Long before Marie Hanlon became a hospice patient, she came into Samaritan’s world through another door – she worked for the not-for-profit organization from 1998-2004.
The stay-at-home mom from Mount Laurel had raised five children, but when her youngest turned 16, Marie felt the time was right to return to the workforce. She landed a part-time job with Samaritan as executive assistant to Mary Ann Boccolini, now the President and chief executive officer of Samaritan.
Working at Samaritan
“The job was like a gift. I did a variety of work, and I was happy to do anything!” Marie remembers. At 64 years old, Marie was trained on computers and typing, and she often took meeting minutes. “I was like the mother hen there, because I was older than everyone else,” she says. “But I enjoyed every minute of working with Samaritan. Mary Ann is a special person, and Samaritan was a special place to work.”
“Marie was an amazing help to me during her time at Samaritan,” Mary Ann Boccolini says. “More than that, she was a warm, kind and hard-working presence in our office, and a great friend.”
Marie witnessed the unique, comforting culture of Samaritan many times over her tenure. “I was at work one day when my granddaughter was born. Everyone said to me, ‘Why are you still here? Aren’t you going to go see her?!’ I didn’t realize that was something I could do while working!” Marie laughs. “But that’s the kind of place it was – a personal, caring place. After all, we worked with comforting people!”
Marie was in her 70s when she retired from Samaritan in 2004, but she kept in touch with Mary Ann and other colleagues. She was enjoying retirement with her husband Bob when a stroke landed her in a rehabilitation center. When Bob started facing similar strokes and health issues, the signs were clear: It was time to leave behind their big home on ¾-acre of property and move into independent living at Allegria at the Fountains in Atco.
Marie and Bob moved into their new apartment in 2016. About a year later, Bob’s illness required him to live in the skilled nursing section of the facility, apart from Marie and their independent living apartment. When his condition worsened, Marie knew it was time to call on an organization she knew well – Samaritan. Bob received care from Samaritan’s care team morning and night before he passed away in 2019.
“I was so grateful for all Samaritan did for him,” Marie said. But a couple of years later, she was facing health issues of her own.
COVID-19 and Marie’s Prognosis
In January 2021, Marie contracted COVID-19 and ended up in the hospital for several days.
“The virus did a number on me,” she says. “They had me on steroids and I had to go to rehab. I had shortness of breath – the pulmonologist took a liter of fluid out of my lungs.”
Marie was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease), and a CT scan showed blockages in her heart. Doctors recommended a cardiac catherization to optimize heart function. While undergoing a procedure to place a couple of stents, Marie developed an aortic dissection – a tear in the aorta. Given this unexpected outcome, a cardiac surgeon was consulted. He warned against surgery to repair the dissection – doctors were concerned Marie couldn’t handle a major surgery. So, her children gathered, and the family was told Marie likely had, at most, a day or so to live.
“It was so surreal,” says Mary Beth Fox, Marie’s daughter. “There we were, crying around her bedside, thinking she might not make it through the night.” But Marie denied the 5% survival odds she was given. “The next morning, I went to her room, and there she was, rosy-cheeked, and the nurses were talking about getting her out of bed and into the chair!”
Marie’s cheery spirit never wavered, but even she was astonished at her turnaround from certain death. “Days went by, and I was still here,” she laughs. “For a while I would wonder, ‘Is it going to be now?’ But after a while, I decided to give it to God. I told him, ‘It’s your turn to worry!’”
Living Well with Samaritan
Marie was discharged from the ICU, and her family called on Samaritan once more to provide hospice care, not knowing if Marie would need it for days, weeks or months. With regular visits from her Samaritan care team, Marie still lives and functions comfortably at home. A nurse comes to check her oxygen and vitals, and aides visit multiple times a week to help Marie change her linens and take a shower.
Marie even had a special Samaritan guest – her old boss paid her a visit and brought one of her favorite treats. “Mary Ann Boccolini came to visit me and brought me roses and a Frosty from Wendy’s,” she chuckles. “We talked and caught up. She really is an amazing woman.”
With Samaritan’s hospice services supporting her, Marie is flourishing. She is involved in her community, volunteering to coordinate memorial plaques for deceased residents, and even using the administrative skills she learned at Samaritan to use, taking minutes at resident meetings.
“They’re wonderful,” Marie says of her Samaritan support and health care team. “I knew what to expect of course, having worked for them, although I never expected to receive hospice care myself. But it’s especially comforting to my family, and that is what’s most important to me.”