Vietnam veteran Thomas Zippilli endured strokes that left him wheelchair-bound and weak. He moved in with his daughter Tara Bedford and her family, but in January 2019, a severe stroke left him unable to move his limbs or swallow. He spent nine days in the hospital before going to rehab, where he endured another stroke.
“He was in bad shape,” Tara, a Washington Township resident, remembers. The VA suggested Tara consider hospice, but she hesitated. “My initial impression of hospice was we would just set him on the path to passing away,” she says. “But when I called Samaritan, they explained they would take the burden off me, so I could enjoy this final time with my dad.”
In the beginning, Tara says, meeting the social workers, nurses and aides from Samaritan felt like a blur. “But I was so happy the VA and Samaritan worked well together,” Tara says. “They knew we had our hands full, so they jumped right in.”
On March 1, 2019, friends and family gathered for a special veteran’s ceremony at Tara’s home organized by Samaritan. “I have to give credit to my husband, who is a Scout leader – we had a whole Boy Scout honor guard at the house,” Tara laughs. A U.S. Army officer presented Thomas with a plaque, and Samaritan social worker Christine Minerva and nurse Marianne Yheaulon read a poem accompanied by music. Thomas’ friends honored him with memories.
“It was incredible – we had chairs around the living room with food and drinks, and friends and family got to say goodbye,” Tara says.
Later that week, the Samaritan team taught Tara how to dispense pain medication for her father, and spent time soothing her fears. In Thomas’ final hours, a nurse reminded Tara it was time to call a priest for last rites. “I hadn’t even thought of that,” she says. “It was like magic; it felt like the priest appeared seconds later.”
Thomas passed away peacefully at home, surrounded by his family. Tara was grateful to the entire Samaritan care team. “They helped show me what to do,” she says. “After he passed, every single person from Samaritan let me know they were sorry and was there for me. I felt helpless, like I didn’t have the answers – but they did, and they showed me the way.”