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Patient Spotlight

When you need skilled and compassionate home health care, Mount Evans has a professional who can help you.

Patient Spotlight

Mount Evans Speech Therapist, Mary Ann Kane shows Rich how use an iPad app to practice self-guided speech exercises.

By Stephen Knapp

And, as Rich and Kathy White discovered earlier this year, the more care you need, the more skilled and compassionate help Mount Evans can offer.

Like many folks living in the outdoors-loving hinterlands of Syracuse, New York, Rich White loved the outdoors. He hunted and hiked the region’s thick forests, and fished and canoed its clear lakes. A competitive runner, Rich was as close to a perfect physical specimen as one might meet. Then, at the fit age of 58, his finely tuned machine started breaking down. It began with dizziness and blurred vision, and gradually progressed to motor control difficulties, muscle rigidity and loss of coordination. Rich’s body was turning on him.

Doctors eventually diagnosed Rich with multiple systems atrophy (MSA), a puzzling and progressive neurodegenerative disorder affecting both voluntary movement and autonomic systems like blood pressure and digestion. If the condition remains poorly understood, Rich’s physical decay was clear enough. In 2014, he and Kathy moved west to be nearer their three children, settling into a one-level ranch house in Kings Valley. For nearly three years Kathy was able to keep pace with her husband’s slow decline, but by 2017 his situation had moved beyond what even the most devoted caregiver could handle. She called Mount Evans, and Mount Evans sent over Terry Ritter, registered nurse.

“Terry happened to be a neighbor,” Kathy says. “She stepped in one or two times a week to monitor his medications, check his vitals and make sure I was using and cleaning his feeding tube correctly. And she called a lot just to see how we were doing. Just having her here was so important to us.”

Even so, MSA’s system-wide scope created practical problems for the Whites that even skilled nursing couldn’t address. Ritter called in Mount Evans physical therapist Pat Dolan, who instituted a personalized exercise program designed to help Rich retain as much mobility as possible for as long as possible, and to make him as comfortable as possible under extremely limiting circumstances.

“It worked out really well,” Kathy says. “Pat still comes over twice a week to work with Rich. He shows us exercises we can do right here in our house using our own stuff, and that’s so important because Rich knows there’s something he can do to help himself every single day. We were really lucky to get Pat. He’s helped Rich so much, and he’s still finding new ways to help him.”

The Whites considered themselves thrice-lucky when Ritter introduced them to Mary Anne Kane, a Mount Evans speech-language pathologist. Rich’s rebellious anatomy was making it increasingly hard to eat in the conventional sense, and making his speech increasingly difficult to understand even by those who know him best.

“Rich’s disease was significantly impacting his ability to communicate his wants and needs, and his swallow had severely impacted his ability to eat a regular diet,” Kane explains. “He had function in both areas, so we worked to maintain the function. In partnership with his super-woman wife, we designed a plan he could follow even after speech therapy ended. That’s ultimately the goal – to provide the education, training and personalized strategies that will allow him to continue these basic and precious life skills for as long as he’s able.”

As it happens, Rich’s oral therapies were also facilitated by something he and Kathy had laying around the house.

“Mary Anne showed us iPad apps that help him with his exercises,” says Kathy. “It’s especially helpful because the programs are self-guided and he can do them any time he wants.”

“The speaking exercise apps provide ongoing models for practice while also serving as a back-up voice when he’s unable to speak clearly,” Kane says. “The exercises for stretching his mouth, jaw, lips and tongue maintain strength, coordination and range of motion, enabling him to take in small amounts of food in order to preserve quality of life through the pleasure of eating.”

Not surprisingly, Rich applies the same determined energy to his therapies as he once did to his strenuous outdoor recreations.

“Between physical therapy and speech therapy,” Kathy says, “Rich spends about four hours on his exercises every day.”

Like so many of their mountain-area neighbors, the Whites have learned that, even when there’s little that doctors can do to heal, there’s a lot that Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice can do to help.

“We’ve been all over the place and tried every kind of therapy you can imagine,” Kathy says. “Nothing has been as good as having somebody from Mount Evans here in our own house. For anyone who needs therapy, it’s so much better when you can be at home.”