When Skip and Suzanne Little moved their family from Florida to Ellensburg, they came looking for a small college town that would be a good place to raise their six children.
But when Skip faced a health crisis, the couple - both psychology instructors at Central Washington University - found something they hadn't counted on: highly skilled in-home health care that helped them through a daunting time.
After repeated bouts of diverticulitis, Skip had robotic laparoscopic surgery last spring to remove part of his colon. The relatively new procedure is minimally invasive and typically involves less down time than conventional surgery. The procedure isn't offered locally, so Skip turned to a Seattle hospital. Days later he was home; a few days after that, back in the classroom.
Then came a check up in Seattle. An MRI showed that the area where his colon had been reconnected was leaking and infected. Skip was rushed to emergency surgery where doctors cleaned up the infection and placed tubes in his abdomen to continue draining it. Because his colon couldn't be reconnected at that point due to the infection, doctors brought the end of it up to a stoma, an opening in his abdomen where a colostomy bag is attached to collect his waste.
"I was told I would have been dead within an hour without the surgery," he says. "If I'd gone back to Ellensburg that day I wouldn't have made it. So we had an angel on our shoulder."
Two weeks later, Skip went home, forty pounds lighter, drainage tubes still in his body, and with his incision unhealed because of the infection. He wore a colostomy bag and, too weak to climb the stairs to his bedroom, slept on a couch in the family room.
Enter Kathy Honeysett, a nurse with KVH Home Health. Operated by Kittitas Valley Healthcare, the service features a team of nurses and therapists who provide medical care and rehabilitation services to homebound patients. The program includes 24-hour-a-day on-call nursing services.
"She's the whole package - tremendous knowledge and skills, tremendous empathy," Skip says, recalling how Honeysett taught Suzanne to change his dressings, drain the tubes and empty his bag. She also served up steady doses of encouragement that things would improve.
"Without that, I think I would have withered," Skip says. "There were just too many things going on. It was the perfect storm."
Over time, what began as daily visits from KVH Home Health became less frequent. But an unscheduled visit one weekend last summer proved critical. Skip was under the weather. He called Home Health. Nurse Sally Henning responded and sent him to the emergency room. Diagnosed with pneumonia and a pulmonary embolism (blood clot), a potentially life-threatening situation, he was hospitalized and placed on blood thinners.
Now teaching part-time, Skip hopes to have surgery to reconnect his colon this coming spring. First though, his pulmonary embolism has to clear up. Meanwhile, he voices appreciation for Home Health and Hospice at every opportunity. "It's wonderful thing to have," he says. "It's one of those things that you have that you don't know how wonderful it is until you need it. To me they're angels."