Furry friends help heal a heart failure patient

Robert Moore loved his dogs Rosie and Lady more than anything. They were his family, his support, and his primary reason to get out of bed in the morning.

Robert was devoted to caring for those two large furry companions, but himself? Not so much.

As a Vietnam veteran who had faithfully served his country for more than 18 years, Robert had earned military health benefits. But the VA hospital was across town and he would have had to pay a taxi to get there. Also his separation with the army had not been a positive event in his life. It left him with a bad taste in his mouth. Besides, most of his limited income was earmarked for dog food and vet bills. So he disconnected from the system.

Robert went 20 years without so much as stepping into a doctor's office.

His first heart attack came on Christmas Eve.

“It took me down to my knees,” he said.

[Heart attacks don't always happen suddenly like they do in the movies - know the warning signs]

Because of the holiday his roommate was not at home, but luckily Robert was able to get the attention of his next door neighbor Sharon, a retired nurse. She checked his pulse and "piled him up in the car." The worst part of the attack happened on the way to the hospital.

The chest pain was frightening for Robert but the experience of not being able to breathe was far worse. It really scared him.

It turned out he had heart failure, which caused fluid to build up around his heart and lungs. He eventually had to take seven medications each day just to keep it under control.

[Here's what it feels like to have heart failure]

It was during the aftermath of that heart attack and subsequent surgery that Robert met Sher Baechtold, a social work case manager for Palmetto Health and a member of the ACTT Team. He was lying in his hospital bed with a framed photo of Rosie and Lady on the table next to him. "Lo and behold, I woke up and she was right there," he said.

Sher takes a no nonsense approach to counseling her patients.

“She’s definitely straightforward," said Robert. “That’s one of the things I like most about her. She tells it like it is.”

Sher's job requires much more than knowing her patient's medical history. She must assemble a full picture of her patient's unique living situation in order to treat him or her effectively.

It's not just about diet and exercise. Today hospital case managers know that keeping a patient out of the emergency department depends on a whole host of intersecting factors. Do they have access to fresh fruits and vegetables? Do they have transportation to doctor's appointments? Who do they live with? Who can they count on?

Finding out requires meeting the patients where they're most comfortable.

"There's so much that a patient will never tell you, but you can see when you walk into their home," said Jennie Porth, director of ambulatory case management for Palmetto Health. "It's a whole different rapport. When you're sitting on a patient's couch, you get a sense of what life feels like for them. It's huge."

In Robert's case, his eating habits did need some adjustments. But he was very amenable to changing his food routine - like forgoing the salt shaker and cutting way back on red meat and anything fried. He wanted to make sure he was around to care for his dogs. Sher connected him with available resources like a local food bank and Meals on Wheels.

She even hooked him up with an organization that could donate dog food in case he ever needed it.

Robert says his cardiologist, Dr. Ben Jones, is "just so super" and marveled at how the doctor took images of his heart through an injection in his arm (this can be done via a positron emission tomography or PET scan). But he refers to Sher in truly glowing terms.

"She's my angel."

Despite her heavy caseload, Sher still checks in with Robert and Rosie (Lady has since passed away) when she can. He'll also give Palmetto Health a call periodically to say hello and let everyone know how he's doing.

The patient says that although he doesn't have a lot money (he is paying off his surgery bill at $20 per month) and gets by without certain modern conveniences like a water heater, that he's doing well.

"I feel great."



12-20-2015 03:12 (EST)