The hospice and palliative model of care means staff and volunteers continually open their hearts through a high-touch approach that walks alongside patients and families during difficult journeys. For hospice patient, Henry Aguiar, 103, hospice care means he has something to look forward to every week.
Born at home in Hilo in 1915, Henry worked for most of his life as a mechanic, not retiring until nearing the age of 80. For many years afterward, Henry enjoyed playing golf with friends and staying active, often walking many miles each week for exercise and socializing.
Sitting comfortably in his recliner, bright-eyed and full of smiles, Henry is quick to reply to questions with a long memory full of details. “There is an old saying,” shared Henry, “If you laugh you live a long time, if not, you cry.” A consistent theme throughout Henry’s life has been service to others, and the love of people. Henry described how he enjoyed being “in positions where I could help people.” He explained how he had a “thing for helping old people; poppa and momma” who would have small mechanical problems with their cars but not enough money to pay. “I would fix it for them; I wouldn’t charge,” he said with a smile.
That care has come full circle, as Henry, now a kupuna himself is surrounded and supported by the hospice team each week. Two years ago, at the age of 101, explained his caregiver great-grandson, Sili, he was a fall risk and was admitted to Hawai‘i Care Choices’ palliative care program. A nurse would come to visit him each week to check his vitals, allowing Henry to continue living in his own home. Henry regained his health so quickly the first time with the support of Hawai’i Care choices that he no longer needed the consistent monitoring, and “graduated” from (decided to leave) the program.
A year ago, last April, Henry was diagnosed with cancer. Due to his age, his doctors felt treatment was far too dangerous and suggested Henry consider hospice care. Sili and Henry already knew the team from Hawai’i Care Choices and felt comfortable calling to enroll Henry in the hospice program. “Hospice has made a tremendous difference,” shared Sili. “He’s doing so amazing under hospice care that I am able to have a job. I have that reassurance that people are checking on him when I work — if something is wrong I’m notified right away. It’s that extra security blanket.”
For Henry, the care he looks forward to extends beyond his nurse, to each loving volunteer that visits him weekly to keep him company or assist with personal care. “I’m so thankful for the help I have gotten. I love to be with people. The volunteers take me on errands every week, and if there is nothing to do, they take me for long drives because they know I like the ocean – the salt breeze; I like that.”
“He adores his volunteers; they bring so much aloha,” said Sili. “At the end of the week, we review who’s coming the next week – what day, what time. It keeps him on his toes; keeps him from being lonely.” Henry agreed, “I’m like a king; the beautiful staff and volunteers of hospice take care of me. I think I would’ve given up a long time ago if I didn’t have the care of hospice.”
On April 26, 2019, Henry will turn 104 years old. His secret to longevity? “Keep away from stress as much as possible, exercise, and always think of something good ahead. As you get older, things change in life, things that you can’t control, but if you have people that help you - that gives you what you need.”
Happy Birthday, Henry!
Hospice care is for those at the end of life, who have a terminal illness, and want to improve the quality of their remaining time with comfort measures.
Hawai’i has the fastest growing aging society in the United States compared to other states, contributing to a critical need for palliative and hospice care. Unfortunately, there are still great misconceptions about what hospice care is. Many incorrectly think “Hospice is a place,” but the facts show otherwise. For example, the majority of patients cared for by Hawai’i Care Choices are supported in their own homes.
And contrary to old beliefs that calling Hospice means you have “given up” or hospice will hasten one’s death, it’s quite the opposite. Research shows that the early support and comfort provided by Hospice care often helps patients live longer and have a better quality of life. Henry Aguiar, with hospice for over a year and counting, is a perfect example of the power of accessing hospice care as soon as you are diagnosed with a life-limiting condition.
Hospice care allows patients to go through their natural disease process, free from heroic medical interventions that often cause more suffering than cure. A benefit covered by most insurances, Hospice care is affordable and the only Medicare benefit that includes medications, medical equipment, and 24/7 access to care. Typically, the patient and family pay nothing. Patients and families can receive care for six months or longer starting with diagnosis. The earlier hospice care is accessed, the earlier Hospice care can make a positive difference.
Hospice also supports the caregiver. Caregivers are taught essential techniques like how to give a bed bath or turn a loved one in bed to avoid bed sores and are supported by having a trained volunteer stay with the patient, while the caregiver gets much-needed rest, or as in Henry’s great-grandson Sili’s case, go to work without worrying about his great-grandfather’s safety. Learning how to give all medications properly or having someone to call 24/7 are some of the ways that the hospice team can also ease caregiver anxiety and stress.
Offering guidance and support long before life’s final months, for more information about Hawai’i Care Choices’ continuum of services for the progressing, seriously ill (palliative, hospice, bereavement) call (808) 969-1733