November 18, 2021
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Revisiting the Dehney Family
Surviving Tragic Loss with Family and Faith By Marcus Hoffman
November is National Hospice Palliative Care Month A little over two years ago, I spoke to local George Dehney. He was a loving father, a middle school football coach and an avid sailor. At the time, he was battling a rare and aggressive form of brain cancer called glioblastoma. Despite the circumstances, George was tenacious, lively, and confident. He told me he believed he would beat the disease, and he excitedly spoke of plans for the future. On his side, he had his family, a team of doctors, and his Catholic faith fighting with him against his brain tumor. A couple months ago, Compass, a local hospice organization that offers care and support to patients, caregivers and families who have found themselves facing a life-limiting diagnosis or loss, reached out to the Shore Update. They told us they had recently worked with a family who had lost a loved one and wanted to share their story with me and our community. It wasn’t until after I agreed that I discovered the family they referred me to was the Dehney family, and that George had tragically passed away a little less than a year ago. I now had the opportunity to talk to Aimee, George’s wife, once again but under much different circumstances. It was an emotional time for her, and her family when we spoke, being almost exactly one year after George’s passing. Despite the difficult circumstances, Aimee, with her husband’s same fortitude, spoke very openly and in-depth about what she, her husband, and her family had gone through. (Cont. next page) George with his wife Aimee and their two children leaned on their Catholic faith for strength. George in Hospice care.
November 18, 2021
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In January of 2019, local George Dehney’s life was abruptly turned upside down. While at a banquet for the middle school football team he coached, The Piranhas, he suddenly began experiencing speech and memory problems. He was rushed to the hospital, and there, the doctors discovered that he had a tumor in his brain. George’s brain tumor was a type called glioblastoma, often considered to be the most aggressive form of brain cancer. The mean survival rate is about 14 months, meaning that within that time period, half of all people diagnosed with the condition will pass. George spent the first couple days after the diagnosis in a state of despair. Shortly after, however, his outlook changed. George became more confident, and he set his mind to living every moment of the rest of his life, however long it might be, to the fullest. By the time I spoke to George and Aimee, they had gone on a family sailing trip to the Caribbean, a lifelong dream of George’s. He was in very good spirits at that time, and was looking forward to taking more trips and to continue coaching. Three months after we spoke, George and his family went on a trip to Colorado in December of 2019. At that point, George’s condition had grown worse both physically and psychologically. He had lost a lot of physical abil
George’s life was abruptly turned upside down... while at a banquet for the middle school football team he coached, he suddenly began experiencing speech and memory problems. The doctors discovered that he had a tumor in his brain.
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November 18, 2021 www.SHOREUPDATE.com... KEEP UPDATED! ity on the right side of his body. Because of this, he had issues with both his gait and his dexterity. The tumor had also begun to push on the speech center of his brain and he was developing difficulty speaking. Despite the circumstances, they still enjoyed a magical Christmas trip visiting family in Colorado. Around this time, George had no choice but to stop driving. Just a year before, he was driving multi hour commutes to work everyday and driving all up and down the coast for his football coaching. Despite all the physical changes his body and mind were undergoing, he continued to push himself. “He was very determined to stay independent,” Aimee explained to me. “He worked out everyday and wrote as much as he could...to stay ahead of his tumor, he would go on walks for hours...In his mind if he stopped working out, he would die. He never acknowledged he would have died but I think that was his premise.” In the early spring of 2020, his tumor continued to progress. He was told by his doctor that surgery would have too many potential side effects to be a viable option. Aimee said that was tough for her and
“That was a huge blow, it was like they had done everything (Cont. next page) they could for us.” George to hear,
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November 18, 2021
Page 18 straight to him. “When a lot of people hear ‘hospice’ they think of giving up,” Aimee explained to me. “But it’s not. There’s a point where there isn’t much more that can be done medically, so they provide all the support they can to the patient and family. They help people transition with dignity.”
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Around this time, just as COVID was creeping up on our nation, George began experiencing personality changes. He became paranoid and started experiencing sudden mood swings. Aimee believes that a lot of this was caused by the growing tumor, though it was exacerbated by fear of the coronavirus. These mood changes created a lot of angst and worry for the rest of the Dehneys. Because of this, his oncologist recommended “they get hospice care involved, for both the sake of George and his family. George received hospice care from Compass while still living at home. The family no longer had to drive him around to his various doctors appointments, instead, the healthcare he needed came
In July of 2020, his dosage of steroids was increased due to worsening swelling on the brain, and George experienced medication side effects. He agreed to spend some time at the hospice care facility, to both help him and to allow his family to have some much needed rest. “Compass was absolutely amazing,” Aimee told me. “They made him feel like a part of their household and made him believe his situation would improve.” He would return home five days later. Aimee wanted her and her children to be prepared for the future. “It’s always difficult to talk about hard things,” Aimee shared with me. “We want to squash our emotions, but I was very vocal with the children about what was happening. As a nurse I knew it would take his life and I wanted them to be prepared and to talk about it.” To help her children, she enlisted help from hospice, school counselors, and a priest at their church. Rhonda Knotts, the supervisor of grief services at Compass, says that the Dehney family’s situation was a tough and unique case. “It’s a death that goes against the grain,” Rhonda told me. “George was young, robust, and active. They were just a young healthy family with a really wonderful life together...knowing all that they had was going to be cut short isn’t an easy thing to deal with.”
