There’s often a special bond between a family and the caretakers—the team of nurses, physicians, volunteers and therapists—who help a loved one through the precious final days of life in hospice care.
“The personal attention provided by everyone we met in hospice was so important,” says Otto Reiter, whose wife, Konnie, passed away at Evelyn’s House in 2018 after a year of palliative home care with BJC Hospice. “You really get close to the people. I’ll never forget the enduring care they gave us.”
BJC Hospice provides a full spectrum of supportive care in a variety of venues, including Evelyn’s House, private homes, long-term nursing facilities and all BJC HealthCare hospitals.
One BJC Hospice nurse, Alice Macdonald, RN, spent about a year and a half with the Reiter family and now has a special place among them.
“Family is everything, and she’s simply one of the family now,” Otto says.
Before becoming part of Otto’s—and undoubtedly many more patients’— extended family, Alice was called to hospice care to help patients live life to the fullest, even as they enjoy their final days.
“As a hospice nurse, I support and care for people with terminal conditions as they transition from life to death,” she says. “Although, I feel I help people live; I help them live their best days before they die.”
One unique facet to hospice, according to Alice, is that a patient’s family and friends are an essential part of care. “This is important, because often a patient’s biggest worry is leaving their loved ones,” she says.
This was certainly true in the case of Otto and his family as Konnie neared the end of her life. Konnie suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and was referred to hospice by her physician at the optimal time. During her time in hospice, Alice and her team worked together to provide comprehensive care for Konnie that included the entire Reiter family. They helped educate Otto and provided emotional support and music therapy.
For Otto, it was a critical source of support during the most challenging time.
“Alice and our social worker, Erin, were so great at listening and answering all of our questions,” Otto says. “There were nights when I wasn’t sure about Konnie’s breathing or something just seemed off. I’d call the phone service and end up talking to a nurse several times. She was so good at calming me down and explaining what was going on.”
“Otto and his son Rob took amazing care of Konnie in their home with our support,” Alice says. “We built a relationship, he trusted me and our staff, and he could rest every night knowing we would be there to help. That made him a better, more present caregiver.”
When the music therapist visited the family’s house, the entire family joined in to create lasting memories.
The therapist played guitar. We all enjoyed it, especially our two grandchildren, Annie and Sam, who called my wife 'Nonny.' One time we all sang 'Take Me Out to the Ballgame' and Konnie didn't miss a word. She loved baseball as much as we all do. Annie and Sam often read, sang and played music for Konnie. They always told her how much they loved her and I know she could feel that," Otto says.
As a gift for Konnie to give to her loved ones, volunteers made teddy bears and pillows out of some of her sweaters. “These amazing gifts will be cherished and are just another example of the incredible thoughtfulness put into the support provided by hospice,” Otto says.
Volunteers also provided much-needed support if someone couldn’t be at home with Konnie. “All of the volunteers were amazing,” says Otto. Tom McLaughlin was the volunteer who stayed with Konnie the most. “He really took the time to get to know Konnie and the family. When he discovered how important Konnie’s pets were to her, he even included our dog Lucy when he sat with her and prayed for her. We cannot thank him enough for all of his caring and support. His prayers, concern for the whole family, and words of wisdom were so comforting. He has become part of the family.”
Shortly before she passed away in July 2018, Konnie transitioned to Evelyn's House for symptom management.
"After visiting Evelyn's House, we knew it was the right place for Konnie when the time came," Otto says. "The 24-hour care was important to us. As it turned out, Konnie only spent about a day there before she passed, but it made it peaceful for us.” Otto says Patrick White MD, chief medical officer for BJC Hospice, and the staff provide a warm and caring environment that is filled with love.
Though Konnie passed away, her generous
spirit lives on; she donated her brain to
advance research into Alzheimer’s
disease to benefit future patients.
Tom performed the memorial for Konnie after she passed away and it was attended by the rest of the hospice team. "It meant the world to us that the people who helped
Konnie so much were able to attend,”
Today, Otto is moved by the generous
community members who give back to
BJC Hospice and Evelyn’s House through
The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital
to memorialize their loved ones—and help
improve care for everyone.