Her Samaritan social worker and Dream Foundation team up to create one more day at Jersey Shore
Like many South Jerseyans, Stella Shields looked forward to her time “at the shore” each summer. She enjoyed her yearly ritual – singing “On the Way to Cape May” with family during the 90-minute car ride to Ocean City, “walking the boards” to shop for souvenir lighthouses, ordering the crab cake sandwich and dessert (every time!) at her favorite, Clancy’s, — and setting her beach chair so she could sit “calf-deep” in the surf! Simple pleasures … until her advancing COPD and Parkinson’s disease made these treasured outings not so simple anymore!
Stella’s long struggle with COPD made her oxygen-dependent about five years ago, about the same time her Parkinson’s was causing her to fall. In February 2013, when she could no longer live safely alone, she moved into the Medford Care Center. It was a difficult but necessary decision for this nurse of 60 years who had “dedicated my life to taking care of others and now needed care myself.”
Stella’s nursing career at Virtua Memorial Hospital included assignments in the ER, ICU, CCU, Preemie Nursery and many supervisory positions. On the home front, she cared for her parents, her in-laws, her husband and her son. “My husband died two and a half years ago with end-stage Alzheimer’s disease and kidney failure. Just after that, my son died with a cardiac-related illness.”
Last year, she turned to Samaritan for hospice care for herself. Her Samaritan doctor, nurse, social worker and chaplain provide medical expertise and emotional and spiritual support, as well as the medications, medical equipment, and supplies she needs. Her Samaritan volunteer offers welcome companionship each week and always arrives with room-brightening flowers, she says. “Other residents asked if my being on hospice care meant that I was going to die in the next few days, but I explained how Samaritan can provide much needed help for those of us who are declining but are still trying to live the best quality of life with the time we have left,” she said.
For Stella, that included visiting Ocean City at least one more time in what could be her last summer – an unfulfilled wish her Samaritan Social Worker Colleen Fritsch hoped to make a reality. Colleen helped Stella draft a letter to the not-for-profit Dream Foundation in California requesting help with all the arrangements. Stella wrote, “When I think about the perfect day, it starts with being picked up in a white limo with my daughter and son-in-law and a nurse….I have never been in a limo and I think it’s about time!”
Stella and Colleen were delighted when the Dream Foundation agreed to fund her dream on Friday, June 20 – a perfect day that exceeded her expectations. “I felt like a queen in the limo,” she said, confirming that she and her family did indeed sing “On the Way to Cape May,” The weather on the boardwalk was beautiful, she enjoyed window shopping, and relished her crab cake lunch which was as good as she remembered. The best part, however, was picking up her surf chair from the Ocean City Recreation Department for her triumphant entry – calf-deep – into the ocean for the first time in several years. “I’m never leaving,” she told her family with a huge smile.
Back at Medford Care, Stella said, “I cannot tell you how much this meant to me,” as she wrote thank you notes, with Colleen’s help, for her dream come true.