Brad and Trudy's Story: How Hospice Helped a Young Family
By Tracy Rathe
Nebraska Hospice and Palliative Care Partnership
Trudy Meyer describes her husband, Brad, as a “glass half-full” kind of guy. He was a true family man who would trade a night out with the guys for a night with his family anytime. And, even until the very end, before Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) took his life at the age of 40, Brad kept his strong sense of humor and was cracking jokes.
It is these qualities that have Trudy on a mission to not let her husband be forgotten. She wants to make sure their twin 9-year old sons remember their dad. And she wants other Nebraska families fighting this devastating disease to know that, with the help of a hospice team and a local ALS Association, they don’t have to fight it alone.
Brad’s first symptom appeared as he went for a run at the air base where he worked. He wasn’t able to push off with his right foot. Eventually the disease, which is commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, would also take hold of his right arm, and then his left leg and arm.
For an athletic man who had served 21 years in the Air Force and the Air National Guard, including numerous overseas deployments, the diagnosis was difficult to comprehend. It was especially difficult to take in after learning that the disease takes the lives of most sufferers in two to five years. The family reached out to The ALS Association Keith Worthington Chapter for information and equipment loans.
The disease progressed rapidly and to the point where Trudy could no longer care for Brad alone. One day, they both fell as Trudy tried to help Brad transfer from a commode to a rolling chair. Their sons ran to the neighbors for help, and it was then that a friend suggested they call her friend who worked in hospice.
“I used to think hospice just came in at the very end, the last 24 to 48 hours,” said Trudy. She now knows how hospice can most benefit a patient and their family when they receive hospice for many months, like the ten months that Brad received hospice care in his living room.
“It was nice knowing that hospice was one call away. They were the care coordinators for everything,” said Trudy. “There were times when his heart rate would skyrocket or his oxygen levels would plummet for no reason and I could call hospice in the middle of the night.”
The hospice team of a physician, nurse, aides, social worker, chaplain and volunteers allowed Trudy to lessen her role as caregiver and become Brad’s wife again. Trudy appreciated hospice taking over such things as bathing, bringing in medical supplies, and managing Brad’s many medications.
“People with ALS can still feel every little itch and scratch and pain but, because of the paralysis, can’t do anything about it.”
Brad would get angry and Trudy took the brunt of it.
“Hospice said ‘let us take some of this,’” remembered Trudy. “It was nice to have a little relief. They let us know that our relationship could cross back over that line from caretaker and patient to husband and wife.
“For me to take care of a family member that way is a given, but for strangers to come in and do it, it has to be a calling.”
TSgt Meyer fought the two-year war hard but his body succumbed to ALS on March 28, 2008.
“Brad was too good of a man and he suffered too much and fought too hard for everything to be forgotten. If I can help somebody else and make bizarre sense of why it happened then it wasn’t all for nothing,” added Trudy.
To learn more about hospice or to find a hospice in your area, go to nehospice.org.
Veterans who are enrolled in the VA Health Care System, and have a terminal health condition or an advanced disease, are eligible for hospice and palliative care. In September 2008, the VA regulated that a diagnosis of ALS was sufficient to establish service connection for VA benefits. The ALS Association and the Department of Defense are currently researching the connection between ALS and military service, as well as new treatments.