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"Without the team I would have been lost"

Rodney and Mary Fox were a couple devoted to one another. When Rodney was facing the end of his life, the Thames Hospice Rapid Response Team helped Rodney fulfil his wish to die at home.

Their story began in 1999, when Mary was a lay preacher at Lord Harris Court, a residential care home run by the Royal Masonic Benevolent institution. Rodney was a regular visitor to the home, in Berkshire, and it was during these trips that Rodney’s attention was drawn to Mary. Mary recounts that, following one of her services, Rodney said to a friend: “I saw a vision in white floating down the aisle and made up my mind there and then, that was the lady I would marry.”

This happy occasion took place in April 2001, with a reception at their cherished Lord Harris Court. A testament to his love for Mary, Rodney used his skills as a former master baker and confectioner to design a bespoke wedding cake, decorated with intricate scenes from Mary’s birthplace - the Isle of Wight.

Those years didn’t come without challenge and, just a short time after they married, they were hit with the devastating news that Rodney had an aortic dissection – a tear in the heart’s main artery – and he was given just days to live. Mary explained: “How he survived I don’t know. They couldn’t operate in those days, but thanks to the skill and dedication of the Cardiac Vascular Team at Frimley Park Hospital, coupled with Rodney’s courage and determination, the miracle man - as he came to be known - lived with it for 13 years.”

In June 2016, Rodney’s pain returned and it was feared his tear had widened. Though it hadn’t, he continued to feel unwell and in January 2017 suffered a serious bout of pneumonia. By May, Rodney had recovered enough to celebrate his 80th birthday with a family get-together in Margate. This is now one of Mary’s most treasured memories, as just a few weeks later, whilst lying down at home, Rodney noticed a lump on his side. His doctor referred him to the hospital and later that night Rodney was diagnosed with colon cancer that had spread to his liver and lungs. Due to the aortic dissection, it was too risky for surgeons to operate and this time Mary knew Rodney was facing the end of his life.

With the expert care of the Thames Hospice Rapid Response Team, as well as the support of family and friends, Rodney was able to stay at home where he wanted to be, and where Mary had promised she would care for him.

The Thames Hospice Rapid Response Service is there to stop unnecessary hospital admissions and help people who wish to be looked after at home. It includes a 24-hour palliative and end-of-life care telephone service to give advice to people in Berkshire on the End-of-Life Care Register and their families. It is also available to healthcare professionals who need guidance and support on delivering palliative care. Alongside the advice line is a Rapid Response Team ready to make urgent home visits to patients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

Just one month after his diagnosis, Rodney suffered a bleed at home. Desperately aware of Rodney’s desire to stay at home, but at a loss as to what to do, Mary called her sister – a retired nurse living in Scotland - who advised her to get in touch with the Palliative Care Team before calling for an ambulance. Mary has a deep faith and believes it was this that led her to pick up the phone to her sister. From that call, our Rapid Response Team visited the couple at home and were there to offer them practical care and emotional support. Mary told us: “As soon as I opened the door, I was surprised to find Rosemary standing there. I had known her when she was Deputy Manager at Lord Harris Court and it was so reassuring to see a familiar face. Her team was here all day helping Rodney and enabling me to be around to give him reassurance.

“Without the Rapid Response Team I would have been completely and utterly lost. I suppose that first night I wasn’t even thinking that we’d be near to the end.”

Just a couple of days after their visit, Rodney died peacefully at home, where he wanted to be. She said: “I was in their hands – it felt like somebody was holding me and it was just so wonderful. I didn’t feel any fear, I knew they would do their best for Rodney and that’s why when he died, it was just sheer relief. He died in my arms, he hadn’t suffered or had to go through any treatment; he hadn’t deteriorated in himself and he was still Rodney right until the end.”

If you or someone you know needs the support of our Rapid Response Team, or advice on palliative or end-of-life care, please call 01753 848925 at any time of the day or night. If you are able to help Thames Hospice be there for more people like Mary and Rodney, please click the green button below.

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