Rolla teenager Dylan Vanormer enjoyed art. He made pencil drawings and created pieces using oil paints and spray paint.
However, when he lost mobility due to a brain tumor that eventually spread to his spine, he did not want to give up his passion. So, he got innovative.
“Dylan was in a wheelchair, and he would roll over tubes of acrylic paint to make designs,” said his mother, Michelle Opalio.
In 2007, about a month after Dylan’s 7th birthday, he was diagnosed with medulloblastoma, a type of cancerous brain tumor that starts in the back of the head, near the base of the skull. He was treated at St. Jude’s Children Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.
However, the cancer came back in 2012 and spread to his spinal cord. He underwent more treatments and surgery, but he had another recurrence in 2014. When it became clear that Dylan’s tumor was inoperable, Opalio began considering hospice care for her son.
Opalio wanted a hospice program for Dylan that was close to home in Rolla. Opalio, who previously worked for a nursing home, had previous experience with two hospice providers in the area, including Phelps Regional Homecare, a division of Phelps County Regional Medical Center (PCRMC).
“It was the St. Jude’s care team that actually chose the hospice program through Phelps Regional Homecare,” Opalio said.
Dylan was admitted into hospice care in August 2016, and Monica Link, RN, with Phelps Regional Homecare, cared for him.
“Monica initially saw Dylan on a weekly basis. She would work around his schedule and sometimes come on a different day of the week, if needed,” Opalio said.
“She worked with St. Jude’s throughout his care,” Opalio said. “Anytime there was a hiccup with pain management or whatever, she would check with St. Jude’s.”
Opalio and her significant other, Max Tohline, said they felt like Link became part of the family and noted that she went above and beyond for Dylan. Link gave him balloons on one of his birthdays and often brought him energy drinks when visiting him.
“Dylan wanted to go to prom, and Monica was willing to go with him,” Opalio said. While the two ended up not attending prom, Link brought Dylan a boutonniere and dressed up for pictures with him.
“Their bond was very special,” Tohline said of Dylan and Link. “There were no lengths that she wouldn’t go to, at least that we could tell.”
A celebration of life was held for Dylan while he was still living so he could be a part of it. “It was called a ‘game-over party,’” Opalio said, and Link stayed with Dylan for most of the event.
In January 2018, his care team at St. Jude’s discontinued his therapies and expected him to live for only another two months. Dylan passed away in June 2018 at the age of 18.
In addition to Link, Opalio and Tohline said other care members with Phelps Regional Homecare, including social worker Anna Tucker and chaplain Rod Farthing, visited Dylan while in hospice care.
Phelps Regional Homecare staff also helped Opalio with some of her bills and followed up with her and her family after Dylan’s passing.
The goal of Phelps Regional Homecare’s hospice program is to maintain the individual’s highest quality of life and dignity to the greatest extent possible. Hospice responds to people’s needs for comfort, empowerment, self-directed care and supports the patient’s loved ones both during the illness and after death.
Phelps Regional Homecare team members not only provide medical and nursing care but also offer emotional, spiritual and bereavement support for individuals and their families.
In addition to hospice, Phelps Regional Homecare offers a variety of home health and in-home services to the Phelps County community and surrounding areas.
For more information about Phelps Regional Homecare, call (573) 364-2425 or visit pcrmc.com.