When one of your parents falls ill it’s bad enough. But when they both do, where do you turn?
When their elderly parents developed life-threatening medical issues within days of each other, sisters Karla Bringedahl and Kim Maxwell felt their lives change in an instant.
Last April, their father, Howard Varner, spent 11 days in the Intensive Care Unit at Baton Rouge General Hospital when a kidney infection turned septic, necessitating emergency surgery. While Howard was recovering in the hospital, doctors found a tumor in Milly Varner’s brain. “In a matter of a month, they both very well could have died at the same time,” Kim says.
Howard, 88, and Milly, 78, are longtime residents of St. Francisville. Friends describe Milly, who worked as a nurse at West Feliciana Hospital and Louisiana State Penitentiary, as a true Southern belle who loves helping others. Prior to his retirement, Howard also worked at the Penitentiary as a security officer. Never one to sit idle for long, he took up local locksmithing after leaving Angola. The couple is active in their church, First Baptist, and they love cheering from the sidelines at their grandchildren’s ball games. The Varners celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in September. “Anybody that meets them loves them,” says Karla.
But when Howard was discharged from Baton Rouge General, Karla and Kim found themselves in a tough spot. Right when their father needed at-home care, Milly was in the midst of a 31-day stay at BRG. “We were worn out between the two of them,” Karla says. “We were kind of stuck with Momma being sick when Daddy got well enough to leave the hospital, but not well enough to go home.” Kim took time off work to stay with Milly in the hospital and help care for Howard, and their brother, Kendal Varner, pitched in too, but they were stretched thin, and Kim had to go back to work eventually.
West Feliciana Hospital’s Swing Bed Program—a Medicare-eligible program that allows rural hospitals to provide skilled care services to patients, once acute care is no longer necessary—meant that Karla and Kim could get help for Howard close to home, giving them some much-needed room to breathe. “It really helped us out because I don’t know what we would have done,” says Karla. “It’s such a benefit to have something like this.”
Reassured their father was in good hands nearby, Karla and Kim didn’t have to worry about him as much. “It gave us a lot of relief to be able to leave him overnight, and we knew he was being taken care of,” Karla adds. Howard’s nurses bathed and shaved him daily, and the hospital’s dietitians catered to Howard when he wasn’t able to eat.
“The care there was very personal and comfortable for the family,” Kim says. “You don’t get that in Baton Rouge.”
Howard and Milly are slowly getting back to normal, attending their grandchildren’s sporting events again and going to church twice a week. They both utilize WFH’s rehabilitation outpatient services, as well as at-home physical therapy.