When Lisa and Mark Piegza moved to the Lowcountry from New Jersey to begin a new venture, they envisioned Mark’s parents would also make the move someday, as his mom, now 84, has shown a slow cognitive decline over the last ten years.
Four years ago, Mark’s mom, Helen, fell and fractured her hip. The surgery and recovery from the fall significantly exacerbated the decline in her memory. Life was becoming more challenging for Mark’s mom and dad, who were too far away for them to provide hands-on help or care.
No one in the family was ready for what took place last spring. Helen fell again and fractured her other hip. Complications led to three surgeries within five weeks, causing her dementia to accelerate faster than the family could have imagined.
In August, at Lisa’s insistence, Mark’s parents moved from New Jersey to Hilton Head. Helen moved into a memory care facility and his dad, Ed, moved into a nearby independent living community.
This was the first time Ed and Helen had been apart in 57 years of marriage. Ed was able to visit her often, but her physical and cognitive decline weighed heavily on everyone.
After a couple of months, Helen had to move into a skilled nursing facility because she never fully recovered from the infection that stemmed from the hip surgeries the previous year. She was on multiple medications, mostly anti-anxiety and antidepressants. She seemed as though she were drugged. Her wounds simply wouldn’t heal and her health continued to decline.
Mark and Lisa witnessed her health slipping significantly. She wasn’t the person she used to be. Mark’s dad was scared. Helen had bouts of crying, she wasn’t talking, and when she tried, it was nonsensical. She hardly ate. The family was beyond concerned.
“She was alone, in a strange place, confused and her decline accelerated.”
At the time COVID-19 hit, Helen was admitted to the hospital. In fact, she was in the hospital three times in a six week period. This crushed the entire family, as COVID-19 prevented them from visiting her. She was alone, in a strange place, confused and her decline accelerated. Ed was beside himself with worry. He thought he’d never see her again.
By the end of April, the doctors told Mark that his mom was dying. The devastating news hit the family like a lightning bolt.
The bright spot in this journey is that Mark and Lisa own SYNERGY HomeCare of the Lowcountry. Given their experience in caring for aging seniors in their homes, they didn’t hesitate to move Helen into their home to begin hospice care.
At this point, Helen didn’t recognize anyone. She was lethargic from the drugs she had been prescribed. The SYNERGY HomeCare caregivers were with Helen for multiple hours per day.
Upon the initial examination, the hospice nurse thought Helen wouldn’t last a week.
When the hospice nurse examined Helen’s medications, he discovered that Helen was on a myriad of drugs, from anti-anxiety and antidepressants to high blood pressure meds. It wasn’t known why she had been prescribed many of these drugs; Helen had low blood pressure her entire life. The anti-anxiety drugs may have been responsible for her lethargy. The nurse recommended to take her off all medications except the antibiotic.
Low and behold, Helen slowly began to respond after being off the drugs for a few days. Within a week, she began eating and talking again. It was a miraculous recovery. The family was elated and Ed had his bride back.
Fast forward to today, and Helen is doing great. She is enjoying living with Ed in his condominium, reunited at last with her beloved husband. Yes, each of them has health issues to contend with, but it’s nothing they can’t handle, especially with appropriate help. SYNERGY HomeCare caregivers visit for 16 to18 hours each day to help with morning and evening routines, prepare meals and keep their apartment tidy.
Mark says his mom talks all the time now. She is even remembering things that she always liked to do, like pick tomatoes. She’s healthier than she’s been in a very long time. In fact, after she got back on her feet, she told Mark she wanted to have a party. When Mark asked her who she wanted to attend, she said, “Vanessa.” Mark smiled, as Vanessa has been one of her favorite caregivers from SYNERGY HomeCare.
“With one nurse caring for 10 patients, he felt the facility didn’t have the time to devote the necessary attention to her.”
As the family gathered for the party, Mark and Lisa’s daughter, Alexandra, surprised Ed and Helen with a special homemade cake. Vanessa was thrilled to be invited. Everyone had a grand time. Helen had her party and the family got their loved one back. A wonderful reason to celebrate!
Mark’s assessment of the care his mom received in the skilled nursing facility is directly related to staffing. With one nurse caring for 10 patients, he felt the facility didn’t have the time to devote the necessary attention to her. He’ll always wonder if the facility had made a medication assessment as the hospice nurse was able to do, would his mother have suffered as much? Or did the antianxiety and antidepressant drugs they gave her help quell his mom from needing as much attention? He remains thankful that he and Lisa took control of his mom’s care and that the family is whole again.
Welcome back, Helen.