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To help deal with the difficult situation Aimee and her children received pre-bereavement counselling from Compass. Aimee says that two big parts of the pre-bereavement counseling was “accepting that it would take him” and “dealing with the personality and mood swings...making my kids understand that it was not their father, but the tumor and the medication.” Above all, Aimee said that counselling gave her and her children “a space to talk.”
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November 18, 2021
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One year after his passing, the family still misses George dearly. “We will always be experiencing grief,” Aimee shared with me. “George was larger than life, and even with all the support we have received, there is still a huge void. Sometimes we still play music he was fond of or watch movies he enjoyed and just remember.” Rhonda says that experiencing grief forever like this is very normal. “People want to look for a finish line,” she explained to me. “They think ‘I don’t want to feel this way anymore.’ While the intensity of the feelings may subside, if there is love for that person, you will always miss them. Especially during milestones and celebrations.” As time went on, George’s motor skills continued to decline, and he went from being able to walk with a cane to having to use a wheelchair. Wanting to stay active, George developed a love for swimming. Aimee believes being in the water made him feel whole and “less aware of his deficits.” Sometimes they would go to the pool, sometimes to the beach, always with friends and family nearby in case he needed help. In September of 2020, Aimee had taken George to the local pool to swim laps, as they did regularly. Suddenly, as she watched him, George went under. She rushed in, and grabbed him, and tried to pull him up as quickly as she could. George was a large man, and there was a struggle, but she was able to pull him up out of the water. He had briefly lost consciousness. When he awoke, his breathing was labored as he aspirated water and his condition seemed worse than ever. He required oxygen that evening. Because of this incident and his worsening condition, the family agreed that George would be better off in the full-time care of Compass. Even though the pandemic was severe at the time, the children were still able to visit their father nearly everyday. Almost exactly one week after he checked into hospice, he passed away in the middle of the night. His family had visited him for the last time earlier that very day. The family had a funeral at St Christopher’s. To honor George’s memory, they had displays of all the things he was involved in, from coaching to sailing. “The outpouring of love and support was overwhelming, people I never knew reached out to us.”
In difficult times, Aimee hangs on to their Catholic faith, “Knowing he is in heaven and looking after us has given us a lot of strength...His father also died from a brain tumor, and I think that fueled his desire to live life to the fullest. Knowing that they are together in heaven just makes things so much easier.” When Aimee thinks of George, she says she remembers the good times more than the difficult times near the end. She remembers them first getting married 23 years ago, all the many traveling adventures, their boating trips and all the fun times they spent together as a family. She also remembers his dedication to coaching football and watching their son excel at the sport. She recollects his intense love for both his children, Tommy and Gracie. “Looking back, It’s those small and intimate moments we all had as a family that mean the most.” Next page continues with more info on Compass Regional Hospice and Camp New Dawn
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November 18, 2021
www.SHOREUPDATE.com... KEEP UPDATED! We’re Not Your Doctors Just For A Minute Page 20 Regional Hospice Voted Best General We Practice Are Your Doctors Compass For Life! Camp New Dawn
Same day appointments To help their daughter deal with the passing of her father, her family registered her Convenient early morning, evening and Saturday hours for Compass’ Camp New Dawn. Camp
New Dawn was founded over twenty five years ago as a way to help children
M-W 7:00struggling am -with 8:00 pm grief after the loss of a loved one. The camp integrates conventional summer camp activities with activities that help children and teens Th-Fri 7:00express amand- cope 4:00 pmgrief. Rhonda explained to me that children and with their adolescents have unique Saturday 8:00 am - 12:00difficulties pm when they experience loss. “Kids have differences and many of them feel different,” Rhonda told me. “And then Dr. James Chamberlain, M.D BEST GENERAL PRACTITIONER
grief is another thing that makes you feel very, very different.” In surveys BEST NURSE PRACTITIONER We’re Not Your Doctors Just For A Minute Accepting newconducts patients Compass after the camp ends, Rhonda says that about 90 percent We Eastern Are Your Shore Doctorsfor ForOver Life! 30 Years Serving the of participants said one of the most important things they learned was that Julie C. Henne-Reese, CRNP
We care for familiesthey- were newborn to kids geriatric not alone. “So many come through as campers, and then become an adult buddy because they believe in the process and they remember Board Certified providers with emphasis on preventive care Convenient early morning, evening and Saturday hours MPCP IS NOW OFFERING Same day appointments how it made a difference in their own grief.” If you would like to learn more
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about the camp or ways to support Camp New Dawn, call 443-262-4100 or visit www.compassregionalhospice.org/camp-new-dawn.
We can meet your urgentCompass care Regional needs Hospice 125 Shoreway Drive, Ste. 120 Grief
M-W 7:00 am - 8:00 pm Th-Fri 7:00 am - 4:00 pm Saturday 8:00 am - 12:00 pm
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