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Compassionate Home Care and a Celebration to Remember

Nurses from Visiting Health Services of New Jersey (a partnership between Hackensack Meridian Health and St. Joseph’s Health) saw Ethel Ryan in her home three times a week to care for chronic wounds on her legs from peripheral vascular disease. But the first time Leonor Camacho, RN, and her mentor, Joe Santos, RN, showed up at Ethel’s home, Ethel refused to let them in. Ethel had long lived alone in Bergen County, New Jersey, and preferred to take care of herself as much as possible.

“She actually closed the door on us,” Leonor recalls. A week later Ethel relented, and that was the beginning of Leonor and Ethel’s relationship. “We became friends. She reminds me of my grandmother, and we really cherished the moments that we shared.”

When Ethel’s 96th birthday was approaching, Leonor knew she wanted to make Ethel feel extra special. “I wanted her to feel that she was not only our patient, but that we were honored to care for her,” she says.

Leonor and the other nurses on Ethel’s care team—Joe; Shelly Tomlinson, LPN; and Genevive Bulaon, LPN—decided to surprise her with a party. Cake, birthday hats, balloons and pizza made for a festive celebration. One nurse brought a Polaroid camera (remember those?), and they all had fun taking pictures of the day and watching them come to life as they laughed together. “All of us on the team cherish that day and were happy to make her feel as important as she is to us,” says Leonor. “She talked about it for weeks.”

For Leonor and the rest of the team, helping a patient beyond the medical care they provide is incredibly rewarding. Weeks after the celebration, Ethel wrote a heartfelt note for Leonor and her care team, thanking them for throwing her birthday party. “I sure enjoyed the party,” she wrote. “It was the best I ever had. You all really made my day.”

Q&A With Leonor

What inspired you to become a nurse?

When my dad had a stroke and we brought him home from the hospital, it was very shocking in every sense. It was the nurses who helped us make that transition, and we couldn’t have done it without them. That definitely inspired me and made me think this is something I wanted to do.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

It sounds cliché, but I honestly feel that I make a difference. I make someone feel better or I am able to teach them something they didn’t know before, and it’s very empowering for me and for the patient. I love that feeling.

What is the best advice you would give to a colleague?

Listening is the most important thing in this job. The more you listen, the more you can understand the patient and the more you can help them, too.

Nominate a Hackensack Meridian Health team member who has gone above and beyond.

The material provided through HealthU is intended to be used as general information only and should not replace the advice of your physician. Always consult your physician for individual care.

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