TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) – End-of-life planning is not something that many people think about. For one family, it has become a question that has torn them apart.
Pattie Kaczala cherishes her memories with her daughters Heather and Heidi, who are 18 months apart. Heidi became a nurse and settled in the Toledo area, but Heather got married and moved to Florida. She had three children, and was a realtor.
"She was kind, good, spiritual, loving, sweet, beautiful." said Pattie about her daughter, adding how proud her she is.
In the summer of 2008, Heather visited her family, took a trip to Put-in-Bay, and reminisced with her family about growing up in Toledo. That would be Heather's last visit with her family.
Doctors are not sure exactly what happened, but Heather's brain was deprived of oxygen, and the damage was irreversible. The 38 year old, once so vibrant and full of life, lives in a vegetative state in a Perrysburg care facility, and doesn't respond to anyone or anything.
"They called it a trauma...but they didn't know what the trauma was... since that day my sister has never woken up." explained Heidi.
Like many of us, Heather had not taken the time to prepare a living will or other catastrophic health care documents, and when family members began discussing Heather's end-of-life wishes, it became apparent that Heidi and Pattie were not on the same page as Heather's husband, Robert Lavers.
Robert lives in Florida, and declined to be interviewed on-camera, but said that he and his wife of 17 years agreed that "Only God can stop your heart." As her current legal guardian, he refuses to consider removing the medical equipment keeping her alive.
"If the paperwork was done and everything was documented, I think Heather would have said 'This is not my life.' This is not what a beautiful, vibrant, joyful ball of love would want to be living every day. Nor would she want her children to suffer to see her like this." said Heidi.
"She would have a fit to know that I have to care for her.... and my biggest fear as a mother she will outlive me. And who's gonna protect her? Who's gonna care for her?" said Pattie.
Paul Longnecker of the Advanced Care Planning Coalition of Greater Toledo is working to educate the public about the need for end-of-life planning. He advocates people have a living will and healthcare power-of-attorney. He adds that getting papers signed is only part of the task:
"The other side of the equation of advanced care planning is the conversations connected to the documents... it's having the documents...the legal side of it...and then the ethical side is the advanced care planning...it's the higher bar if you really want to get your wishes followed...the more people who know what your wishes are, the more likely your wishes will be followed."
Heidi and Pattie got their documents done days after Heather's incident to make sure there are no questions about the end of their lives.
"It has made us go to battle. It's been a battle everyday to try to carry out my sister's wishes. To be able to look her in the face and knowing that I've upheld her wishes and that I'm doing what she would want. It's hard. It's financially hard, it's stressing...it deteriorates on your job." said Heidi.
"You have to be prepared...because situations like this happen. And there is just no way if you don't keep a level head that you can handle it every day, deal with it every day...And it does not go away, like Heidi said. You eat it, you breathe it, you think of it every moment of the day..." explained Pattie.
For more information on End-of-Life planning, you can call the Advance Care Planning Coalition of Greater Toledo Hotline at 419-725-0523, or click here.
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