Home-care program gives mother and daughter, 110 and 85, long-awaited reunion

An intensive program at the Washington Hospital Center is designed to care for very sick old people in their homes and keep them out of the hospital.
By Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 18, 2010

Eddye L. Williams's left hand dances in the air like a shining brown bird, rising and falling as she imitates the ocean waves of her native Florida, where she was a child more than a century ago.

At 110, she doesn't see or hear so well, and her speech is hard to understand. So her hands help tell her story, as she speaks of the moon and the stars and of waiting on the Lord.

"Wait, wait, wait," she will say with a finger in the air. God will answer. Three weeks ago, her patience was rewarded when her 85-year-old daughter, Edythe Simmons, returned from the nursing home where she had been for the past three years.

Simmons, partially paralyzed from a stroke 20 years ago, had been recovering from breast cancer. Now she is back in the bedroom with the blue curtains, across the landing from her mother in the plain brick house they have shared for decades.

Seeing the Lord's work, Williams says, "Why, then, should I worry?"

Both women are miracles, of sorts, as is their reunion in their Northeast Washington home. Williams is believed to be Washington's oldest citizen. Simmons, despite her afflictions, is overjoyed to be back with her mother.

Their reunion is also the result of an intensive program at the Washington Hospital Center designed to care for very sick elder people in their homes and keep them out of the hospital.

"The idea . . . is to do home-based primary care for the most ill elders in the community," said Eric De Jonge, a physician with the hospital's Medical House Call Program. "That's the mission."

"The patients that we care for are really the most ill and disabled elders," De Jonge said. "These are folks with multiple chronic illnesses, often physical or mental disabilities, and have been in the health-care system with a lot of high costs for an extended period of time."

Three years, few visits

Williams, the daughter of a well driller, was born in Tampa in 1900, the year the Wright Brothers went to Kitty Hawk, N.C. She was married, though she declines to talk about her husband. Simmons, her only child, said her father was a fireman on the Atlantic Coast railroad. He has been dead for decades, she said.

Williams appears thin and frail but erect as she sits in her wheelchair. She leans close to see visitors because her eyesight is so poor, but she wears bracelets, earrings and rings and has her nails done in pink. Her face looks like a sculpture in wood.

She has diabetes and high blood pressure, as well as glaucoma and poor hearing, De Jonge said. She survived a life-threatening infection four years ago, was in and out of hospice, and has suffered a minor stroke.

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