Getting Aunt Connie home

Nurse practitioner Melissa Woodstock, oncology fellow Rathi Pillai, and hospitalist David Tong.
Nurse practitioner Melissa Woodstock, oncology fellow Rathi Pillai, and hospitalist David Tong, were among many who helped brain tumor patient Connie Smith, who spent 56 days in the hospital and two months in Emory’s skilled nursing facility.



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A constant headache was one thing, but when 61-year old Connie Smith started feeling dizzy and unsteady on her feet, she knew it was time to go to the emergency room.

Within hours, she was admitted to Emory University Hospital (EUH), diagnosed with a brain tumor, and scheduled to begin an aggressive course of chemotherapy and radiation. After she had spent 56 days in acute care, Smith’s tumor had shrunk and her symptoms had diminished. She was transferred to Budd Terrace, Emory’s skilled nursing facility, for sub-acute care. There she could continue radiation and chemo but also enjoy eating in the dining room, chatting with new friends, and participating in group activities.

After two more months, she was well enough to leave—but not well enough to live alone. At Smith’s request, the Emory team contacted her closest relative, who lived in nearby Duluth. The niece had been a faithful visitor, but she was now in the process of moving to Arizona, where her husband had just been transferred. Their house was a jumble of suitcases and packing boxes. Moving her aunt to their current home was impractical, but she and her husband could move her to their new home in Scottsdale.

Smith wanted to go, but getting there would not be easy. She had no money. Medicaid had covered a portion of her expenses at EUH, but Emory had covered all costs for the two months at Budd Terrace. Now, working with Budd Terrace social worker Lashonda Jones, the Emory team set to work to get Smith home and ensure a smooth transition medically. EUH social workers Rasheedah Carkhum and Theresa Hoffman made arrangements with an airline that provides vouchers to transport cancer patients at no cost. Medical oncologist Rathi Pillai arranged to have her followed by an oncologist in Arizona, while hospitalist David Tong communicated with other physicians in Arizona about her needs. When Smith said goodbye, there were hugs and tears.

In the long run, the story likely won’t have a magical ending. Smith’s brain tumor is winning. But Emory’s efforts improved Smith’s quality of life for months and brought two family members closer. That has some magic of its own.

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