Gadsden family shares how hospice affected their lives

November 25, 2020 chris
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Pictured above, twin sisters Keri Buchmann (left) and Teri Chupp (right) celebrate their grandmother (center) Mary Elizabeth Sutherlin’s 90th birthday.

By Katie Bohannon, News Editor

While November marks National Hospice and Palliative Care month and represents a time to recognize the amazing men and women who serve families nationwide, it also exemplifies the personal experiences of patients and loved ones who are affected by hospice each day.

One local family is raising awareness of how hospice transformed their situation; sharing a story of love, devotion and peace in one of the most significant moments in life.

Sisters Teri Chupp and Keri Buchmann understand the impact of hospice firsthand. After their grandmother grew ill in March of 2019 due to congestive heart failure, they found themselves in a different position in life. While their uncle Jimmy served as her primary caregiver, Chupp and Buchmann discovered the need for additional help as time passed. Determined to provide both their grandmother and their uncle with deserving care and a sense of peace, they reached out to a lifelong family friend – local Encompass Area Manager Leigh Ann Black – and everything changed.

“I think that your best advocates [for hospice] are your families that have used it,” said Black. “That’s what we find. What I try to tell people when I talk to them is that hospice is basically an advanced healthcare. Home health comes in and they do whatever they have to do to improve that quality of life because there is some space to improve. Hospice comes in because no matter what you do, there [typically] is not a lot of improvement. So, what we’re looking for is comfort and dignity at the end of life. We’re striving to make sure we can do everything we can to meet those palliative needs, as well as their goals and close chapters.”

Although Chupp and Buchmann were familiar with hospice, having family members who experienced the service and a close relative who acted as a hospice coordinator in Etowah County, their grandmother represented their first true personal encounter with hospice. As a woman whose kind nature and loving hands cared for them throughout their life, the sisters’ grandmother was a significant person who earned the pair’s respect and devotion at an early age. When Encompass hospice arrived, Chupp and Buchmann could exhale, knowing that such an important person in their lives would receive the care she needed.

Within hours, Encompass delivered a hospital bed, medicine and oxygen for their grandmother, prompting her first moments of true rest in months. Encompass briefed the family on how to administer her medication and evaluated the situation to determine the best path of personalized care to follow. Even though Jimmy was well versed in caring for his mother and fully capable of assisting her, Chupp and Buchmann soon realized that he neglected himself to ensure her wellbeing. Encompass supplied him with a priceless sense of relief in the knowledge that he had professional support, and that his mother was safe in trustworthy hands. Chupp noted that after Encompass arrived, he finally slept soundly.

“As sweet and genuine as these people are, even when my grandmother was not herself, they took care of her,” said Chupp. “Our nurse treated my grandmother like she was her own grandmother. They were angels…they helped with everything.”

On May 4, 2019, just a week shy of her 91st birthday, Chupp and Buchmann’s grandmother passed away. As the family remembered the woman who influenced their lives so greatly, they also recognized the transformative care she received in her final moments – care that provided them with hope, reprieve and peace. While Chupp and Buchmann honored their grandmother’s memory, their family soon endured another incredible hardship. In July, just a few months later, Jimmy was admitted to the hospital.

After extensive testing and investigation, Jimmy received a cancer diagnosis and fought a disease that spread aggressively at a rapid pace. When Chupp spoke with a nurse concerning Jimmy’s condition, she called Black once again.

“I just remember Teri telling me, ‘This is something I need to do for him,’” said Black. “He did a lot for her and her grandmother, and this is her giving back to him. No matter what, she wanted to bring him home. I thought that was so sweet, because that is such a huge undertaking for somebody so young to say, ‘I want to take on that responsibility for what he did for me,’ and she gave back to him. No matter what, she gave him that special time to be with just them.”

Chupp brought Jimmy to her home and transitioned into a different role, taking up the mantle of caregiver that Jimmy once dawned for her grandmother. For two to three hours, an Encompass nurse walked Chupp through the process of caring for her uncle, teaching her the proper way to administer medicine and ensure Jimmy remained comfortable until his passing on August 17, 2019. Chupp confessed that without Encompass’ compassion and education, she could not have sustained her circumstances.

“We knew his end of life was coming, but we didn’t know how soon,” said Chupp. “Jimmy took care of my grandmother for so many years and he took care of us whenever we needed him. It was a whole new experience that I never imagined doing in my thirties, but I would do it again for him.”

“That story in itself [represents hospice],” said Black. “Without a service like hospice, Teri couldn’t have taken him home and figured out what to do. She would’ve been terrified. Even your nurses, when it’s their family members, they need another nurse there. Because then, they turn into that daughter. You just need to help that person that’s there. Even as hard as losing somebody that you tremendously care about, you become their family. You become that person they depend on, because they’re so appreciative and a lot of times, they don’t know what to do.”

Personal connections, precious moments and unbreakable relationships define Encompass. Chupp and Buchmann’s family experience with Black comprises the kindness and dedication that accompany each act of service team members minister, emerging as a powerful illustration of the true benefits of hospice.

Black herself discovered hospice through her own personal journey. After working in the bank industry for over 20 years, Black transitioned to a position at a golf course when she received unprecedented news: she had breast cancer. Although she battled and overcame the disease, that moment signifies a paramount turning point in her life, and led her to what she believes God called her to pursue. When her dear friend Brent Lawley developed a hospice company in 2008 and asked her to join his efforts, Black knew that a new purpose for her life was manifesting.

“After Brent told me about what hospice did, I thought I could have very well been one of those hospice patients,” said Black. “Because if I had been stage four, somebody might’ve been talking to me about hospice. I felt like it would be more meaningful and I felt like I could make an impact on somebody else’s life. When I talk to people, I try to think about how I would want somebody to talk to me about the service. I just felt like God said, ‘This is something you need to do.’”

Encompass Health serves families nationwide each day, providing men and women with unwavering compassion and patient-centered programs to help patients navigate uncharted waters and complete their journey with dignity, hope and peace. The company’s professional team of coordinators, social workers, nurses, aids and chaplains combine its efforts to educate families and walk with them on a step-by-step basis. No moment deemed unimportant in Encompass’ eyes, with professionals on call year-round, ready and willing to assist families regardless of the circumstance or time. With cutting-edge technology, bereavement services, enrichment resources and exceptional leadership, Encompass delivers unique and personalized plans for each patient directly to his or her front door.

With each thoughtful gesture and every comforting word, siblings like Chupp and Buchmann and families statewide can discover additional support to help uplift them through difficult times, confident that Encompass Health remains diligent and determined to ease their worries and ensure them that their loved ones are safe, content and at peace.

“I would definitely recommend Encompass hospice, just by dealing with two family members and Leigh Ann,” said Chupp. “Even if I didn’t know her. She was great – the whole team was.”

“I want to thank Encompass for the compassion and care that they gave my sister by providing for our grandma and uncle,” said Buchmann. “Encompass has a beautiful and meaningful mission and vision statement, but those statements are not worth anything if the people of the company do not also believe and live them. Every person we came in contact with through Encompass demonstrated a care and compassion that can only come from within an individual. Everything from nurses, home visits, office personnel, spiritual counselors to supervisors created an amazing experience for our family. As you know, going through the end of life with a loved one is stressful. Encompass made it less stressful for all of us, and ensured that our grandma and uncle could live with us during this time. Our hearts are very full with love and gratitude for having them in our lives. We were truly blessed!”