Skip to main content

The Journal Gazette

  • Courtesy photo Brenda Crisp-Bradley, left, and Audrey Arvola, right, caregivers to Alan Miller, help him celebrate his 27th anniversary as a resident of Byron Health Center in May, just a few days before surgery revealed his cancer returned.

Sunday, August 06, 2017 1:00 am

A century and a half of caring

Byron staff there for those without any other option

Mark Miller

A friend attended what she described as her “first ever” Three Rivers Festival parade this year. In an email to my wife a few days later, she noted that Byron Health Center had a float.

“I was impressed with the group from Byron Health Center in the parade,” she wrote. “The sign said celebrating 50 years of loving care. Just thanked God as they passed through for the care Alan has and is presently receiving.”

That familiarity was not as evident when I would share with other friends about my brother's battle with an aggressive strain of cancer and that he had been able to “go back home” to Byron. Some had an awareness of driving past the aging complex on North Lima Road; many perceived it as the “Allen County Home” – which indeed it was at one point in its long history of care.

According to Byron's website, it dates to 1853, when it began as the Allen County Poor House. A tuberculosis treatment hospital was added and named after Irene Byron, a lady who died serving her country in World War I and was an executive secretary of the Anti-Tuberculosis League. In 1974, what had become the Allen County Health Center merged with the Irene Byron Hospital, forming Byron Health Center.

For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was rising subsidy costs, in 1991 the county commissioners signed an agreement with Recovery Health Services to operate the facility, which made Byron the first county facility of its type in Indiana to morph from being governmental in nature to being run as a private, not-for-profit entity.

Our family's awareness of Byron goes back almost three decades. In reflection, I have a deeper appreciation for the struggles my parents dealt with as my younger brother aged, challenged since birth with mild mental retardation which required some speech and physical therapy in his early years. Although initially able to hold a job after high school, he was eventually diagnosed with schizophrenia. Living in Decatur at the time, my parents turned to the resources available in Allen County and Indianapolis. After a few residential programs did not work out, Alan found a home in “Section 15,” the residential wing at Byron now known as “Miller's Place,” named after Orville Miller (no relation to the writer), a supervisor who led a broad-based community effort to revitalize the facility in the mid-to-late 1950s

Alan entered the facility in May 1990. It indeed became “home.” His caregivers were part of the team that comforted him though the eventual deaths of his parents.

Last fall, a routine exam found a lump at the back of his tongue. Tests soon confirmed it was malignant, and arrangements were made for surgery, which included removal of several suspect lymph nodes along with many other lymph nodes in the area for testing. The doctors felt certain they were able to remove all the cancerous cells as well as any infected lymph nodes. Tests indicated the spread had been contained and that radiation and/or chemotherapy would not significantly reduce an already-low likelihood of the cancer's return.

Nonetheless, six months later it did, “with a vengeance,” the oral surgeon reported after an exploratory surgery May 8. The growing tumors in his neck, coupled with the aftereffects of the surgery, caused his health to spiral down to the point that we placed him in an inpatient hospice facility at the end of May with no expectations we would be able to have any further conversations with him.

However, one morning as I was driving to the hospice from our home in Bluffton, I got a call from his nurse. “Your brother is awake and says he's hungry. Is it OK to give him some food?”

Amazing.

Alan began talking immediately about “going home.” The hospice doctors were reluctant to give him (and us) any hope but would not rule it out. Alan seemed determined to gain some weight and demonstrate that he could make the transition. He told his nurses that the hospice area was “boring” and pestered us and them with his desire to see his friends again.

Amazingly, he was able to get into a wheelchair and be transported to Byron in another brother's car. The welcome home reception he received June 15 was a sight to behold.

The end-of-life care he would receive there for a little more than three weeks was full of the same loving care that he had received for just more than 27 years.

Our family – he had three brothers – opted to have an hour of visitation at Byron. As his power of attorney and health care representative, I had been blessed to know several of his caregivers and thought I had a fairly accurate appreciation for the level of care they provided. But it was deeper than I could have prayed for; I was genuinely touched by the compassion and condolences from the staff and his fellow residents. Ah, if I only had that proverbial nickel for every time I heard a very genuine “We loved your brother” that day.

It was during that visitation that I shared with executive director Deb Lambert that his family would like to do something in Alan's memory that would benefit the residents and the staff – could she give that some thought? She has yet to get back to me, but in contemplating my brother's challenging life and how he touched his caregivers – and how his caregivers touched us – it occurred to me that perhaps I could raise a little awareness of the work they do at that aging campus on North Lima Road.

It is not only that they provide an essential level of care to people with mental, physical and psychological challenges who have few, if any other alternatives; it is not only that they provide it in a challenging, aged facility with less than the most modern equipment; it is how they provide that care, with a compassion that can only be appreciated by experiencing it.

Did you see their float in the parade? Perhaps you drive by 12101 N. Lima Road from time to time? As our friend did, we should all thank God for the people there and the loving care they provide.

Mark Miller retired as president and publisher of the Bluffton News-Banner last year and now works part time as opinion editor.