- Associated Press - Friday, December 30, 2016

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (AP) - The Hellinger family - a fraction of them, anyway - sat in a loose circle in the basement of a Clarksville home, talking.

Sisters Lisa Leister and Terri Hibbs and their husbands Tom and Harry claimed the folding chairs while Leister and Hibbs’ brother, David Hellinger, sat on the sofa with his niece Ashlee Veach and his mother, Carol.

A wrinkled easy chair in the corner stayed empty. That was Martin “Ted” Hellinger’s spot: Lisa, Terri and David’s father; Ashlee’s grandpa and Carol’s husband.

Ted was a helpful kind of person, the Hellingers said as they reminisced: a picture framer in his spare time who donated his creations to Visually Impaired Preschool Services and his church. He also volunteered with Carol at St. Anthony of Padua Catholic School, where the students called them “Grandma” and “Grandpa.” And, finally, Ted was a swimming, skiing and fishing instructor to his seven children and 17 grandchildren.

It was only fitting, then, that at 85 years old and in his final days, Ted received the quality of care he did.

A caring culture

Marla Beeler was visiting Clark Memorial Hospital for the second time, and she didn’t know where to go. So she asked the woman at the front desk for directions.

“She not only told me, ‘go down this hallway, turn left, go right, go this way,’ she fully took me to the place, smiled and said, ‘here you go, welcome, have a nice day,’” Beeler said. “It was like she really took the time and interest in the fact that I was here and wanted to help me.”

Beeler, an advanced practice nurse, was at the hospital for a job interview. It’s her fifth year at Clark Memorial now. The service she experienced during her second visit has never wavered.

“It’s truly patient centered,” she said about the hospital. “Everything is focused on the patient and then everything else filters out from there.”

It’s a philosophy that was founded years ago, said Beth Adams, a Clark Memorial nurse of 32 years.

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s when healthcare was changing and local hospitals obsessed over cost effectiveness, Clark Memorial’s leadership focused on other things, she said.

“The person at our helm then was very ‘do the right thing’ oriented,” Adams said. “He didn’t necessarily buy into what’s the best way to make money. His philosophy was very much, if you’re doing the right thing, the patients will come and the money will follow.”

Clark Memorial management has continued to follow that patient-first ideology, Adams said. And that was the culture Ted was introduced to the day he couldn’t breathe.

The emergency

Ted had some health problems throughout his life, but not an overwhelming number. That was until last November, anyway.

His knees were bothering him, and he decided to undergo a voluntary replacement surgery.

When he left the hospital, he was deaf.

Eventually, Ted’s right ear started working, but the doctors told his family to keep him on oxygen.

“He got to where he could hardly go up and down the steps or anything,” Terri said.

“He wasn’t happy,” Lisa added.

And on Dec. 3 he woke up with a bad cough. David and his wife, who live near Carol and Ted, visited the house to check on him.

They took him to immediate care, whose staff ordered an ambulance.

Ted soon found himself in Clark Memorial’s emergency room with a collapsed lung. Hospital staff managed to insert a tube into his chest and stabilize him.

Terri, who rushed to the hospital, wanted to go to the back to see him. They told her to wait five minutes. Terri, a nurse herself, had heard that line before, and she didn’t believe it.

She was right. The small procedure did last more than five minutes, but something else happened. A nurse checked back in with Terri to tell her that she’d be waiting longer.

“They kept us updated,” she said.

And they continued to throughout Ted’s entire stay.

From healing to counseling

Beeler walked into the ICU room of her newest patient and saw something she doesn’t always: a large family.

“Oh, the gang’s all here,” she said.

The man in the bed was Ted. Forty-nine of his family members would visit him during his stay, although they weren’t always in the same room at the same time. Among those visitors were some of Ted’s siblings and Gina Ober, his oldest surviving child.

“You could tell he was surrounded by so much love and so many people that wanted to be there with him,” Beeler said.

Beeler specializes in thoracic and vascular surgery. She sees several patients during her shifts, and she visited Ted once a day during his stay for about 10 to 15 minutes each time. She was just one of the many medical professionals that took care of him during his stay at Clark Memorial.

“Everybody in the hospital was good,” Carol said.

“Even the people that worked in the cafeteria,” Terri added. “We would go through the halls and everybody made eye contact and was very pleasant, whether they were in his room, his hallway…”

But it wasn’t too long into Ted’s stay that a doctor had to explain that Ted wasn’t going to go home.

The hospital staff began counseling the Hellingers. Beeler held family member’s hands. Adams, who attended to Ted in the ICU listened as the family shared their memories. A travel nurse named Joe comforted the family when Ted experienced a bout of delirium.

And on Ted’s fourth day in the hospital, he was moved to the third floor.

The final moments

During Ted’s last 24 hours, Carol was allowed to lay beside him in bed. That was when she told the gathered family the story of their romance.

Carol was a teenager and Ted was in his 20s when they met. He was dating her older sister who decided Ted was too young for her.

“Well just keep him around and one day I’ll take him,” Carol said.

Some time later, Carol was sitting outside of her house when a car pulled up and Ted got out. The two started talking.

After Ted left, he told his brother and friend that he was going to marry Carol.

“We learned so much that we didn’t know or didn’t talk about,” Lisa said about hearing her mom’s story.

Clark Memorial’s staff continued to pad the Hellinger’s last hours with Ted. They brought the family chairs and blankets. A nurse named Lauren cried with them.

On Thursday afternoon, Ted died.

Carol stood at his shoulder, as did a grandchild. The rest of the family surrounded the bed.

Everyone was touching him.


Terri had to go back to her father. She wanted to put the rails up on his bed before she left him.

She doubled back to the room to do it, and as she walked out and down the hallway for the final time, a housekeeper grabbed her by the hand.

“I just want you to know I’ll be praying for your family,” the woman said.


This Hellinger Christmas Eve will be the first one without Ted. He used to work on Christmases.

Carol is still hosting the family get-together in her Clarksville home. The subject of Ted’s care at Clark Memorial might come up. It’s been 16 days, but the family hasn’t stopped discussing it.

“It made a horrible experience bearable,” Carol said. “Maybe.”

For workers such as Adams, it was an honor to be with the family during Ted’s last moments.

“They were so appreciative of every single thing. Everything we did was just the biggest deal to them, and they were so good with each other, and they were so respectful of each other’s time with him,” she said.

“It was a gift to be a part of his care.”


Source: News and Tribune, https://bit.ly/2hKzmJi


Information from: News and Tribune, Jeffersonville, Ind., https://www.newsandtribune.com

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