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Patient Stories

Patient Thrives on Hospice Care with Veteran Volunteer

Mutual Understanding is the Key to Veteran-to-Veteran Volunteers

At 92 years old, John “Joe” MacDonald is still a tall man with a broad smile and vivid memories of his time as a World War II bombardier machine gunner with the 491st Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Forces. A series of small strokes three years ago affected his walking and caused depression and anger, but he recovered enough to move into the secure Spectrum unit for those with cognitive impairment at the Herrick House, an assisted living facility in Beverly.

Three months ago, his condition worsened leaving him more confused, unable to walk, agitated and sleeping for most of the day. After a couple of trips to the emergency room, his nurse at Herrick House suggested that he could benefit from hospice care from Care Dimensions.

“I’ve been amazed at the services he’s gotten, from nursing care and an air mattress to help two slow-healing pressure sores, to massage and music therapy, and visits from the chaplain and the social worker. The transformation in just three months is amazing. He’s walking again, leaving his room for meals, and he’s more animated,” explained his daughter Barbara Story. “Care Dimensions provides so much more than what we thought hospice was. It’s really been the best decision we’ve ever made for our father’s care.”

“One of services that is fantastic is the Veteran volunteer that was sent to visit Dad. He really looks forward to his visits with Tom Prendergast,” said Joe’s daughter Mary Bellavance. “As fellow veterans, they can sit for hours and talk about their experiences. My Dad has told stories that we’ve never heard before.”

Often, Joe meticulously shows Tom a book that details the missions and success of the 491st group. Joe flew in 36 missions over Europe in a B-24 airplane, while Tom served in the Navy as a gunner’s mate - 3rd class throughout the Pacific in WWII and later in the Korean War. “There are some memories that only other veterans can understand,” said Mark Ledewitz, Veteran volunteer coordinator for Care Dimensions. “Putting veterans together can act as a catalyst for communication for many hospice patients who have served their country,” he said. In addition to shared experience the two also rib each other good naturedly about their branch of the military. “Being a Navy man, I bug the devil out of him about his planes,” said Tom. He also tells Joe, “I have a great respect for what you did.”

As with many volunteer programs, it isn’t just the patient who benefits. Tom was driven to volunteer for Care Dimensions after witnessing the support and care his second wife received while a hospice patient. “At the time of her passing I was distraught,” said Tom. “Then I got a check-in call from a Care Dimensions bereavement counselor and things started to turn around.”  He attended a support group for spouses and found that everything he got out of the class made him feel better. Once he decided to be a hospice volunteer he took the initial training and then completed a specialized training to become a veteran volunteer. “Becoming a volunteer has been very rewarding; it’s really brought me back to life.”

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Since 1978, Care Dimensions, formerly Hospice of the North Shore,  has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in over 100 communities in Massachusetts.

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