In 2019, after a lifetime of relatively good health, Charlene felt like she’d been hit by a giant boulder. “I’d never been hospitalized before, but in a matter of a few weeks, I had several strokes, three cardiac events, a GI bleed, and an infection.” She was also diagnosed with a leaky heart valve which led to congestive heart failure.
When Charlene’s health was stabilized, she was discharged to a skilled nursing facility and eventually back home, with the support of Lifespark Skilled Home Health services, including nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and IV-drug infusions to treat the C. diff infection.
Charlene wanted to have valve replacement surgery as soon as possible, but due to her high risk of infection from tooth decay, she first had to have all her teeth removed. That step complete, she met again with her cardiovascular surgeon who gave her unwelcome news: her complex health conditions made her ineligible for anesthesia and, therefore, surgery. For Charlene, it felt like the last blow.
Prime candidate for in-home primary care
Even with home health services, Charlene’s husband was still having to take her to multiple doctors’ appointments. Linda recognized that she would be a good candidate for Lifespark’s home-based primary care. “With her impaired mobility and complex health needs, in-home geriatric care just made sense,” she said.
Once Charlene’s insurance plan approved her for Lifespark COMPLETETM, she had full access to a Life Manager and an in-home senior health medical expert. Linda Brixius, RN, became Charlene’s Life Manager and single point of contact, while Amanda Loecken, a Lifespark Physician Assistant (PA-C) with 10+ years of cardiology experience, took charge of her primary care, including in-home EKGs and blood draws.
When the pandemic hit, Charlene was especially grateful for Linda and Amanda. “I was thrilled I didn’t have to sit in a waiting room for hours and be exposed to COVID,” Charlene said. She also appreciates how responsive Lifespark was—and still is. “They test my blood, and they call me with the results,” she said. “When I was going to the clinic, I always had to call them.” She also told Linda how much it helps her husband to have Lifespark coming to their home and looking out for her.
The recent cascade of health crises and hospitalizations had left her traumatized. According to Linda, her client was afraid to go to sleep at night because she thought she wouldn’t wake up. While her husband slept, she forced herself to stay awake, taking short naps during the day and “trying to not die,” she told Linda.
Adding to her trauma was her self-image. The dentures had caused bone spurs, so she had to go without. “I’d look in the mirror and feel so ugly,” Charlene said. “I turned into a recluse.”
In search of answers
Charlene begged Amanda for answers to help her overcome her fear of dying. “I wanted to know when I was going to die and how it would happen,” she said. “Amanda explained that dying from a leaky valve wasn’t a sudden event. I would deteriorate slowly, I’d develop breathing problems, and eventually, I’d go on hospice.”
Learning that her leaky heart valve wasn’t going to kill her overnight changed her entire outlook on life. As Linda said, “Charlene went from waiting to die to starting to live.”
Breaking out of isolation
Once she realized she was going to live, Charlene had to face another fear: extreme anxiety on car trips. “She and her husband hadn’t seen their daughter in over three years, but the fear of having an anxiety attack on the long drive to Lake Michigan kept her stuck at home,” Linda said.
Amanda prescribed an anti-anxiety medication and suggested she try it at home to see how it affected her. It took Charlene a couple of weeks, but she finally worked up the courage to give the drug a try and found that it just made her sleepy.
So, with her new pills in hand, she and her husband packed up their car and hit the road. They spent the first night at a Wisconsin Dells casino and then headed on to Racine where they spent four wonderful days visiting their daughter. Charlene told her Lifespark team that “having that little pill made me feel brave enough to travel.” In fact, she only needed one dose on the way there and none on the way home, an experience that has opened up her life.
In the care of angels
Charlene knows that her heart condition will eventually catch up with her, but she hasn’t been hospitalized since 2019 and no longer fears leaving the house. “I know that wherever I am, I can call Lifespark, and they’ll connect me with the right person,” she said. “I feel like I’m in the care of angels.”