In September 2021, Denny, 83, collapsed in the home he shares with his younger sister, Judy. “I saw a bright light and then my brother-in-law, who died in March, walked over to me and said, ‘It’s not your time,’” Denny recalled, adding that if his sister hadn’t found him and called for an ambulance, he wouldn’t have survived.
Denny was rushed to North Memorial Hospital where he had emergency surgery to repair a ruptured aortic aneurysm. Once his health was stable, he was transferred to a transitional care facility (TCU). Soon after, he went into acute respiratory distress, was rushed back to the emergency room, and then spent the next ten days recovering in the onsite TCU.
Opting in to in-home services
It was during this second TCU stay that Denny was introduced to Lifespark COMPLETETM, but initially, he resisted. “I was suspicious, partly because I’d never heard of Lifespark, and partly because I didn’t like the idea of a nurse coming into my home. But my sister and daughter thought I should try it.” he said. “Thank God I listened to them, because it was the smartest decision I ever made.”
Denny was discharged home with Lifespark Home Health and his dedicated Lifespark Life Manager and single point of contact, Dana Bushway, RN. However, shortly before Dana’s first visit, both Denny and his sister, Judy, tested positive for COVID-19. At Lifespark’s recommendation, they started taking Paxlovid, an antiviral medication that helped reduce their symptoms.
A month later, when Dana was finally able to meet them in person, Denny was still so weak that he could barely get out of bed. But bit by bit, over the next few months—with the help of PT and OT and a lot of hard work on Denny’s part—he slowly started regaining his strength and walking with a walker.
Smartwatch to the rescue
Early on, Dana asked him if he’d be interested in a Lifespark smartwatch which he could use as a wristwatch, a phone to call Lifespark, and a monitor to track his heartrate and steps. “Denny didn’t think he’d use the call feature, but he liked the idea of having a step counter and heartrate monitor, especially since he wanted to do more walking,” Dana said.
A few months later, that smartwatch helped save his life. “I wasn’t feeling well one morning, but I didn’t really think much of it,” he said. “But when I tried to get out of bed, I was too weak to stand, and I couldn’t get enough air.” He called out to Judy, but she was outside watering the flowers and couldn’t hear him. He started to panic.
That’s when he remembered his smartwatch. “I hit the call button and Lifespark answered immediately. I asked them to ring my home phone until someone answered,” he said. “They kept calling and calling, and finally, Judy picked up.” The Clinic Coordinator told her that Denny needed to go to the emergency room immediately. Judy, who doesn’t drive, called Denny’s in-town daughter, Renee, who appeared within minutes and brought him to the ER where he was diagnosed with a bilateral lung infection, or double pneumonia.
His heart stopped twice while he was on the operating table, but once the doctors stabilized him, they were able to treat the infection with intravenous antibiotics. After three days, Denny was able to return home. “I never thought I’d use the watch that way, but it was a lifesaver,” he said.
Reframing his sense of self
When Denny collapsed in 2021, it affected not only his heart and lungs, but also his self-image. “I was a sheet metal worker, always really independent,” he said. “When I got sick, I lost my independence and my identity.”
From Dana’s perspective, Denny is doing well, taking walks around the neighborhood, driving himself to his clinic appointments, and enjoying time with his daughters and grandchildren, who are now in their 30s.
“He’s been through so much medically and still has a wonderful sense of humor and a great outlook on life,” Dana said. “When I asked him recently what he would do if he had no limitations, he said, ‘I’d take a woman to a bar with a large dance floor, drink half a beer, and dance all night, just like I did back in the ‘80s after my divorce,’” she said. Denny joked that she should change his name in his Lifespark records to Disco Denny, a nod to Deney Terrio, host of Dance Fever, the popular disco-era TV show.
Circle of support
Denny’s strong support network has been integral to his recovery and quality of life. In addition to Judy, his primary caregiver who also sets up his medications, he gets tremendous support from his in-town daughter and son-in-law who visit him several times a week, drop off groceries, and help out around the house.
Denny’s circle of support also includes his Lifespark team. “Dana feels like family to me—she is such a sweetheart,” he said. “And everyone I talk to at Lifespark is always so friendly, even when I accidently hit the call button on my smartwatch. Now I just tell them, ‘Nothing urgent. Have Dick Tracy call me when he gets in.’ Of course, they’re probably too young to get the joke!”
Sources of joy
Now that Denny’s health has improved, Dana has been able to focus on all aspects of Denny’s well-being, not just his medical conditions, to help identify his goals, wishes, and priorities. Those conversations also help her build a more complete picture of who he is—like his love of music and dance.
When she asked Denny what kinds of things bring him joy, he didn’t miss a beat. “He told me, ‘I love being with my family, and I love it when you come to visit me. I always look forward to it and it definitely brings me joy,’” Dana said, adding that he’s always waiting for her (outside, weather permitting) when she arrives, and walks her to her car at the end of each visit.
Reflecting back on his initial resistance to in-home services, Denny recalled that his family gave him an out. “Judy and Renee said that if I didn’t like Lifespark, I could end it at any time. Now, I never want it to end,” he said.
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