We Honor veterans: Nary couple appreciates comfort of hospice care

When Pat Olsen, a hospice care nurse, took part in continuing education in October, she didn't realize how soon she would use the new knowledge she had gained.

Janet and Donavon Engen expressed thanks for the VA-provided hospice care that makes his life comfortable. Pioneer Photo/Molly Miron

When Pat Olsen, a hospice care nurse, took part in continuing education in October, she didn't realize how soon she would use the new knowledge she had gained.

Donavon Engen of rural Nary was living with cancer and needed hospice care to be comfortable in his home. However, even with insurance from his wife Janet's employer, Mastec of North America in Shevlin, the cost would have been prohibitive - $600-$800 per month, Olsen said. At 61, he also isn't eligible for Medicare.

"I was hesitant to go into hospice because of the cost," Donavon said. "I was going to try to hang on to the end when I'd really need it."

"Donavon was feeling kind of poorly, and we called and hospice came out," Janet said. "I left it up to him to decide when he was ready."

"He's a different man than when we first came," Olsen said. "It's wonderful to see. It was so nice to be able to do something for them."


Donavon was diagnosed with cancer in April 2008. Shortly after his diagnosis, he went on disability from his job in electrical maintenance at Potlatch, where he had worked since the Bemidji plant opened in 1981.

Olsen said her first visit with Donavon through North Country Home Care and Hospice was Oct. 26. She said Donavon was in significant pain. The pain is now under control so that Donavon can enjoy life.

He was able to spend time at his hunting land for the deer rifle opener.

"I didn't hunt - I just walked the area," he said. "We have a farm near Viking (Minn.). The other guys got deer."

"As you get older, you just like to see the wildlife," said Janet.

And, this week, they were able to travel to the Twin Cities to celebrate Thanksgiving with family members.

"We've had so much more time than what they gave us," said Janet.

Donavon said he didn't know about any Veterans Administration benefits that would pay for hospice care, but Olsen had learned that the VA wanted to partner with small hospices in rural areas. In fact, she said, Donavon might be the first beneficiary of the We Honor Veterans Campaign.


"I got you as a patient so I could try out what I'd learned," Olsen said during a recent visit to the Engens' home.

When Olsen learned that Donavon had served in the Infantry in Korea from 1969-1970, she contacted the National Hospice and Palliative Care Association. That organization is working with the VA. Donavon's benefits began almost immediately.

"You are what we refer to when we're dealing with the government - signed, sealed and delivered," Olsen told the Engens. "I think I started really hitting (the VA) hard on the first of November. We got all this rammed through in three days. So, for the VA, this is a miracle."

She said she was impressed that the VA made the benefits available easily and quickly.

Donavon and Janet said hospice care is just one blessing they are thankful for. She was able to take the summer off from Mastec so they could travel to the West Coast.

"They've been just wonderful," Janet said of her employer.

They also rented a house at a favorite family destination on Flathead Lake near Kalispel, Mont., and had a reunion with their grown children, Kristina, Andrew and Aaron.

Donavon said his physical condition is not the only aspect about him that has changed.


"I'm more outgoing," he said. "Speak more on what's my mind. What's the meaning of life? It's your family. The only thing you can take with you is the love of your family."

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