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It was early September, and the staff at Gurwin Jewish in Commack was discussing possible uses for newly acquired portable machines that make it possible for patients who need breathing assistance to leave their rooms.
Nursing home spokeswomen Dennine W. Cook and Maureen Fagan recall that a baseball game was playing on television when a representative from the company that makes the equipment suggested taking residents to a baseball game. The suggestion lighted a spark in the staff, and what ensued over the next weeks was the planning and organizing that led to a day of Mets Madness, the spokeswomen said.
The equipment that made the outing possible is a portable machine called VOCSN, which combines and moderates all the functions that were once done by an array of machines all plugged into stationary outlets. VOCSN, which weighs less than 20 pounds and has nine hours of battery life, stands for ventilator, oxygen concentrator, cough assist, suction and nebulizer – all vital functions for those who have lost muscle power and control over breathing.
Delta Young, the director of respiratory therapy in Gurwin’s 28-bed Ventilator Care Unit, says a Mets game was not necessarily a wish-list item when the equipment was rolled out in mid-September. “We were really just looking forward to the VOCSN technology to not only help us provide enhanced care, but also to help our residents be a little more mobile, leave their rooms for a bit, be a little more social and have a little better quality of life,” she says. “We never imagined that we’d be able to take them out to the ball game!”
For Gurwin patient Scott Gingold, who says he has been a Mets fan since childhood, the outing was a “great day.” Gingold, who has Lou Gehrig’s disease, uses his eyes to communicate through a Tobii Dynavox, a speech-generating computer, and also relies on breathing equipment and a feeding tube. He attended with his parents.
Gingold was one of four patients and their families who set off to Citi Field on a warm Sept. 23 in a caravan including ambulances, an ambulette carrying beds, chairs and other equipment, family cars, nursing home medical staff and voluteers. About 34 people were in the caravan, Cook says. The phrase, “it takes a village” comes to mind, spokeswoman Fagan said.
At the stadium, patients traveled by freight elevators to the luxury suite overlooking the field. Suite furniture was moved to make way for the patients’ chairs and beds. Despite the hot day, and the sweaty logistics of moving the patients, all four were served by the machines as though they were in their rooms at the nursing home, the spokeswomen said.
The outing gave Gurwin resident Gus Hatzichristos, of Dix Hills, a chance to sit in a stadium seat with his family. A lifelong athlete who just last year was playing soccer on a team with his son, Hatzichristos also has a diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. With his VOCSN unit in tow, Gus cheered on the Mets at Citifield from the luxury suite, flanked by his son and two grandsons. “It was a great night,” he says.
It was a chance for Janie Hartstein, of Bayside, Queens, who is paralyzed from a stroke, to leave the nursing home for the first time in three years and to be with her daughters. Gurwin resident James McDermott, of Levittown, who has a traumatic brain injury, also attended.
The portable VOCSN is manufactured by Ventec Life Systems, of Seattle, Washington, and Gurwin is the only adult facility in the Downstate region to offer it currently, spokeswoman Cook said. It is also used in pediatrics to allow frail children to be at home with their families. Ventec footed the bill for the baseball outing, and Modell’s Sporting Goods provided the group with Mets paraphernalia.
The Mets lost to the Miami Marlins, but that didn’t dampen the joy of the Gurwin group. As the patients said later, the trip was exciting and not something they had expected. It also helped their caregivers become more comfortable with the technology, the spokeswomen said.
Are there other outings planned? The answer, Cook said, is definitely.