Angels Walking This Earth

nurse and elderly lady holding hands

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In 2020, during the height of COVID-19, Dr. Barbara Stibler, a former general surgeon and Space Coast resident, was diagnosed with anal and rectal cancer and required abdominal perineal resection surgery with a permanent colostomy. After discharge, she was sent to a rehabilitation hospital to recuperate but didn’t stay long. “They let me go home after 16 days,” recalls Dr. Stibler, who feels that was too soon. “I could sort of get around and I was ambulatory, but my hemoglobin was only eight grams so I really wasn’t strong enough. However, the social worker at the rehab hospital said to me, ‘There are several nursing services that we can recommend’…and I said to her, ‘If you needed help at home to get yourself back to taking care of yourself, because I do live alone, who would you choose?’ and she said, ‘Hands down, the VNA,’ (and) I said, ‘Okay.’”

Dr. Stibler is still very happy with her choice. The first thing one of the VNA Home Health team caregivers did was teach her how to change her colostomy bag, something she credits one nurse in particular with, Stephanie Smith. “She is an absolute genius when it comes to handling colostomies,” says Dr. Stibler.

Dr. Stibler’s surgery had also negatively impacted her mobility and VNA sent both a physical therapist and occupational therapist to address this. “Their basic idea is to get you up on your feet and moving, to learn how to get in and out of a car, how to walk (using a walker)…and how to transport yourself from the bed to the commode and vice versa,” she says, noting that sometimes she also uses the aid of a wheelchair when she wants to get somewhere quickly.  “I was (also) finally able to start cooking for myself and I was able to raise my hemoglobin up to 11 in about 10 weeks.”

After two and half months, in December of 2020, her VNA home health team discharged her when they were satisfied she could take care of herself. With the exception of a brief skin rash, things were progressing well until the spring of 2022 when her walker got caught on furniture and she fell and ended up back in the hospital. “I had a fracture of two bones in in the ankle and the leg was so swollen that they couldn’t operate for like three or four days until the swelling went down,” she says.

When she was discharged, she was referred to another rehabilitation hospital where, like the first rehab hospital she went to, they were going to discharge her after only two weeks – when Dr. Stibler could barely walk. It felt like déjà vu, but the facility had no choice because of insurance reasons. Undaunted, Dr. Stibler enlisted the help of the hospital’s social worker and appealed to Medicare; within 24 hours, her stay was extended for three more weeks.

When Dr. Stibler was discharged from the rehabilitation hospital she had improved but was far from completely ambulatory and required home health. Once again, she chose VNA. Her team consisted of a physical therapist, occupational therapist and nurse, and they helped her from July through October of 2022. “The gals were very surprised that Medicare would pay for four months of the VNA coming to give me physical therapy, but as long as you have a doctor telling Medicare that they still want you to have the service, Medicare will pay for it. A lot of people don’t realize that,” she says.

Once again, Dr. Stibler bonded with her caregivers, particularly VNA Physical Therapist Viviance Rosewicz. “She’s a very, very, very good physical therapist. I mean, I’ve had enough physical therapists now to be able to rate them whether they’re good, bad or indifferent,” she says.

Vivian felt likewise about her Dr. Stibler. “She always pushed herself and always had a great attitude and a smile on her face. She always appreciated the help, and never said ‘no’ when asked to do something she wasn’t comfortable with. She made great progress due to her work ethic,” says Vivian.

Currently, Dr. Stibler is doing very well. “I’m fully ambulatory now,” she says with a smile. “Now that the girls have gone, I know what exercises I have to do. I am capable of getting out of my house and walking down the driveway, which is 20 feet, and getting on my transport van to go to a doctor’s appointment or wherever I want to go… the VNA are angels walking this earth.”

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