Villa Marie Claire

Feisty Once Again

Janice O'Brien spent 38 years in nursing, a smart, competent, compassionate nurse tasked with caring for newborns. However, as a patient, well, she didn't exactly enjoy other people taking care of her, despite being 85 and long retired. So when she was back to her feisty self after an illness rendered her incapacitated, her son, Michael O'Brien, expected the complaining and restlessness to start.

Instead, Janice was happy and engaged with her many visitors. She sat in the sunshine joking with family and friends, donned her beloved Yankee cap and was back to treating Michael like he was a teenager again, though he had a 14-year-old son of his own.

"I was amazed, we all were amazed," Michael said. "We went from thinking she was going to go soon to her coming back and enjoying time with family and friends."

At that point, Janice was in Villa Marie Claire, a residential hospice in Saddle River, NJ. She had spent three weeks in a hospital, where physicians and staff tried to rid her of an infection that originated in her leg and was permeating the rest of her body. When she continued to decline, her doctor recommended hospice.

"Putting someone in hospice is probably one of the most difficult decisions in a family member's life," Michael said, from the lounge in the Villa. "The day I signed the papers was a very emotional and difficult day but looking back now I'm glad I made that decision to accept that's where we were at and to realize we needed to focus on a different avenue of care, to manage her pain and try and give her some quality of life. My family and I wanted to maximize those days, whatever days she had left and give her dignity, comfort and the love she so richly deserved."

Michael said on his first visit to the Villa with his wife, Corie, he immediately felt a sense of peace. Meeting with Dr. Charles Vialotti, Medical Director of Villa, who gave them a personal tour of the elegant estate, only confirmed that feeling.

"It was really a no-brainer," Michael said. "And when the staff met her ambulance as she arrived, there was an overwhelming feeling of kindness. It was such a unique experience from the get-go. They treated us all like we were the most important people in the world and we were just a patient and her family."

A few days after arriving at the Villa, Janice started improving. The staff managed her pain and she began eating and talking again.

"She loved it here," he said. "I don't know if she fully grasped that she was in hospice, but she was in a place where she was happy. She was surrounded by people who loved her and cared for her, in an environment that was peaceful and at times, fun. We joked around a lot."

They weren't the only ones happy with the care Janice received at the Villa. Every family member and friend who visited Janice commented on how comfortable they felt, as well as how serene Janice appeared. Her best friend, Terrie, who had known Janice since they were 13, came to the Villa nearly every day.

"Aunt Terry also spent her career in health care, was in awe of this place and she's not an easy woman to please," Michael said. "She's very demanding, especially when it concerns her best friend – they were closer than family. She's a firecracker and not to have a complaint out of her was amazing."

Janice was at the Villa for 31 days in the spring of 2019. She died free from pain, with her family by her side.

"My mom was happy and comfortable, Michael said. "It was great seeing her come back for that time and be her old self. As for the family – I essentially lived in the guest rooms for those days and during that time there wasn't a day that a staff member didn't ask how I was doing, did I need anything. This place is so special and unique and there are no words to describe how loving the staff is. They are a special breed of people and all these beautiful people make this place what it is today. Dr. V. and the staff and volunteers at the Villa were our angels on earth. My family and I are forever in their debit."