Patient Stories

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Annie Laurie Lewis grew up in Johnston County and lived a majority of her life in Smithfield. She lived to be 90 years old and spent some time at the SECU Hospice House visiting friends who were coming to the end of their lives. During the time that she spent visiting friends, she realized that she too would want the kind of care that her friends were receiving when she reached the end of her life.

“She always told me that when she could no longer take care of herself, that she wanted to go to the SECU Hospice House,” said her daughter, Cathy Leary.

Lewis was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. She was cancer free for almost two years before it came back in 2012. Leary said that their mother was a very independent woman, but they knew something was wrong when she started experiencing some balance problems. At that point, the cancer had spread to her brain.

They had home health assist her with some basic needs during the day, several days a week, but as her symptoms became worse, they admitted her to hospice. A hospice nurse began to come and work with their mother at that point. Still, they realized that they needed more care for her. The sisters came and took a tour of the SECU Hospice House on a Wednesday and had her admitted by that Friday.

“From the minute we moved her in there, we were all surrounded by loving and caring nurses, staff and volunteers. They showed so much concern for all of us and went out of their way to make sure all of our needs were met,” said Leary.

Leary added that she stayed the first night with her mother to make sure she got settled in and the staff was so good about making sure she had bedding and plenty of food and drink.

Lewis’s other daughter, Nancy Barry, said while they were there, they had two family meals, snacks, coffee and an abundance of emotional and spiritual support.

Barry said the pain medication and comfort care were very important. In addition, the volunteers were willing and eager to help in any way they could. When her mother was having a hard time feeding herself, assistants or a volunteer would help her with her meal.

Lewis passed away on December 26, 2012, following a month-long stay.  “Our mother was there from November 30 till December 26 of 2012, and I can’t think of a better place for her to have been in the final days of her life,” said Leary.

A Husband’s Story

This is a letter from Shane Nola, whose wife, Ann, was cared for at the SECU Hospice House.

As a lung transplant patient with more than two wonderful postoperative years under her belt, it was a shock to receive terminal diagnosis on August 13, 2013. Her transplanted lungs had gone into an unstoppable rejection and she now faced a frightening pace of decline which culminated with her death at the Smithfield Hospice House on September 7th.

Prior to August, Ann and I were only vaguely aware of hospice. Truthfully, the word hospice meant dark and foreboding.  When the Duke Palliative care team put us in the hands of hospice, we were filled with dread.  How could we have failed at this transplant thing? How could we go from the curative… “all things are possible” environment of Duke to something called hospice?

On August 16th we encountered our first hospice home nurse. Despite our misconceptions, this was really our first hint that we had not been abandoned. This was the beginning of a wonderful hospice experience.

Home hospice nurses came into our home like biblical angels whose only goal was comfort and care. As a caretaker, I no longer felt like I was on a runaway bus heading for the edge of the cliff.  Hospice was here for “us”.

Experience ….yes that’s the best word to begin to describe our next encounter when it was time to enter the SECU Hospice House in Smithfield.  Actually another appropriate description might be “oasis” as it was an oasis for us in what was to be the last mile of Ann’s health odyssey.

Arriving at SECU Hospice was like setting foot on an island, where the natives seem to provide for every need. Rationally it was a paradox.  Here in 18 rooms with “end of life” dramas being played out, something else very special was happening in their midst. For their occupants, professional care was being administered with a level of love that would surprise even the most cynical.

The hospice experience as I have now seen is a joint one as it seemed someone was always making sure I, the caretaker, was okay.  From a warm cup of coffee to a warm hand on my shoulder, the staff and volunteers kept a vigil for both Ann and I as we neared the finish line.

Our introduction to hospice at the first indications of Ann’s diagnosis was the key.  From Ann’s perspective, she was able to quickly gain trust in the home hospice nurse she was assigned. Ann was able to have those deeply personal “end of life” conversations with a trained professional who was able to read her mind it seemed.   Ann was well prepared spiritually to die.  Her daily conversations with God underpinned her view her life on earth was ending and her new eternal life was about to begin. Ann’s only concerns were about how it would be when she died.

She had always said she didn’t want to die at home. She didn’t want the last memories of her to be a hospital bed in the home. Ann has witnessed end of life ordeals for others and knew there was a better way. It was hospice.

On the morning of September 7th, as I sat by her bedside holding her hand, her heart stopped and she started her new life in Heaven.  Her spiritual angels now took over her care from the earthy angels at SECU Hospice House.  The peaceful way she died was a gift that every individual can have if they let thoughts of hospice into their lives early in their journey towards end of life.

Thank you to Dr. Koffer, the amazing nurses, staff and volunteers at SECU Hospice House in Smithfield who gently guided Ann and me through a beautiful experience. God bless you all.