Hospice care team became family for one Minnesota couple

Sara Heard says of Sanford Luverne hospice caregivers: "I consider them my friends”

Mature Sanford Health patient sits in her living room and softly smiles in her comfy chair.

Sara Heard is learning what life without her husband Jim looks like.

Whether it’s baking, reading, or taking care of her dog Harley, she stays busy. But it’s hard being without Jim.

‘He was very sick, with a lot of pain’

Sara said Jim was sick with many issues for 14 years. He was diagnosed with lupus, lived with diabetes, had seven heart attacks, underwent many surgeries, was diagnosed with bladder cancer and needed a full-time catheter, and later was diagnosed with colon cancer, requiring a colostomy bag.

“All of his independence was taken, and he was very sick, with a lot of pain,” she said.

At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Jim moved into the Good Samaritan Society Edgebrook Care Center, in Edgerton, Minnesota. As the pandemic lingered on, Jim’s health continued to worsen.

“Then, his dementia started, and I think he was giving up. He knew that he wasn’t going to get better. So, the last six months, he just had no short-term memory. Honestly, he didn’t have much long-term memory left either,” Sara said.

Sara said she fed Jim every day, three times a day. Toward the end of his life, Jim wasn’t able to swallow. He’d gag, and aspirate food into his lungs.

“One day he was so bad and so full of lung problems, I was sitting there with him, I took his hand and I got really close, because of his hearing, and I said, ‘Jim, I know how tired you are and how sick of all of this you are. And it’s OK. I think it would be good if you went home to heaven and you could get out of this body that is failing you so bad. If you want to go, it’s OK,’” she said.

“I think he heard me. 48 hours later he passed away. They allowed the kids and I, everybody in the room.”

More than a care team

Recounting Jim’s journey was understandably emotional for Sara. It was an unbelievably difficult time for their entire family. However, one aspect that helped ease the burden was Jim’s care teams at Edgebrook.

At that point in his life, Jim had two care teams looking after him, plus Sara, who was named an essential caregiver. He had the regular staff at Edgebrook, and the hospice team at Edgebrook as well.

“I felt so comfortable knowing he was getting that kind of care. It makes such a difference having a hospice team that works with you like that,” said Sara.

If Sara called, they’d call right back. If she had any questions or concerns, they’d address them immediately.

Above all, they made sure Sara knew she wasn’t alone.

“It makes me feel good that Jim received the care he did, but they paid attention to me too, as Jim’s caregiver. I never felt like I was on the outside looking in, because it was wonderful what they did,” Sara said.

“They made us a family, and that’s how we got through it. I won’t ever forget that. It means a lot to me.”

Including after Jim had passed away.

“Jill has called me. We’ve had lunch one time. She sends me great information about aftercare and how I’m doing after Jim has passed away. Very caring at Christmas time because they knew that was going to be a difficult time with the holidays,” Sara said.

Why support hospice care

Sara said she’ll be eternally grateful for everything Jim’s caregivers did for him. She talks with them regularly, but when asked what she would say to them if they were currently in the room with her she said she’d “look at them and say I think they are the most wonderful people, with such a generous heart.”

“They truly care about what they’re doing. It means so much to me. I feel like they’re my friends. I know they’re busy, they move on to the next one, but I consider them my friends and I feel blessed that they were a part of Jim’s life.”

Each year, Sanford Luverne hosts a hospice charity dinner and auction.

Sara plans to attend and hopes others, whether they’ve directly worked with hospice care teams or not, would consider going and donating.

“I would like to say that those that come to the (hospice) dinner, I know you’re coming because you’ve lost a loved one or you’ve been a part of hospice in some way. It’s such an important mission, and they need the support in every way. We want to do what we can to know that this kind of help will be there for people for a long time to come.”

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Posted In Luverne, Senior Services, Symptom Management