“Team George” at patient’s side

February 2014

Mission Hospice & Home Care staff first got to know Dr. George Desalernos, 88, a retired dentist, when his wife of 50 years, Lois, became a patient in 2010.

After she died in 2011, Dr. Desalernos participated in one of our grief support groups and sought additional bereavement services. More recently, he entered the hospice program himself. Physically infirm from end-stage Parkinson’s but mentally acute, he’s come to count on “Team George” to keep him mentally engaged with his needs and care.

“The nights are long but the days are longer,” he said during an interview, “but the volunteers and staff from Mission Hospice bring a shot of sunlight into my otherwise unexciting routine.”

Social worker Roby Newman has been involved with Dr. Desalernos during most of his journey. He was Lois’ social worker, witnessing George’s twice-daily visits to his wife in various care facilities.

“His devotion to Lois clearly deepened my commitment to George,” said Newman, who has helped Dr. Desalernos complete a “life legacy” autobiography for his family and close friends. George was Half Moon Bay’s community dentist for several decades until he retired in 1991. Afterward, he and Lois handed out roses to passers-by in downtown Half Moon Bay as a way of expressing their thanks to the community. The couple also raised three children and has four grandchildren.

Dr. Desalernos joined the bereavement group about three months after Lois’ death. “It was a place where there was a common ground,” George recalled. “We were all having difficulty in coping with the absence of a loved one. You have precious memories and other people don’t want to hear about it anymore. With the support group, the opposite could happen.”

When George’s health deteriorated to the point where he needed additional help, he said it seemed like a natural extension of the emotional support he had continued receiving after his wife’s death to join the hospice program.

“Otherwise, I’d probably be stuck in a board and care facility where they’d bathe me and feed me and ignore me the rest of the time,” he added. The medical care he receives means he doesn’t have to go through the difficulty of regular doctor’s office visits, but he says it’s the emotional and intellectual support that he finds particularly valuable. Since completing his biography, he and Roby have moved on to discussing and writing about his views on current events and other more philosophic issues.

Other members of “Team George” include nurse case manager Alice Hennessy, bereavement coordinator Cindy Carlson, bereavement counselor Anne Coogan, chaplain Rev. Linda Siddall, social worker Karri Kaiser; volunteers Chuck Fontenot and Larissa Runkle, and medical directors Ken Barnes and Gary Pasternak.

“George has been a real teacher to us, in terms of the grace he shows in facing head-on his body’s deterioration and his willingness to engage with his support system,” said Newman.