The Patient Who Graduated From Hospice

Don and Alice Calabrese have a love story that started more than 70 years ago, when they met at Central Catholic High School in Toledo.

“I went out with him and I kind of knew right then that he was the one, whether he knew it or not,” said Alice.

The two corresponded during his military service and when he returned, they wasted no time in tying the knot. “I have been married 67 years,” said Don. “Six kids we have, and we have 17 grandchildren and we just had our 33rd great-grandchild.

Don owned Erie Drug Store and had a successful career as a pharmacist for five decades until he sold it to one of his sons and retired. Don and Alice were happy in their golden years together, spending time with that ever-growing family–until Don’s body started failing him.

“My legs started hurting and then it gradually moved to my hands and I had the ‘claws,’ and a lot of pain with that,” explained Don.

As an active 87-year-old, Don was diagnosed with a debilitating form of neuropathy. Doctors weren’t sure how much time he had left and Don just wanted to spend every minute with is life-long sweetheart.

“I probably had two to three weeks to live when I left the hospital. I thought I better take advantage of it and spend quality time with my family who I love very much,” said Don.

Thinking he didn’t have long to live, Don and Alice called ProMedica Hospice. Like many families, they were under the misconception that Hospice care is only intended for the last days of life.

Vonetta Ware, RN, Hospice, , “I don’t think of Hospice as for the last days. Think of the quality of life–that the patient wants to live and it’s never too early to choose to just be comfortable and have quality of life.”

When Don first started receiving Hospice care, Vonetta visited the house several times a week, checking his vital signs and making sure he had the medication and equipment he needed. They even made all the special arrangements necessary for him to attend his granddaughter’s wedding.

“They do a great job of keeping you comfortable and sort of giving you something to live for, knowing you’re going to be taken care of. It takes a lot of worry off my wife and my family.”

Don said, “They do a great job of keeping you comfortable and sort of giving you something to live for, knowing you’re going to be taken care of. It takes a lot of worry off my wife and my family.”

Alice spoke to the unique relationships that form with the Hospice staff. “You become friends and when you have a friend taking care of you that means a lot. And I think that’s what Hospice does; I really do,” she said.

Days turned into weeks, then months, and under Hospice care, Don started to feel better. He was still having symptoms from neuropathy, but eventually graduated from Hospice care.

“If you graduate, that means you’re not having any more symptoms from that particular disease process so you don’t need Hospice anymore,” explained Vonetta. “We refer you back to your primary care physician, home health care or palliative care.”

Three years after his diagnosis, Don is celebrating his 90th birthday, grateful for the quality time he continues to have with family and friends. Because of recent decline, Don is back under Hospice care, and he’s grateful. Don believes he’s alive today because of Hospice, and, of course, the love of his beautiful wife, Alice.

“I hope that we’re an inspiration to all of them to see how you take care of one another in your life,” said Alice.

“I try to live every day as if there’s no limit on my time,” added Don. “Every day is a gift. God has blessed me.”

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