When Illness Strikes: Making best days possible with palliative care

When Illness Strikes: Making best days possible with palliative care

Sometimes, things happen that tell us: life will never be the same

A family member has been diagnosed with dementia and loved ones are wondering how to make life as good as it can be. An elderly woman has Parkinson’s, and family members are worried about how they’ll care for her and make her comfortable.

VNA launched a new Palliative Care program in 2019 to help with challenges like these. Our flagship hospice program serves patients who have a terminal illness, are not seeking aggressive treatment, and have a prognosis of six months or less to live. However, longer-term, chronic illnesses also create the need for comfort and care. After exploring community needs with medical professionals, the VNA stepped up to fill this gap and launched its Palliative Care program.

What is palliative care?

Palliative care is a specialized form of medical care for people living with a serious illness. Zachary Jesko, MSN, FNP-C, ACHPN is a nurse practitioner with VNA who serves families with palliative care. “We look at the patient as a whole—on physical, psychological, and spiritual levels,” he explains. “Our focus is to help them through whatever they’re going through by addressing care in all aspects of life.”

It begins with an open conversation about a patient’s goals and a lot of questions: “How well do you understand your condition? What’s important to you? What do you want to be able to do? Do you have a preference about going the hospital? What’s a manageable level of pain for you?”

There is no right answer, and each person’s desires are unique, says Zachary. The upshot, though, is always the same: “I truly try to improve quality of life for every patient, to help them obtain their goals.

For example, a 41-year-old father of two young children has cancer. His goal is to watch his children graduate high school, to be there for them as they grow up. He decides to seek aggressive treatment to help him reach his goal, but the chemotherapy leaves him experiencing severe nausea, constipation, fatigue, and loss of appetite. He chooses palliative care to help manage these side effects. He receives visits from a palliative care nurse practitioner who helps relieve these symptoms, enhancing his quality of life. The nurse practitioner works alongside John’s primary care physician and oncologist to develop a plan of care that meets John’s specific goals.

In fact, Zachary helps patients and families understand the diagnosis, understand choices regarding medical treatment, and connect with valuable resources. He often helps coordinate a plan of care when multiple specialists are involved.

“Helping patients and their loved ones through some of the most difficult times and decisions by giving them the support needed makes for my best days,” says Sara Melillo, LPN, VNA Palliative Care Coordinator. At VNA, it’s our calling to serve by making best days possible, even under tough conditions.