When Vero Beach resident Dominick LaCavalla was told last winter at the hospital that he had two weeks to live unless he immediately started dialysis, his first thought was of his son who he hadn’t seen in four years, Dominick III, and how much he wished he could visit him. But Dominick Senior knew that was not a reality since neither he nor his son, who has advanced Multiple Sclerosis and lives in Colorado, was healthy enough to fly.
That thought, combined with an aversion to dialysis, and LaCavalla left the hospital thinking he wasn’t long for this world. He was wrong. Thankfully, before he left the hospital, a social worker arranged for VNA to begin hospice care at his home and his “two weeks left to live” has extended indefinitely.
Dominick attributes his much-improved health to the care provided by Jacquelyn Ruiz, his VNA hospice counselor, and Elise Todd, his VNA nurse. “We’ve become friends. It’s kind of like a little family, and I’m very appreciative of it, because other than that, there’s nobody here,” he says.
Although incredibly grateful, Dominick still wished for a visit with his son and mentioned it to Jacquelyn. “I thought it was just talk,” says the 78-year-old.
But behind the scenes, Jacqueline began making his dream come true through Project Wish, a VNA Foundation program that grants end-of-life wishes for hospice patients. “End of life can be sometimes be socially, physically and spiritually limiting. Project Wish aims to work around these limitations…and curate the best possible experience we can,” says Sara Bumgarner, Volunteer Services Manager for VNA.
Eventually, Jacqueline divulged the plan to Dominick. “I was dumbfounded,” he says.
Jacqueline was moved too. “I also felt very emotional for him as I knew how much this would mean to him,” she says.
As excited as Dominick was for the trip, he was also anxious because of his weakened state, yet he was determined to visit his son and says he put his faith in God – and in VNA. Someone from the organization drove him to the airport and another VNA employee, Volunteer Coordinator Kim Smith, pushed him in a wheelchair through voluminous Orlando International Airport. “Before I knew it, I was sitting on a plane. And when I arrived in Denver, there was someone who VNA arranged to pick me up,” says Dominick.
Joining Dominick and his son was his son’s girlfriend, Krys Allen, and the three of them hung out at home, with Kim Smith calling him daily to check-in. “We didn’t go any place or do anything but being together with my son and his girlfriend was wonderful,” says Dominick. And the week-long stay became even better when his 14-year-old grandson, Jacob, joined them after a camping trip. “Jacob’s always been whatever his age is going on 40, and a very smart kid,” says Dominick proudly.
Now back in Vero, Dominick continues to reflect on his trip, and how grateful he is. “I’m not sure how to say thank you, I couldn’t say it enough,” says Dominick humbly. “I never had anything happen to me like this before. Every time I think about it, I start to cry.”