On: August 20, 2018

Every patient that enters the healthcare system asks themselves the question, “How and when am I going to get home?”

One Vietnam war-time veteran, Dennis Duch, was not quite sure how or if he would make it home. His story began while deployed on the northern border of Vietnam.

“I was deep in the jungles of the demilitarized zone in Vietnam, wearing a flak metal vest and a steel pot,” he told me. “I found myself riding outside on top of a Sheridan Tank. To avoid a swinging turret on the tank, I was forced to jump 15 feet into a bomb crater. It was either get knocked off or jump off.”

He went on vividly describing that as a specialist fourth-class in the army, he was involved in the dangerous work of ground surveillance radar as well as driving an APC (armored personnel carrier). “Ground surveillance is dangerous work be because of the mines. However, I was not the first guy in the line of the convoy. Due to the equipment in my vehicle, I was second in line. Unfortunately, I saw many of my comrades, in front, hit the hidden mines.” He felt lucky to return from his duties, yet it was not without its difficulties.

Briar has the unique privilege of serving the men and woman who have faithfully served and sacrificed their lives for our great nation. Being a VA-contracted facility, we also have the unique privilege of working with a physician who, as well, is an Army and Navy veteran, Dr. Steven Arnold.

When Dennis arrived at Briar Hill from the VA, he was assigned to Dr. Arnold, a Trumbull Memorial Hospital physician, who oversees and coordinates his care. Dr. Arnold shared some thoughts about Dennis’ progress. “When he came to Briar, he had some significant health issues,” he said.

Dr. Arnold has been practicing primary care in Middlefield, OH for several years. He does make a point of informing his veteran patients that he served in the Navy and the Army. This commonality creates an automatic bond of understanding. “We veterans are a different breed,” he said. “We share a camaraderie; it doesn’t matter from which end of the country, veterans are similar. They are the kind of people who are willing to sacrifice – their lives if they have to – for their country and those they care about.”

The challenges that Dennis faced preceded his hospitalization at the VA. He had been receiving physical therapy over the years treating a back injury which now involves herniated discs. This past year, he developed a severe illness involving depleted liver function followed by severe pneumonia. For these reasons, Dennis was admitted to the Veterans Affairs (VA) hospital in Cleveland.

“When Dennis came to Briar, he was bed-bound, in severe pain, very uncomfortable and very unhappy with his situation,” shared Linda Mohar, who has served families on our campus for 24 years as a licensed social worker. “When Dennis was admitted to Briar, we were unsure if he would ever fully recover. At that time, we never even considered having a conversation about his returning home.”

Discharge planning for the patient on the day of their admissions is one of Linda’s primary roles. She also leads the coordination between the interdisciplinary team to include payers, clinicians, home health agencies, etc.

Dennis has surprised us all by making significant progress with mobility and cognition. “I took a look around,” said Dennis, “and realized I had to choose where I wanted to spend the rest of my days. I also realized I want to go home.”

To date, his orientation, comprehension, and short-term memory have improved to being within functional limits. He can walk and move about independently and completes all self-care and household tasks such as cooking with supervision, and he enjoys visiting and interacting with his family.

Dr. Arnold also credits the staff at Briar, “The STNAs and therapists are the ones in the trenches and who really make it happen. The therapists at Briar are top notch.”

Linda is thrilled with Dennis’ progress. She says it is always wonderful to watch successes such as Dennis’ take place. There have been many surprises throughout her career where patients would come in seemingly without hope and under hospice care (care for the sick, especially the terminally ill), and then recover and be removed from hospice.

“I still have a lot of work to do,” adds Dennis. “I like to stay up until between 10 and midnight because those are the hours I feel and move my best. I know when I go to bed, I have to start it all over again in the morning.”

It is hopeful that Dennis will return home in a couple of weeks. “Each time someone compliments me on my progress, it gives me the extra dose of motivation to keep going. My goal, before I move home, is to feel, at all times, the way I feel at midnight,” he smiles.

The Briar Hill team has been out, with Dennis, to his home in Thompson, and assessed his needs. They along with Dennis’ daughter Michelle, the VA, and the Department on Aging are partnering to evaluate and then equip Dennis’ accommodations with the needed tools, such as grab bars, to make his return home successful.

Dennis is looking forward to the future on his 17 acres in Thompson, OH where he will return to enjoy a full life working around his home and property and maybe become involved in his church again. “I feel like my life has taken a full circle,” says Dennis. “I started out in this area and after moving all around, I am back and it feels good.” Dennis smirked when he told me, “I was uncertain about Briar when I arrived. But if I need care again, I can’t imagine going anywhere else. I have made so many friends.”

Congratulations and a job well done to Dennis, his family, support staff at Briar, Dr. Arnold, VA and the Department on Aging! It is a high honor and a noble task to have the privilege to help our vets achieve their goals!