Nicholas Ioimo: Mission Hospice & Home Care team honors World War II veteran

IMG_0206January 2015

Nicholas Ioimo had a good day on Veterans’ Day last fall. Mission Hospice & Home Care staff brought him a special red, white, and blue flower arrangement with an American flag and read him letters from local schoolchildren expressing their gratitude for his World War II service.

Social worker Meechal Hall said Mission Hospice honored about 30 veteran families in this way, but it seemed especially meaningful for Nicholas, who at 94 is suffering from dementia. A handsome man with a full head of silver hair, he was particularly lively that day, although his sons say he never really liked to dwell on his military service in Germany, France, and Italy.

He’s no longer at war, but he and his family are fighting to ensure that his last days are as comfortable as possible. He gets veteran’s benefits, and it was his VA doctor who suggested Mission Hospice & Home Care to the family. He lives in the family home he has occupied for decades in Redwood City with his youngest son, Tom, 52, a part-time gunsmith.

Caring for Nicholas takes teamwork. Mission Hospice provides regular visits from a nurse (Leilani Santos), social worker (Meechal Hall) and volunteer (Bob Nice); the VA provides a caregiver for three hours a day, five days a week. Older son John, who is retired from the Redwood City School District, helps out when he can, but he has some recent health issues of his own. Nicholas’ two other sons, also both retired, live farther away, but help when they can.

“Mission Hospice is such a blessing,” said Tom. “Meechal provides different kinds of support and I can text Leilani any time. She brings supplies and comes by almost every week.”

Tom says his father was one of those men who always seemed to be working. Starting at age 10, he sold papers and shined shoes in his native Bronx to help his Neapolitan immigrant family during the Great Depression; he had to leave school in the 8th grade. Even as a married man, Nicholas along with his wife, Florence, often worked both day and nighttime jobs.

The couple raised four sons in Redwood City. “My pop was not into hunting and fishing like we were, but he always supported everything we did,” recalled Tom. “He was a good father. He made sure there was food on the table, clothes on our backs, and a roof over our heads.”

Tom said his father maintained his lifelong passion for softball, playing for the Redwood Senior Softball League until 2 ½ years ago, when he was diagnosed with Lewy body disease, a form of dementia that often includes hallucinations. That was the first time that Nicholas was treated for a chronic health condition.

“If I could afford a full-time live-in caregiver, I would have one, because this is hard,” says Tom, who also helped care for his mother before she died in 1999. It’s the nature of his father’s illness that he can be paranoid. “He doesn’t actually get aggressive, but he gets mad at us,” Tom said, adding that he believes his father also suffers from war flashbacks. “He used to sleep with a baseball bat because he thought there was an intruder.”

Occasionally, Nicholas goes into the hospice unit at the VA Hospital in Menlo Park so that Tom can have a week’s respite from caring for his father. That unit was developed by Mission Hospice CEO Dwight Wilson before he left the VA to join Mission Hospice.

Caring for the family is an important part of patient care. “In order to best serve our patients, we have to include both the family and caregivers,” says Meechal. “Honoring the contributions of our military veterans is just one of the ways we strive to support the whole family.”