Ava’s House: Hospice care with heart

"I am grateful for this place, and that my father felt so loved and cared for in the last days of his life.”

By: Kim Tubbs .

Emma Sitting Crow and her father smiling.
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Emma Germaine Crowe (Sitting Crow) has only one regret about the hospice care her father received at Ava’s House: That he didn’t get it sooner.

Elijah Sitting Crow spent the majority of his life in Vermillion, South Dakota, along with his family, which included his three children. In 2012, he was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer and lived with the disease until April 2018.

“My dad chose a more natural approach to his cancer treatment, and did well for several years,” Emma says. “However, at the beginning of this year, my dad began to decline quickly and it was time put him on hospice.”

No other choice

Elijah and his family decided to use in-home hospice care offered in Vermillion. Unfortunately, their first experience with hospice care wasn’t positive.

“My father had a nurse stop by about twice a week and refill his pain medications –- that basically was it,” recalls Emma. “He was bed ridden and wanted more one-on-one help than the nurse would provide. My father felt frustrated, uncomfortable and not happy with this arrangement.”

At the time, they were not aware of any other hospice options, so Emma, a home-health nurse, made a drastic decision. She quit her job and moved in with her father to give him the extra help and care he needed.

“This was a major change, as I also had a family of my own,” she says. “I’m married with four kids, so this was a significant impact in our lives. But, we felt this was our best option at the time, and I wanted my father to be more comfortable.”

A better option

What Elijah, Emma and the rest of her family didn’t know, was this hospice care was not the only option. They soon discovered there was something that fit their situation much better following a phone call by Emma.

“My father was having difficulty breathing, and I called 911 for help,” Emma recalls. “He was admitted to the hospital at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls.”

It was in the hospital that Elijah first learned about Ava’s House. The hospice program provides 24-hour nursing care to patients of all ages in a home-like environment. The facility features 16 adult patient suites and four pediatric patient suites.

“At first, we were skeptical about Ava’s House,” Emma says. “But that was because of the negative experience we had already endured with hospice care. However, we talked it over and decided to try it out.”

Just like home

It was at the beginning of April that Elijah moved into Ava’s House. While he only spent about a week there, Emma says she knew her father was in the right place for his end-of-life care.

“Everything there was different,” she says. “The entire team at Ava’s House provided exceptional care for my father, and welcomed our entire family, which was quite large. Ava’s House was like another home to all of us.”

Ava’s House also allowed Emma to focus on what really mattered.

“It was such a relief to simply be his daughter, instead of also being his full-time caregiver,” Emma says. “Ava’s House allowed me the opportunity to just sit and talk with my father, and enjoy our last moments together.”

Emma says her father appreciated the respect staff had for her family’s Native American culture and beliefs.

“My father is full-blooded Native American and part of the Sisseton Sioux Tribe,” she adds. “There was a priest available who spoke the native language, which was very special for my father.”

Care and respect for all

As Elijah’s health began to decline in April, the family wanted to complete some Native American traditions. The staff at Ava’s House helped them perform a smudging ceremony, or a ritualistic burning of herbs and plant resins while saying prayers of gratitude.

“The nurses helped get my father outside so the fire alarms wouldn’t go off,” Emma says. “They bundled him up with blankets and wheeled his entire hospital bed outside one evening. My family and two of my father’s nurses joined together in big circle for the ceremony. It was right after we completed the ceremony that my father started his journey to the spirit world.”

In Emma’s eyes, this was the perfect way to celebrate and honor her father’s life. She wants everyone to know about Ava’s House and what it can offer not only hospice patients, but also their families.

“I have never felt more care and love than at Ava’s House,” Emma says. “My entire family felt so connected to the nurses there. I am grateful for this place, and that my father felt so loved and cared for in the last days of his life.”

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