Care — for body & soul

MARSHALL – A serious illness doesn’t just take a physical toll on a person. It can also mean difficult decisions, having to make sense of confusing information, and mental or spiritual distress.

At times like that, it helps to have people around who can help, said Dr. Terry Parr, a physician at Avera Marshall Medical Center. That’s the idea behind palliative care services the hospital now offers.

“It relieves that burden of suffering,” Parr said.

For area residents like Peter and Violet Karasis of Marshall, having palliative care available has made a big difference. The care providers have helped Peter manage symptoms of esophageal cancer, and provided advice and support.

“If we have a problem, we can call, and they tend to you pretty fast,” Peter Karasis said.

“It relieves your mind,” Violet Karasis said.

Parr said Avera Marshall formed a team of palliative care providers about a year ago, although it’s not a new service to the Avera health care system, Parr said. During the past year, the Marshall care team has helped about 80 patients, he said.

Palliative care is about helping people improve their quality of life when dealing with a serious or chronic illness, Parr said. At Avera Marshall, Parr, who has been certified in hospice and palliative care, works together with a team including social worker Kelly DeVlaeminck, registered nurse Paulette Hansen, and chaplain Tom Chopp.

Parr stressed that palliative care is not the same thing as hospice care. Examples of palliative care can include managing stress, pain or other symptoms, helping to answer patients’ questions about their treatment options, and helping patients, families and doctors communicate.

“One of the things we do stress is family meetings,” Parr said. The meetings help answer questions, as well as communicating a patient’s wishes as to what treatment he or she wants.

“We listen also,” Paulette Hansen said. “We do a lot of listening.”

Palliative team members can help patients and their families discuss end-of-life issues, Parr said, but it is not their only focus.

“There’s always something we can do,” Parr said.

Referrals aren’t needed to receive palliative care at Avera Marshall. Peter Karasis said he started palliative care after being treated by Parr.

“I had seen Dr. Parr in the emergency room a few times,” Peter Karasis said. From there, he and Violet decided to visit Parr and the palliative care team. “I liked him, so I stuck with him.”

“We think Dr. Parr is very knowledgeable,” Violet Karasis said. She said Parr and the whole palliative team has done a great job of taking care of them, and explaining Peter’s medicines and treatment options.

“And they tell you in language you can understand, layman’s language,” Peter Karasis agreed.

Peter and Violet Karasis said they meet with the palliative care team regularly, every week or two. Members of the team are also prepared to meet with them as needed.

“They came to the house one time,” Violet Karasis said, when Peter was ill and weather conditions made it difficult for the couple to get to the hospital.

Peter and Violet said for them, one of the most important things about the palliative care team has been the relationships and trust they’ve built up. When facing difficult decisions, they said, it’s good to have the team’s support.

“I think we feel comforted in our minds after we see Dr. Parr, and Paulette and Kelly,” Violet Karasis said.

“You feel like you’re not facing it by yourself,” Peter Karasis said.

People interested in more information on palliative care at Avera Marshall can call 507-537-9131.