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Couple learns to manage chronic condition, remain together at home

There wasn’t a dry eye the day VNA Care’s home health care team helped Harold and Judy St. Denis achieve a victory over Parkinson’s Disease.

Through Harold’s physical therapy sessions with Barbara Devecis, PT, he developed the strength to use a standing lift and transfer from his wheelchair into the passenger’s side of Judy’s car for the first time in three years.

Harold laughed as he said, “That was a good ride, even though it was only around the block.”

For Judy, the moment was more than a leisurely drive around the neighborhood. It is one of the ways she aims to continue caring for her husband of 50 years in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their own home.

“If it wasn’t for VNA Care’s clinicians coming in, I wouldn’t be able to handle Harold the way that I am. That’s our biggest fear, me not being able to do what I need to for Harold. So far, knock on wood, we’re still at home,” said Judy.

The couple has turned to VNA Care numerous times over the years for assistance with Harold’s mobility issues as well as swallowing problems, pressure ulcers, and other health concerns. Receiving expert medical care and support in their own home makes a world of difference for Harold and Judy. VNA Care’s nurses and physical, occupational, and speech therapists are able to actually see the challenges the couple faces in remaining together at home and provide personalized solutions.

Susan Gauthier, OT, is helping Harold transition from a manual to an electric wheelchair. Harold relies on Judy to push him everywhere in his manual wheelchair. This one change will give Harold greater independence, even if it’s just going to the kitchen on his own for a beverage. Judy said it will make a “tremendous difference” for her, giving her more free time and conserving some of her energy.

Elizabeth Silva, RN, visits Harold to monitor his healing from pressure ulcers, a common problem for people who are confined to a wheelchair, chair, or bed for long periods of time. Wounds such as this always bring the potential for infection. VNA Care’s nurses, backed by a team of wound care nurse specialists, provide advanced wound care services that enable patients to avoid trips to the emergency department and hospitalization.

Judy is also grateful for Amy Millette, SLP, for tending to Harold’s swallowing difficulties. In the past, the problem has led to Harold developing aspiration pneumonia from food or liquid being breathed into the lungs or airways. Adding thickeners to liquids can improve swallowing safety, but Harold couldn’t tolerate the ones he initially tried.

Amy researched the options and found one that Harold could use without any problems. Judy said that Amy’s care and guidance was “unbelievable. If anyone needs a speech therapist, she’s the one you want.”

With the support of VNA Care, Harold and Judy are looking forward to many more years together at home and time with their four children, 15 grandchildren, and six great- grandchildren.

Judy said, “VNA Care’s clinicians have made it much easier for both of us. ...Their knowledge has made our knowledge so much better. I highly recommend VNA Care to anyone who needs assistance.”

Pictured: Harold St. Denis and Barbara Devecis, PT, of VNA Care

This article first appeared in the Summer 2022 edition of Caring Matters.

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