GLENVIEW, Ill. (CBS) – It was a heartbreaking decision – a Wheeling family sent their 96-year-old matriarch with COVID-19 to the hospital, knowing she would likely be alone.
As CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra reported Friday night, what this family didn’t know was that Madelyn Calabrese would die days later — with no one to hold her hand. Now, through grief and two years into the pandemic, they are asking the hospital to reconsider its visiting policy so that no other family feels their pain.
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“On her birthday, January 8, my grandmother passed away in your hospital – surrounded only by God,” Margaret Sundstrom wrote in a letter.
It was the opposite of how Calabrese lived – a woman always surrounded by at least one of her six children, 16 grandchildren or 40 great-grandchildren. Instead, she left the world that loved her alone.
“She should have been with one of her children or grandchildren,” Sundstrom said as she read the letter. “She deserved this.”
Sundstrom and her mother, Jean Graf, say their matriarch developed COVID and pneumonia in early January and was admitted to NorthShore Glenbrook Hospital in Glenview – where due to the virus no visitors are allowed a few exceptions.
“Every day we kept calling and saying, ‘Can we visit? Can we visit? Said Graf. “They kept saying, ‘No, no, no’.”
Calabrese was not improving and the family was begging. It’s a challenge for any hospital to balance safety with sentiment.
NorthShore allows visits in extenuating circumstances, which includes “being very close to the end of life”, to be determined by the care team. Calabrese doctors finally approved visitors for a short period on a Friday. The next day was his 97th birthday.
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“They let us stay for about 30 minutes, and, you know, then they said we had to leave. The 30 minutes were up,” Graf said, “and it was about, I don’t know, 8:30 in the evening – and she died at 11 o’clock.
Not a single person from the built Calabrese family was there to hold his hand.
“That’s all we wanted was for someone to be with her all the time,” Sundstrom said, “and not just her, but we want that for everyone in the hospital.”
That’s why Sondstrom wrote this letter, sent to the hospital board, asking that the visitor policy be changed.
We asked NorthShore Glenbrook for comment and a spokesperson shared their sympathy – but said: ‘Our visitor policies have been put in place to protect the health, safety and well-being of our patients, visitors and team members – and this is our highest priority. ”
Calabrese’s family know the pandemic has robbed many people of the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. But they are challenging this policy in the hope that Calabrese’s lone death will be one of the last.
“We can’t change what happened to us, but we can change what happens in the future,” Graf said.
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The family says that after sending their letter, they heard about a patient advocate at the hospital. They say this person told them the hospital board was planning to review the visitor policy. We have contacted to confirm this, but have not received a response.