Amy Klein described her mother, Linda Fine, as a perfectly healthy 74-year-old before a brain infection brought on a steep decline. Linda gradually got weaker and lost weight, shuttling back and forth between the hospital, a rehab center and her home.
Klein and the rest of her family felt lost, struggling to care for Linda and improve her quality of life, which Klein estimated was about 40 percent of what it once had been.
Acting on advice from a friend, Klein called Empath Health. She talked to LPN Care Navigator Marc Edwards, who, after hearing her story, referred her to Empath Health’s Palliative Care program. That began the family’s year-long relationship with Dr. Daniel Thorngren and the Empath Palliative Care team.
From the first home visit, Dr. Thorngren got to know Linda, listened to her needs and helped the family chart a course for dealing with the illness and making Linda comfortable, Klein said. He was a calming presence.
“He was what your primary (physician) can’t be, what a specialist can’t be, what a social worker can’t be, individually,” Klein said. “He was all of those disciplines in one, sitting in my mom’s room speaking to her and sharing it all with us. It was all so unbelievably comprehensive in this warm, caring way. I call it a mysterious gift. It was someone who just came out of the blue that helped meet our needs and helped our family navigate during this sad, difficult and stressful time.
“It felt warm. It felt connected. It was the right person at the right place at the right time.”
Palliative care is often misunderstood and confused with hospice. Sometimes referred to as comfort care, it is specialized care and support for patients living with a serious or life-limiting illness.
Dr. Thorngren defines palliative care as the treatment of physical issues – i.e., pain, nausea, shortness of breath, anxiety, trouble sleeping, decreased appetite, depression, dry mouth, to name a few – as well as support for the patient and family through the mental and emotional toll of an advanced illness. Empath Palliative Care employs a team approach featuring board-certified physicians, specialized advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), licensed social workers and non-denominational spiritual care coordinators.
Dr. Thorngren said he began his medical career in critical care but was captivated by the whole-person concept of palliative care.
“I kept finding myself in these situations where the medical care we were offering was most likely not going to be productive in terms of helping these patients get to where they want to be in terms of their overall quality of life. That’s when I started to get the appreciation that helping people stay alive is a lot different than helping people live,” Dr. Thorngren said.
Empath Palliative Care services include:
- Assistance for patients and families with identifying and creating goals of care.
- Management of challenging symptoms associated with a serious illness.
- Collaboration with primary care providers and other specialists.
- A specialized support team to help patients and families cope with the challenges associated with living with serious illness. This support includes education, counseling, helping identify goals and facilitating connections with community resources.
- Help with navigation of the healthcare system, including transitions between homes and hospitals and other facilities.
- The use of palliative services for review of new diagnoses and discussions of treatments.
Klein said she and other family members disagreed about the best course of care for her mother. Dr. Thorngren was there to educate and counsel them. His visits were so welcome that Linda often perked up and got out of bed to greet him. He continued caring for the family until her death in September 2021.
“Before this happened to my mom, we never even knew this existed,” Klein said. “I was truly, truly shocked. We know how many times we make these phone calls trying to find answers. There actually was a person who was going to answer your questions and comfort you and assist you and guide you. And he was going to come into our home. That was wonderful news.”
To learn more about Empath Palliative Care, call (727) 523-2460 or visit EmpathHealth.org/Empath-Medical-Services.