Al Sawyer – Home Health
Al served his country bravely in the Korean War. Of the 8 major engagements in that war, Al was in 4 of them. When 111 servicemen in his unit were called for duty, only 13 were to return home. “I learned how to run,” he says wryly. And it was running that would save his life.
When the Chinese entered the conflict in 1951, United Nations’ forces were outmanned and outgunned and forced to retreat all the way back to the southernmost tip of South Korea. Al’s unit had to run on foot through rice paddies in the dead of winter. A mortar landed just behind him killing both men on either side of him. “I don’t know how I did it,” he recounts, “but I ran until I keeled over close to the first aid tent. When I came to, on the evacuation plane, I heard an officer say, ‘Looks like we’re going to have to take this guy’s feet off.’ I raised myself up and told him exactly what I thought of that before passing out again!”
After four years of courageous service, Al made it home okay, recovered from his wounds and went on to raise a family, pursue an established career as an electro-mechanical engineer and eventually took up square dancing where he met his second wife Jane.
One day, while the two of them were out walking (something they did together every day), he got dizzy, and felt faint. His wife rushed him to the hospital where he was told he had 2 clogged arteries. He had suffered a heart attack and a stroke.
Rose Jaffe – Bereavement
Years ago, Rose and Norm Jaffe chose to continue their philanthropic spirit in the community of Santa Barbara and join the Samaritan Society at Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care. They did so by including VNHC in their estate plans, which is an accumulation of decades of their values and hard work. Neither Rose nor Norm had yet used the valuable services of Santa Barbara’s only nonprofit hospice and home health provider, but they knew they may need to call upon the organization in the future. They wanted to ensure their end of life was as beautiful as the illustrious life of dancing, traveling, and artistry they had experienced together thus far.
That call came on a grim day last August when Norm was admitted to Serenity House after complications from a stroke. He passed nearly two weeks later in comfort and peace under the compassionate care of the VNHC staff, with his wife of almost 70 years, Rose, by his side. Norm’s passing was especially devastating, as Rose had spent the vast majority of her life by his side, working together to advance his career, moving across the country, and experiencing all of the pleasures life has to offer. She was utterly lost without her life partner.
Angel Speier – Serenity House
Following his diagnosis, Kevin went in for surgery: nearly a full glossectomy, bilateral neck resection, and tongue reconstruction requiring two large skin grafts were the highlights of a very complicated and extensive procedure. Three weeks after surgery, he started chemotherapy and high intensive radiation, which continued for a year, requiring many trips to and from the hospital. In 2016, Kevin and Angel were hopeful, as any young family would be, and Kevin began working with a new trial. At first, they saw progress, until there wasn’t any. Over the Thanksgiving holiday in 2016, Kevin was rushed to the emergency room.
After Christmas he moved into Serenity House. I asked her about the decision to move Kevin into Serenity House. Angel’s tone immediately changed from one of a longtime caretaker to that of a loving wife balancing both the emotion and responsibility that this great life challenge had presented to her. “It was a really hard decision; I had to call his parents. It was very surreal. I thought, if we are going to do this, then we are going to do this. And I had to break the news.”
Serenity House, for the Speiers, was the final destination of this difficult journey. Kevin and Angel had discussed before that it wasn’t to be a half-way point. He didn’t want to go back and forth from home once they made the choice to move to Serenity House, which would now be home. Angel was at a point where their home, which had two little ones running through it and a number of distractions, was no longer equipped to care for Kevin or her family … as a whole unit … in a healthy way.
Barbara Minzter – Loan Closet
After two years of excruciating pain and injections, Barbara decided to move forward with a full hip replacement. But before that, on the recommendation of her physician, she visited Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care’s Loan Closet to get the necessary equipment for her recovery.
“I honestly believe that because of VNHC, I recuperated as well as I did. It was not only the equipment, but how compassionate and caring the staff was. I didn’t know what to expect. They ‘walked’ me through and helped allay a lot of my nervousness. They assured me—we’re here to help.”
Now, three months into her recovery, she is happily getting around the house without any equipment and is able to take long walks with a cane. “The first thing this surgery taught me was that independence is about mobility. More importantly, though, it’s also about the courage to be able to ask for help.”
Grace Fisher – Home Health
During a party to celebrate her 17th birthday, Grace Fisher suddenly was overcome by pain in her neck and tingling in her hands. Within minutes, upon arrival at the hospital, Grace lost the use of her legs. The growing weakness progressed over the next several hours. By nightfall Grace was intubated, required mechanical ventilator support to breathe, and now had total loss of her ability to move. Later, Grace was diagnosed with Acute Flaccid Myelitis (AFM).
Before AFM, life for Grace was that of a typical busy high school senior. She woke up at 6:00 AM to play the guitar for an hour before getting ready and heading to school. Her afternoons were filled with voice lessons, dance practices, teaching music classes, and practicing the cello and piano. Grace was looking forward to following her dreams of enrolling at the Berklee Colle of Music in Boston and pursuing a Guitar Performance and Music Business Degree.
Juanita Ortiz – Serenity House
Six years ago, Serenity House opened its doors on a cliff overlooking Santa Barbara to patients and families in need of a comfortable home at end of life. Since then, Serenity House has helped hundreds of individuals, regardless of age, background or socio-economic status, find peace and dignity during a time of life that is frightening and unknown. One such patient was Benjamin Aguirre, whose devoted mother, Juanita Ortiz, reflects often on their wonderful experience during a tragic health crisis.
Ben was a healthy baby, child, and adult. On August 11, 2015, at the age of 30 and after having some issues, he was diagnosed with colorectal cancer and immediately admitted to Cottage Hospital where he started his chemotherapy. After numerous visits to the emergency room, admissions to the hospital for weeks at a time, chemo, radiation, two surgeries, and enduring so much pain, we were told there was nothing else that could be done for him.
Ray West – Hospice Care
Ray West was shaved, dressed, and sitting up on the couch in the cozy front room of the Samarkand apartment he shared with his wife Jean. His eyes beamed as he spoke about their 65th wedding anniversary, and a “dream” trip to photograph Yosemite, arranged by the Dream Foundation.
He met Jean at a church function (“I chased you for two years,” she added), and they have two sons, David and Gregory, four grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
“Jean bought me my first camera, a Rollicord, as a wedding present,” he recalled. Even in his last days, Ray still took pictures, but with a modern digital camera.