by Len Lear
What is it like to care day after day for patients with terminal diseases who are undeniably in the last stage of life? To develop close relationships with such patients and their families, knowing that the patients will most likely not be alive in a few months? Isn’t it depressing?
“Actually, it is very rewarding,” said Dr. Huma Ansari, 35, who was recently named Medical Director of Palliative Care for KeystoneCare Home Care and Hospice in Wyndmoor, in an interview with the Local last week. (Along with Ansari, KeystoneCare has a longtime affiliation with Dr. Susan Higley Bray, chief of the Palliative Care Division, Department of Medicine, at Chestnut Hill Hospital.)
“No matter where you are in the medical field, you will see tragedy. At least now I get to connect with the patient as a human being. In many specialties, you do not get to spend very much time with the patient, but we can spend much more time with the patient and the family in palliative care and get to know them. We feel it is a great honor to do this work. We are all going to die someday, but we can help greatly with palliative care.
“This is a team effort, and you have to have a passion for this work. We want to provide choices and let the families and patients know what options they have. It is important to know that we provide palliative care alongside traditional curative treatment. Hospice is just a small slice of palliative care.”
Palliative care, a relatively new medical subspecialty, has received national attention as a critical component in patient advanced illness management. Thus, Gail Inderwies, KeystoneCare Home Care and Hospice President and Executive Director, saw the need to bring in a highly experienced full-time Palliative Care Medical Director.
Prior to this appointment, Ansari was Medical Director of Palliative Care at The James Cancer Hospital and Solove Research Institute and Assistant Professor of Hospice and Palliative Medicine at the Ohio State University Center for Palliative Care.
“The beauty of hospice is that it is not just for the patient but for his/her family as well,” Ansari said. “In fact, we provide bereavement support for up to 13 months after the patient dies. For many families, this is the worst thing they will ever have to face, but palliative care is beautiful. And having a little break from medical treatment might even be valuable. And sometimes we do see miracles. There may be no medical explanation in such a case, but we will take it.”
(Ed. note: Over the years, I have written about two patients at Keystone Hospice whose health improved enough for them to leave the facility and resume living on their own for several years. The medical experts in both cases said they could not explain the dramatic improvement in these terminal patients, concluding that both significant, unexpected turnarounds simply had to be classified as “miracles.”)
Ansari, whose late father was a plastic surgeon (he died at age 63 of Alzheimer’s disease), grew up in Muncie, Indiana, and graduated from Indiana University and Indiana University Medical School. Her specialty was internal medicine before getting additional training and experience in palliative care. (Her mother was a stay-at-home mom, and she has a sister who is a pastry chef.)
According to an article in Forbes magazine on June 3, there is a declining number of physicians specializing in palliative care in the U.S.
“Research led by Dr. Arif Kamal at Duke University shows that about one-third of palliative care clinicians are burned out, and about two in five are 56 years of age or older, making a shortage almost certain to begin in less than a decade. Currently, there are about 7,600 physicians who are board-certified in palliative care generally…
“Physicians with an expertise in palliative care are critical given the aging population generally, but costs of care for Americans tends to increase near the end of their lives. And specialized palliative care is known to improve health outcomes for patients with serious illness who tend to be at the end of their lives.”
According to Ansari, “This idea of palliative care to prolong a good life has been generalized and proven in other types of illness.”
Ansari and her husband, Asim Haque, a lawyer, have one son, Laith, 4, who goes to pre-K at Penn Charter. The family is currently looking for a permanent home in the area.
“Philadelphia is a very exciting place for us to be,” Ansari said, “and we love Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy.”’
KeystoneCare Home Care and Hospice is located at 8765 Stenton Ave. For more information, call 215-836-2440 or visit KeystoneCare.com. Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org