November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month - Find Out How Palliative Care Kept Family Connected During COVID-19
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month - Find Out How Palliative Care Kept Family Connected During COVID-19 (Unsplash)
November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month - Find Out How Palliative Care Kept Family Connected During COVID-19 (Unsplash)

When Nazli Ozkilic’s father, Yahya, was diagnosed with congestive heart failure — a progressive condition that causes the heart muscle to become too weak to pump enough blood for the body — Nazli and her sister, Yagmur, stepped in to provide the care Yahya needed at home. 

However, as the years went by and Yahya’s condition began to worsen, he required 24/7 care. In March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Nazli and Yagmur made the difficult decision to admit Yahya to Hackensack Meridian Health Nursing and Rehabilitation (formerly Regent Care Center) for long-term care. 

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month - Find Out How Palliative Care Kept Family Connected During COVID-19 (Unsplash)
SARS-CoV-2 infection during the Omicron surge in dialysis patients

“Dr. [Kumar] Satya, our father’s cardiologist was a godsend,” said Nazli. “He saw how hard it was for me and my sister to take care of our father while working full-time, and at one of our father’s appointments, he mentioned palliative care.”

Providing Comfort and Enhanced Quality of Life

Palliative care is a medical specialty that focuses on maximizing comfort, minimizing suffering and improving quality of life for patients with serious illness. Unlike hospice care, which focuses on end-of-life care only, palliative care can be delivered alongside curative treatments, as well as end of life.

“Our team journeys with patients and their families during what may be the most challenging and vulnerable time of their lives,” said Hackensack University Medical Center advance practice nurse and palliative care specialist Laura (Laurie) Maccone, FNP-BC, ACHPN, CCRN, CHFN. “We develop a trusting rapport with our patients, helping them make health decisions that reflect their beliefs, values and goals, supporting them and their families, and ensuring their health care wishes are honored.”

Yahya began receiving visits at the long-term care facility from Laurie and her colleagues on the Hackensack University Medical Center palliative care team. During the pandemic, when Nazli and Yagmur were unable to visit their father in person, Laurie kept Yahya comfortable, ensured his needs were being met, and even helped him FaceTime with Nazli. 

“His face would light up and he was thrilled to be able to communicate with his daughter,” said Laurie. 

“Laurie and the rest of the palliative care team facilitated communication with my father, but also between me and members of his care team,” said Nazli. “The palliative care team was so responsive and helped us get to the bottom of any obstacle we faced.”

Yahya passed away in November 2020. As he approached the end of his life, the palliative care team was able to work with Shoshana Teichman, director of social services at the long-term care facility, to arrange for Nazli and her sister to have a compassionate visit despite COVID-19 restrictions.

November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month - Find Out How Palliative Care Kept Family Connected During COVID-19 (Unsplash)
Quicker palliative care referrals for severely ill COVID patients

 Unfortunately, at the time of Yahya’s death, Laurie was unable to be with the family because she was on medical leave recovering from an accident. However, members of the palliative team continued to provide the support Yahya and his family needed.

A Chance Meeting in an Unlikely Place

Nearly two years after Yahya passed away, Laurie and her family went to the Jersey Shore for a day at the beach. As they were spreading out their blanket, a plane flew by with a Hackensack Meridian Health banner. Laurie’s daughter said, “Hey, Mom, look! Hackensack Meridian Health.”

A woman on the blanket in front of Laurie’s family asked if Laurie worked for Hackensack Meridian Health. Laurie began to chat with the woman and introduced herself. The woman responded that her name was Nazli.

“My mind began spinning and suddenly, I recognized her voice and her face from those FaceTime calls two years ago,” said Laurie. “’Nazli,’ I said, ‘I’m Laurie, the nurse practitioner with palliative medicine who took care of your dad.’ Tears started to stream down Nazli’s face and she asked if she could give me a hug. We had never met in person before this.”

As the pair continued to reminisce about Yahya, Nazli looked through her phone at the text conversations she had with Laurie. The last message Nazli sent to Laurie before Laurie’s medical leave was on June 26, 2020. 

“My husband said, ‘Ladies, it’s June 26th today,’” said Laurie. “Too many stars had to align, and there was no way that was a coincidence. I believe we were meant to meet.”

“I took care of my dad for the first four years of his illness, and at the end, I had to trust other people to care for him. Laurie was my eyes and ears when I couldn’t be there. She and the team became like family, and everyone went above and beyond,” said Nazli. “And two years later, my dad is still bringing people together.” (AK/NW)

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