Weakened by COVID-19 and nearing death, 79-year-old Vitali Voskoboinik was given only months to live but the hospice agency tasked with aiding his life transition credited his rapid recovery and unlikely survival to the love of his daughter.
“I think this is a miracle story on many different levels,” Lena Asadov, administrator of South San Francisco’s Angel Palliative Care and Hospice who helped care for Voskoboinik, said. “[His daughter] banged on so many doors and when she’d get a no, she’d try harder. That’s the beauty of this story, that father-daughter love.”
Voskoboinik, a Ukranian Holocaust survivor who immigrated to the United States from Israel in 2014, contracted COVID-19 in January but without displaying many typical symptoms such as a fever or loss of taste and smell.
After being prescribed antibiotics instead of being treated for the virus, Voskoboinik went from being a highly active man who walked 2 miles one way from his apartment on Oceana Boulevard to the Pacifica Pier to being bed ridden and rushed to the hospital.
Doctors gave him months to live, Yulia Nedzvetski, a nurse of more than 30 years and Voskoboinik’s only daughter, said. Due to COVID safety precautions, Nedzvetski was seldom allowed to see her father but dedicated all of her time to his care eventually causing her to lose her job.
“It was very hard when he was there,” she said. “Even after I had two shots and tested negative they would only let me there two or three times when I had meetings with doctors.”
Abiding by her father’s wishes, Nedzvetski said she had to fight to convince doctors at Sutter’s Mills-Peninsula Medical Center in Burlingame to permit her father’s discharge from the ICU straight home. At a loss, she resorted to demonstrating outside the building twice imploring leadership to let him go.
Given his dire condition that forced him into sedation and onto a ventilator, doctors suggested Voskoboinik be transferred to a long-term care facility where round-the-clock care would be available. Physicians also told Nedzvetski a hospice agency was unlikely to take on his case, she said.
Fearful of sending her father to a facility to be treated by people who didn’t speak Voskoboinik’s native language of Russian, Nedzvetski was determined to see her father’s requests through.
“I was sure he was going to survive anyways,” Nedzvetski, who was also determined to seek stem cell treatment for her father, said. It was a treatment she said the hospital declined to pursue because it had so little research behind its use with COVID-19 patients.
She called dozens of hospice agencies in the county, eventually reaching Angel Palliative Care and Hospice and Asadov. Despite the large expenses the agency would have to front to care for Voskoboinik, Asadov felt compelled by Nedzvetski’s story and their shared Jewish heritage and ultimately agreed.
The transition was difficult, Asadov said. The hospital insisted she be the one to teach Nedzvetski how to care for her father, requiring the acute therapist to go into the ICU and direct lessons herself.
Once home, Nedzvetski’s bedroom was fashioned after an ICU room with a collection of machines and tubes filling the space. It was a first for Asadov, she said, noting patients with ventilators rarely go to hospice.
“If I was going to bring him home on hospice on ventilators, it wasn’t about the cost. It was about the quality of life,” Asadov said. “For me it was important to provide the hospice service at home, give them the chance to bring him home and be realistic.”
Voskoboinik quickly began to recover, which Nedzvetski credits to the stem cell treatment she was eventually able to access through the assistance of her two sons and a private physician. Asadov said the agency was unaware of Nedzvetski’s intentions to pursue stem cell treatments but called Voskoboinik’s recovery a miracle either way.
Within a month of being home, Voskoboinik was breathing independently, requiring the removal of his tracheostomy device inserted at the front of the neck to help with breathing. The at-home removal was also a first for Asadov and the respiratory nurse she had to find to help with the procedure.
Two months after being discharged from the medical center, Voskoboinik is fully conscious and performing strength-building exercises. At least once a day, he leaves his bed to sit in his wheelchair for 30 minutes and talk with his daughter.
“I really missed him. I missed our conversations when he wasn’t able to talk … and now we laugh again,” Nedzvetski said.
Now steadily recovering, Asadov said the next step is to get Voskoboinik into an intense acute rehabilitation center where he can learn to walk and regain strength in his speech. Discharging him will require an in-depth and safe plan with the facility she said but a facility has been difficult to find.
Voskoboinik is still unable to sit up for long durations of time and won’t manage the long trip to the San Francisco-based center that has agreed to evaluate him.
But Nedzvetski and Asadov are determined to get Voskoboinik the intense therapy he needs. Additional stem cell treatments will also likely be needed, Nedzvetski said, but can cost thousands of dollars.
“I think he can return to prior level of function given the right amount of therapy,” Asadov said. “He’s a hard worker so where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
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