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Dad’s Final Journey

Published in Hospice Services, Patient Story

Redwood Falls resident Gordon Huss was a man who loved to laugh. However, at age 91, he developed a bad cough that was no laughing matter. When the cough wouldn’t go away, Huss went in to see Dr. Olson at CentraCare - Redwood Clinic, who referred him to a cardiologist.

In March 2018 the cardiologist diagnosed Huss with Pulmonary Fibrosis, a disease where lung tissue becomes damaged or scarred, progressively making it more difficult to breathe.

“The doctor said my dad had about six months to live,” said daughter, Janet Ellingworth. “Shortly after this time, I started spending the night with him in case he needed anything.”

Huss tried seeking pulmonary rehabilitation, but at the advanced stage of his disease, it did not provide the relief Huss needed. By May, Ellingworth felt it was time to call CentraCare – Redwood Hospice. When the hospice team first met with Huss and his three children, they spent a few hours talking about his needs and the best ways to support him.

“We were all involved in the decision to begin hospice care and keep my dad at home,” explained Ellingworth, who made the decision to move in with her father at that time. Since she had recently retired and lived in the same community as her father, it as an option she was thankful to have.

“I don’t have a medical bone in my body,” Ellingworth confessed, “so having the extra support of hospice gave me confidence in my decision to be my dad’s caregiver. My family and I are so thankful that hospice helped us honor Dad’s wish to stay in his home as long as possible.”

Huss loved being in his home. He enjoyed seeing the sun coming through the windows, watching sports and Wheel of Fortune, and visiting with the hospice nurses, the social worker and volunteers. He cherished the time he spent with his family and appreciated the visits from his other children, Steve and Nancy, who came every weekend to spend time with him.

“Every single person who supported us was outstanding,” said Ellingworth. “They were kind and positive and knew what we needed before we did, whether that was equipment or support.” One of the hospice nurses involved in Huss’ care that Ellingworth wanted to acknowledge was Shawna Kiecker.

“Shawna was so calm, positive and knowledgeable,” said Ellingworth. “She made sure we had all the information we needed in such a comforting and supportive way.”

“Our hospice team truly feels that it is a gift for families and clients to allow us into their homes during their most difficult and vulnerable times to be a part of their journey,” said Kiecker. “We provide support, education, resources, and one on one attention to our clients to make sure their needs are being met as best as we can. The clients we serve are our neighbors, friends, family, and acquaintances so we feel blessed to provide care to the community.”

Ellingworth explained that the hospice team was not only knowledgeable about the physical needs of their patient, but they also understood the toll of being a caregiver. “They were nurses for my dad, but they were also a support system for my siblings and me as well,” said Ellingworth. “They made sure I was still able to engage in some normal day-to-day activities. The social worker, Chelsey, had such an uplifting, bright personality who always made us laugh.”

Ellingworth said her siblings came on the weekends so she was able to go home and sleep in her own bed. Her husband was also very supportive and enjoyed dinner on weeknights at his father-in-law’s home.

“Being a caregiver is not always easy, but we were so thankful for this meaningful time we were able to spend with our dad. His mind was still sharp, but his body was deteriorating,” explained Ellingworth.

Hospice volunteer Glen Madsen visited with Huss once a week, which gave Ellingworth time to run errands or simply engage in normal life activities. “My dad thoroughly enjoyed visiting with Glen,” said Ellingworth.

Ellingworth explained that as her dad became weaker, hospice provided any equipment they needed, such as a wheelchair and toileting supports. Hospice also provided an aide to help with bathing.

“Everyone's journey at end of life is unique, as is the caregivers experience and comfort level for providing care,” Explained Jolene Panitzke, CentraCare – Redwood Hospice Nurse. “Symptom management at end of life can be difficult, tiresome, and stressful. We work closely with the family as the client declines, assuring the needs of the client and caregiver are being met.”

By August Huss’s condition was worsening. During one very stressful night Ellingworth called the on-call hospice nurse who talked her through the appropriate care and told her which medications to use to comfort her dad.

“Watching my dad struggle to breathe was a scary situation,” Ellingworth recalled. “However, we got through it and Joleen came right over in the morning.”

At that point, Huss, Ellingworth and her siblings made the decision that it was time to move their dad to Seasons Hospice House. “My dad knew I would care for him at home as long as I was able, but when Seasons was needed he agreed that would be the best choice,” Ellingworth explained. “By noon all the arrangements had been made by hospice to move Dad to Seasons.”

As a residential home in Redwood Falls, Seasons provides a home-like setting for up to four hospice patients with a staff-person on site 24/7 to support the patient and family. Each patient receives their own bedroom, bathroom and private sitting area and has access to a shared kitchen and living room in the home.

“When we walked into Seasons a calm came over my dad,” Elllingworth remembered. “To have his own space with a recliner to sit in, made him so comfortable. Also he was thrilled to see Jan Potter, with whom he had a connection from his church, which was so special. She is an angel to us.”

The amount of time each patient lives at Seasons varies depending on their condition. For Huss, he was able to spend the last few days of his life surrounded by family. His family was able to get through those last few days surrounded by calming and reassuring hospice staff.

“My dad was of sound mind until the end, so he was still giving instructions two days before he died to make sure we thanked everyone involved with hospice,” Ellingworth recalled. To honor their dad, the Huss family gave a substantial donation to hospice. Ellingworth also said every year she buys an Angel during the annual CentraCare – Redwood Hospice Willowtree Angel fundraiser.

“We are deeply indebted to hospice for the care they provided for my dad,” said Ellingworth. “He thanked me every day for making those last months as comfortable as we could. We could have never done that without hospice!”