Virginia Eaker nearly died on her 62nd birthday.
The day was Oct. 13, and her neighbor at the Valley View Apartments complex in Palatine Bridge was worried about her. It was Eaker’s birthday after all, and she hadn’t been out of her apartment all day.
The 32-unit complex serves residents ranging in age from 50 to 96, and Eaker’s neighbor told her home health aide, a woman named Joanne Hogan, about her concerns.
“I said to her, ‘Before I go home I’ll stop and check on her,’ ” said Hogan, of her client. Hogan walked down to Eaker’s unit and noticed mail was piled up outside the door.
She knocked but there was no answer. She tried the knob and the door swung open.
“I didn’t see her anywhere, so I went into the bedroom and she was lying on the floor on the other side of the bed,” said Hogan.
Eaker, who is diabetic, doesn’t remember what happened or how she came to be on the floor. Hogan called 911 and placed a blanket over Eaker, who was in and out of consciousness. Paramedics later told Hogan that Eaker’s blood sugar was at 600, far outside the healthy range, especially for a diabetic. She was also suffering from sepsis due to a bacterial infection.
“I talked with her until the paramedics got here,” said Hogan, who later was told that had she not called 911, Eaker would have been dead in a matter of hours.
“They said had I not checked on her, she wouldn’t be with us today,” said Hogan, who has been a home health aide for the Capital Region-based Visiting Nurses Home Care for the past 18 years and has been in the health care field for 22 years.
Eaker said Hogan saved her life, and calls Hogan her “angel.” Beyond those admissions she can’t talk about what happened without bowing her head and dissolving into tears.
“If it hadn’t been for her...” was as far as she got during a recent interview.
Hogan rejects the hero status bestowed on her by colleagues and residents at Valley View Apartments and seems genuinely mystified that people would see her decision to check up on a client’s neighbor as extraordinary.
And perhaps she has a point. But things could have turned out much differently for Eaker had Hogan simply forgot to check on her at the end of her shift, or been in a rush to get home, or if any of life’s thousands of seemingly insignificant permutations affected her course that day.
But none of that happened. Hogan did check on Eaker, a life was saved, and that makes it extraordinary.
“These people, they drive from place to place and see sometimes multiple patients in a day, they don’t get paid a lot ... and they do it because they care,” said Rachel Swire, a communications and development specialist with Visiting Nurses Home Care, of home health aides. “They care deeply about not just their patients, but everybody.”
Hogan struggled to define why she went above and beyond that day, and said she treats people the way she would want her parents to be treated.
“It’s just something I do every day, it’s in my blood, I don’t know,” she said. “I would do it for anybody. I do this every day. I love my job.”
Eaker remembers taking her diabetes medication that morning, but can’t recall taking it at suppertime. She vaguely remembers someone speaking with her while she was laying on her bedroom floor, and then paramedics being in her room. She didn’t find out until a week later, after she had been discharged from a nearby hospital, the role Hogan played in saving her life.
Eaker hugged and thanked Hogan — whom she’s known for years from Hogan being in the building — when she saw her for the first time back at Valley View. The experience, said Eaker, has made her realize how much more careful she has to be about watching her blood sugar and taking her diabetes medication.
One other thing is for sure: next year, on Eaker’s 63rd birthday, she’ll be thinking about Hogan.
But Hogan doesn’t want any praise. She’s already famous in the building and has received accolades and recognition from her bosses at Visiting Nurses Home Care.
Many of the tenants at Valley View have thanked her personally for her actions because, in a sense, it could have been any of them having a medical emergency nobody knew about. But none of that is necessary, said Hogan — she was just doing her job.
“ ‘Thank you’ is enough,” she said.
Reach Gazette reporter Dan Fitzsimmons at 852-9605, firstname.lastname@example.org or @DanFitzsimmons on Twitter.