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Hope in Despair

After 88-year-old Anne Marie Upton suffered a hemorrhagic stroke on Sept. 21, 2018, she was rushed to the Hirair and Anna Hovnanian Emergency Care Center at Ocean Medical Center. The excessive bleeding caused her brain to swell, and a sufficient amount of oxygen was blocked from entering her left side, which ultimately paralyzed the right side of her body. Physicians determined that she most likely would not fully recover. Immediately, her beloved granddaughter, Kellyanne Tino, flew from California, where she was attending nursing school, to New Jersey to be with her family and help make decisions.

“We knew she wouldn’t want to be put in a home or kept alive by machines, so we decided to transfer her to hospice,” Kellyanne says.

That’s when Kellyanne met Anna Portalatin, RN, a nurse who would impact the rest of her life.

Anna had only worked with hospice patients for about a year before Kellyanne’s grandmother arrived. But, according to Kellyanne, Anna provided the support and guidance of a seasoned veteran.

“It was very stressful the first couple of days in hospice,” Kellyanne says. “Anna was that much-needed sense of comfort. She treated my grandma as though she were her own grandma.”

In the five days her grandmother was at Ocean, Kellyanne says that Anna took the time to get to know her family. She encouraged them to decorate Anne Marie’s room with photos and flowers, she let them sing and play Irish music (her grandmother’s favorite) and even joined them as they prayed at her bedside.

“I had never seen another health care professional who cared so much, who wanted to be so involved,” Kellyanne says. “She was respectful, gentle and compassionate. She made the experience so much easier.”

It was Anna who called Kellyanne’s mother, Maryanne Akins, shortly after midnight on Sept. 26 to let the family know that Anne Marie had passed away, peacefully, just moments before. It was Anna who gently took the treasured rosary from Anne Marie’s hands and ensured Kellyanne collected it. And it was Anna who stayed long after her shift to comfort Kellyanne’s family.

“You either love your job or you don’t,” Anna says. “And I absolutely love what I do.”

Since her experience with Anna, Kellyanne, who speaks fluent Spanish, has decided to shift her clinical focus in nursing school from public health to end-of-life care, particularly in the Latino population. She wants to ensure that language and cultural barriers do not hinder anyone’s hospice experience.

“I believe that everyone should receive competent, compassionate and affordable care, in life and death, as my grandmother had with Ocean and Anna,” she says.

Tell us about a team member at Hackensack Meridian Health who made all the difference in your care.

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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