Caregiver’s Health Issues Threaten To Keep Her from Ailing Husband

By Sandra Pedicini, Editorial Contributor

Ellen Boogher has taken care of others for most of her life. She was a preschool teacher, raised six children and took in foster kids.

Now, she provides 24/7 care for her husband, Chuck.

Once a kitchen designer who frequently traveled for work, Chuck Boogher started getting lost on simple drives a few years ago. His wife saw other troubling signs: He had difficulty operating the TV and forgot to pick her up from work.

An MRI of his brain revealed the devastating diagnosis: Alzheimer’s disease.

Ellen Boogher left her longtime preschool job so she could always be with her husband. She helps Chuck, 76, get dressed, cooks his meals, takes him to doctors’ appointments and watches him closely to prevent falls.

When the Caregiver Needs Care

In March 2023, Boogher felt a lump in her breast during a routine self-exam. A biopsy confirmed her worst fears: cancer.

 Ellen Boogher In Line Image

“I was just hoping and praying I'd be able to continue to be the caregiver,” she said. Two daughters who live nearby help as much as possible, but one is a single mom and the other is a nurse who works long hours.

“It was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t get sick now.’”

Boogher underwent chemotherapy and was overwhelmed with nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue.

Then came the tipping point that landed her in the hospital. She had skin cancer on her shoulder removed, and the site had become infected and wasn’t healing. She’d need IV antibiotics and an assessment to see if infection had spread and would require surgery. Boogher was admitted to Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center and was beside herself with stress, worrying about her own health and who would be with her husband.

A Lifesaver’

She got good news: the infection had not spread. And then came an unexpected lifeline: After observation, Boogher was considered stable enough to be part of a new Orlando Health program allowing her to receive IV fluids, antibiotics and more at her house in Belle Isle.

Launched in 2023, Orlando Health Hospital Care at Home allows patients with certain conditions to receive treatment outside the hospital walls. Orlando Health was the first healthcare provider in Central Florida to offer this program.

“I thought, ‘What a gift, what a blessing,’” said Boogher, 65. “For somebody like me, that was a lifesaver. It's just an amazing option that we had.”

It was like, ‘Oh no, I can’t get sick now.’ I was just hoping and praying I'd be able to continue to be the caregiver.’ – Ellen Boogher

Patients receive round-the-clock remote monitoring of vital signs, and several times a day they are visited by doctors, nurses and other hospital personnel both virtually and in person. People who qualify for the program get treatment for conditions including COPD, heart failure and pneumonia.

“All the studies that have been done about hospital care at home show patients are happier at home, patients heal faster at home, patients have fewer infections at home,” said Orlando Health Hospital Care at Home senior director Dr. Siddharaj Shah, who was Boogher’s physician through the program.

In Boogher’s case, “she was so willing to be in that home environment,” Shah said. “She knew it’s a better place to heal at home compared with the hospital. It’s safer for someone like her on chemotherapy in terms of preventing hospital acquired infections.”

After being enrolled in the program, Boogher returned home in an ambulance. A nurse and technology specialist awaited her arrival and fitted her with a wireless electrode patch that monitored her heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and temperature. Nurses kept an eye on her vital signs 24/7 at a patient-care hub near ORMC.

She received an electronic tablet for video consultations, which also has a call button. Nurses made frequent visits every day to administer medications and fluids and draw blood, and Boogher talked with doctors via her tablet, which also transmitted images of her shoulder. The hospital even delivered meals.

‘Like Having Family Around’

“There wasn’t a single person that wasn’t nice and pleasant and easygoing. They cheer you up. It’s like having family around,” Boogher said.

Dr. Shah said Boogher was “a delightful patient.” Another benefit of the program, he said, is for a chance for doctors to get to know their patients on a more personal level.

“They just appear more relaxed,” he said. “Sometimes we’ll be chatting and their dog or their cat will come on the camera. With Ellen’s husband, we were seeing him the background. He just seemed very happy and very content to have his wife there.”

A couple days into Boogher’s treatment, the infection wasn’t clearing up as quickly as expected, so she  had to go back to the hospital for a couple of days.

The difference in her husband was profound. The Booghers’ daughters came in to help out, but Chuck – confused and missing his wife – became disoriented and sometimes mean. “They would be in tears because of stuff he was saying,” said Ellen Boogher, who felt immense pressure to return home. “I was ready to walk out,” she said. “I couldn’t leave my husband home alone.”

After a couple of days, Boogher’s condition was stable enough to return to Hospital Care at Home, where she completed her course of antibiotics. Boogher was discharged in a process that works much as it would in a traditional hospital.

Boogher is thrilled to focus her energy once again on caring for her husband and is grateful for the opportunity the couple had to be together while she healed.

Dr. Shah said he thinks there is potential for the program to expand. Boogher would love to see that happen.

“The comfort of your own bed, your own belongings — it’s just nice to be home.”

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