Being There Through All of Life’s Challenges

Images of John & Patricia Gammino throughout the years.

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The story of John Gammino and his late wife, Patricia, is a true love story, one that began in the seventh grade in a small New Jersey town in 1955 where they first met. As in all love stories, there were some obstacles, and their first major one occurred when they were only 17 and Patricia became pregnant with their first child, a girl. They then experienced both the anguish of being separated by their parents and the trauma of a forced adoption.

But ultimately, John and Patricia could not be kept apart – their love was too strong – and after John graduated from college they married and had three more children.

They were thrilled with their young family, and yet they couldn’t shake the desire to meet their first-born child (although Patricia was simultaneously concerned about intruding into her life). Because of strict adoption laws, it was a very challenging endeavor. However, after 20 years and some incredibly fortuitous events, they did finally meet their eldest child, Lisa, and remain close to her to this day. John chronicled this and much more in his beautiful memoir, “The Love We Knew” (available on Amazon).

John and Patricia’s love story ends on November 23, 2018, when Patricia took her last breath in the Visiting Nurse Association (VNA) Hospice House, a place that John will forever be grateful to for the compassionate end-of-life care its nurses and home health aides provided for the love of his life.

He is also grateful to VNA’s Home Health caregivers, because prior to beginning hospice care with the VNA, Patricia had been receiving VNA Home Health. Her service began in October of 2018, and by that point she had been diagnosed with lung cancer, had two strokes, and had cancerous fluid around her right lung. The fluid had to be drained daily, a task that required a VNA nurse to put a catheter in her every day. “I had a parade of VNA nurses starting at 8:30 in the morning to come drain her every day or she would be in big trouble, and then she had to have speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and an aide also came several times a week and bathed her,” said John, who continued to gush about the services Patricia received from the VNA.

“Your nurses were just phenomenal. I got to know them all and they were so pleasant and so uplifting to her and caring for her that it just struck me that they were special people. Even the physical therapists and occupational therapists and the speech therapist were all top-notch people, and so I was totally thankful and impressed with the care that she received from VNA.”

Unfortunately, Patricia’s health continued to deteriorate, and after a fourth stroke that was much worse than the previous three she ended up in the hospital. The doctors were waiting for permission from John to operate, but Patricia’s regular oncologist told him that she would not survive the surgery and advised against it. “I’m sure he was saving me from saying ‘yes’ and then I would feel responsible (for her death), so that’s when she went into hospice care at VNA Hospice House,” said John.

Patricia spent five days receiving hospice care before passing away. By her side were John and their four children, who were all moved by the excellent care that she received. “We didn’t know what to expect when we were there as a family at VNA Hospice House, but I remember how they kept her dressed. They cared for her dignity, and they turned her during the day this way and that way, keeping her comfortable,” said John.

He was also appreciative of Hospice House’s cozy, inviting environment as well as the compassion and support the VNA Hospice House caregivers provided for him and his children. “We had the opportunity as a family to have a little room off of her room where we could sit and talk quietly. And the grounds are so peaceful to walk around there, and the sunset is just awesome,” said John. “The nurses, they see death every day, and for those of us who don’t see that every day, it’s comforting to have them. They’re so strong and they’re so comforting.”

For a long time, John mourned his late wife, although he felt – and still feels – her presence with supernatural occurrences like his doorbell ringing several times when no one is at the door and a salt shaker moving inexplicably across his kitchen table. “I never used to believe in that kind of stuff, but after so many experiences, I do,” he said.

On the fifth anniversary of Patricia’s passing, which fell on Thanksgiving 2023, John, who now has a new significant other, Betty, said he was inspired to do two things: give his personal thanks to the VNA, which he did by making a generous donation to the VNA & Hospice Foundation, and by contributing to a local organization that supports unwed mothers in similar circumstances to what he and Patricia experienced when they were teenagers. “It felt great to give back,” he said.

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