beneficial to Brunswick County and the families will enjoy having the life care center here. They will get professional loving care at home in their county, in their town.”


Jim Davis

Amy Davis and her family began their journey with Lower Cape Fear Hospice at home with nurses and volunteers.

Her husband, Jim Davis, was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis three years before moving to Sunset Beach. His conditions worsened and his Amy knew she needed help.

“I didn’t want him to give up and think this was going to be the end of his life,” Amy said.

In October 2010, Jim spent two weeks in the care center in Wilmington to help regulate his medications for pain management.

“Everybody was so perky. It perked him right up. He went home in pretty good shape,” Amy said.

He returned in November shortly after Thanksgiving for one night and died unexpectedly.

While Jim was at the center in October, a volunteer helped him create a valuable treasure by interviewing him and video taping it for his family.

“He wanted to do his life story. He planned to finish it in December,” Amy said. “After he passed, the volunteer sent a DVD to me and our children. It’s priceless. It means a lot and comforts me. Even the dog recognizes his voice and sits right up. The volunteers saved my life. He was not alone for long periods. There was no other help from anywhere else unless he was in a facility.”

Amy said hospice was always checking on her and showed concern. During their stay at the life care center, it was the little things that made a huge difference to her and her family.

“He was six-four so they brought him an extra long bed they called the ‘Cadillac Bed.’ He could see the garden from his room; the staff came in at Halloween and took pictures in their costumes with him. There were so many little things that mean a lot,” Amy said.

The Davis’ experienced the comforts of talking with a chaplain and Amy participated in bereavement counseling after her husband passed away.

The family also found comfort in volunteers playing music on the piano that could be heard from the room, and the CD players and CD selection that is a part of the music therapy program. Another highlight for the family was the pet therapy program.

“He enjoyed the service animals being brought into visit,” Amy said. “He missed our dog and while we could have brought him it was too far to travel back and forth.”

Amy spent a lot of time walking through the garden. Jim watched the squirrels and the birds through a large window in his room.

“It brings enjoyment to still see life outside the window,” Amy said. “Someone has really thought it through to know what brings peace to people and it all seems to come together at the care center.”

Each day meals are served in a cafeteria at the Wilmington center. All the food is provided as a gift to the center and patient’s families by area churches. It is hoped a similar program will be initiated at the new SECU Hospice House of Brunswick County.

“What a huge thing that is in itself having those meals there. It is a financial struggle when you are coming in from out of town and it provides extra time to be right there, knowing you don’t have to worry about it,” Amy said.

The drive to Wilmington was long for Amy and her family. At the time she was working in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and driving daily to Wilmington. She recalls several times she forgot something at home and had to drive back to Sunset Beach.

Amy thinks the new center in Brunswick County will offer much needed support for those in need locally.

“I wish the word was out there more for hospice. The need is unbelievable,” Amy said. “When I heard there were 6-beds in the new facility, I said they need more.”

Life care centers are open to patients for a variety of reasons including pain management and respite care.

“It can be just what you need, when you need it,” said Rebecca Long, community outreach coordinator. “A lot of people don’t know how broad our resources are and the benefits of getting in earlier.”

The SECU Hospice House of Brunswick County is currently under construction with plans to open in the summer of 2012. Additional funding is still needed and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities exist. For more information visit www.hospiceandlifecarecenter.org/ or call 754-5356.

Rachel Johnsonis a staff writer at The Brunswick Beacon. Reach her at (910) 754-6890 or rjohnson@brunswickbeacon.com.