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LeBlanc: New Hospice Center Triggers Mixed Emotions

Sandra Averhart
WUWF Public Media

The new Covenant Inpatient Hospice Center at Sacred Heart Hospital began accepting patients earlier this month.

When the grand opening celebration was held days before, Brian LeBlanc attended as a representative of Covenant.  

WUWF has been following LeBlanc’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease, and so we joined him there.

It was a bittersweet occasion.

Before the ribbon-cutting, LeBlanc worked his way through the crowd gathered for the Open House..

“How you doing friend,” an acquaintance asked. “I’m good; I’m good,” he replied.

One of the people LeBlanc ran into was Sandy Huster, who exchanges greetings and shares news of her recent retirement from Covenant as director of volunteer services and community relations.

“So, I had the privilege of getting to know Brian when he first came to us and got involved with our Alzheimer’s, Covenant Alzheimer’s Care and he became a volunteer,” said Huster, as LeBlanc noted that she was the person that interviewed him when he first came to Covenant. “And, he got connected in a big way, and I’m so thankful, so thankful.”

Credit Sandra Averhart / WUWF Public Media
WUWF Public Media
Brian LeBlanc looks on as the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the hospice center at Sacred Heart gets underway.

LeBlanc is also thankful for Covenant.

He’s a member of the Covenant Alzheimer’s Board of Directors. And, he says the organization has given him a voice, to advocate on their behalf and for those suffering with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers.

This occasion has sparked mixed emotions. Looking around, he says Covenant’s new inpatient hospice center is wonderful, but….

“I’m still trying not to think about where we are,” LeBlanc said with an uneasy chuckle.

He’s a bit anxious because he was diagnosed with early on-set Alzheimer’s three years ago and he’s having dark thoughts about what the future may hold.

“I guess if I didn’t have Alzheimer’s, then I probably wouldn’t be thinking of the, of what I’m thinking. That I’m [going to] walk around and look at the finished room down there and say, well, that could be my bed.”

In addition to his own battle with Alzheimer’s, LeBlanc has an extensive family history. So, he’s keenly aware of what the disease can do and the importance of making those final days as peaceful and pleasant as possible.

“This is part of it you know, my Alzheimer’s. My mother was not in a place like this. Um, and I wish she could have been, because looking at this place it’s beautiful and it could be home or it could feel like home.”

At the Open House, the hospice center had completed only two rooms, each reflecting a calming coastal décor, with home-style bedspreads, colorful throw pillows, and a soothing water blue color on the walls.

“But, when you’re in your last part of this, all you want to do is make that person comfortable” said LeBlanc, reflecting on the design of the room made up for adults. “Looks very inviting, it’s just the first words that came to my mind were comfortable and peace and that’s what you look for.”

Although it was tough on this day, he says looking for some sort of peace - and trying to make peace with his life with Alzheimer’s - is part of his every day journey.

Credit Brian LeBlanc
Brian LeBlanc and Covenant Care colleague Audrey Hanline conduct Crisis Intervention Team Training for police officers in DeFuniak Springs.

“It’s simple things, that your mind it just stops, and you can’t do anything. So, you sit in it. That’s what I call it. You sit in it.”

But, LeBlanc says he’s trying to take follow the advice of author Mitch Albom’s Tuesdays with Morrie.

“Ten minutes a day to mourn and then the rest of the day just trying to be as positive as you can,” he said, adding that it’s “easier said than done.”

What really helps is the boost he gets when he’s busy, out promoting Alzheimer’s awareness. 

On his schedule, just this week, is Crisis Intervention Team Training for law enforcement officers in DeFuniak Springs and a presentation at the Pilot Club’s monthly luncheon.  

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.