Helen Marie Worthen is a 105-year-old hospice patient of the Visiting Nurse Association of Greater St. Louis (VNA). Originally from a small river town in southern Illinois, she spent much of her life taking care of the rest of her family, living with her grandmother and uncle after becoming widowed at a young age, and later with her sister when they took care of each other. She does not have any children, which she jokes is why she’s lived so long.
Helen now lives in South City where she is visited every week by Karen Wingbermuehle, a hospice volunteer, though the two first met through VNA’s Visit-A-Bit program. Helen joined Visit-A-Bit in September of 2018 after her previous care company helped sign her up. Helen was the first participant that Karen was ever paired with, and the two have gone on to foster a friendship ever since. “I had just signed up,” says Karen. “She was my first assignment, and now she’s stuck with me.”
Earlier this summer, Helen transitioned from Visit-A-Bit into VNA’s Advanced Illness Management program (AIM) due to her deteriorating eyesight. Helen is very thankful for the nurses who have assisted her through this program, doing things such as making healthcare suggestions, organizing her medications, coordinating her caregivers and bringing her books on tape (murder mysteries are her favorite, though not the gory ones) through the Wolfner Library in Jefferson City.
Helen’s recent transition from AIM to Hospice was seamless. As she was already a part of the AIM program, a lot of the support she would need in hospice was already in place; it was just the amount of assistance that would change as her eyesight got worse. “There wasn’t a huge change apart from a little bit more support,” says Karen. “VNA is very supportive, and if there’s anything we need, they definitely come through.”
For Helen, having VNA be a consistent presence as she transitioned from Visit-A-Bit to AIM to Hospice was a blessing. “I don’t know whether these transitions would have been possible without them,” says Helen. “Things would be so different. I probably wouldn’t even be around.”
But the biggest blessing for Helen has been the relationships she’s been able to build with Karen and the VNA staff through her care. “I think we’ve got a nice bond,” says Karen. “We get along well, we laugh, we have a good time, and I think it’s probably made it easier on Helen. That way, she didn’t have to create a bond with somebody new. It’s almost like dating; it’s hard to start over.”
“It feels as if they are a part of my family,” says Helen. “I feel taken care of.”