July 11, 2014

When Fresno hospital chaplain had ministroke, staff gave him swift care

As a staff chaplain at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno for nearly a year, Dave B. DiPalma has provided care for thousands of patients and their families and the hospital staff.

But he was the one who needed help near the end of his shift on April 11.

DiPalma, 60, began to slur his words and one side of his face started to droop. Picking up on the changes in DiPalma, registered nurses in the neuroscience unit persuaded him to get medical attention. DiPalma was sent to the emergency department, where, within five minutes, resident doctors examined him.

The diagnosis: transient ischemic attack, often called a ministroke, when blood flow to a part of the brain stops for a brief period of time. A person can have stroke-like symptoms for up to 24 hours, but in most cases for one to two hours. The condition is a warning that a complete stroke is a future possibility if something is not done to prevent it.

DiPalma spent the night in the hospital before he was put on medication and discharged the next day. Missing just a day's work, he is back to his normal duties mainly in the Leon S. Peters Burn Center and Palliative Care Services. He says he is feeling well.

"There's a certain irony, but it all worked out for the good," DiPalma says.

Chaplaincy services for Community Medical Centers enlists two staff chaplains, two interns, three per-diem chaplains and 20 volunteers to provide round-the-clock spiritual care. Community Medical Centers has about 6,000 employees at its facilities.

The Rev. Grimaldo Enriquez, supervisor of chaplaincy services for Community Medical Centers, says it is rare for a chaplain to need attention on the job.

"It's rather unique — the chaplain gets sick on the job," he says.

Nurses and staff at Community Medical Centers have undergone training on how to recognize stroke symptoms and how to respond to compassion fatigue that comes with the job. Enriquez says he isn't surprised by the nurses' quick actions on behalf of DiPalma.

"Our hospital is one of the few that has a stroke program that is nationally recognized," he says. "So staff is aware of symptoms. This is a perfect example of the results of this program."

Monica Anderson, a registered nurse in the neuroscience unit, worked with Renee Nuon, another nurse on the floor, to convince DiPalma that he needed attention.

At first, DiPalma resisted.

"We softly coerced him," Anderson remembers.

Anderson doesn't believe her actions rescued the caregiver.

"I don't look at it as doing something for him," she says. "I love him. He's an awesome worker. We appreciate him, and we're so lucky to have him."

DiPalma, who served as an intern for chaplaincy services at Community Medical Centers for more than a year when he was a seminary student and enrolled in the Clinical Pastoral Education of Central California program, says the nurses and other staff have become like family to him.

"They are almost super- human," he says.

The Community Medical Centers communications department produced a video of DiPalma's story — and many employees have viewed it. Now, when DiPalma makes his rounds, everyone asks how he is doing.

"I'm as normal as I was before," comes the reply.

Jennifer Gianetta, a registered nurse, offered DiPalma a hug last week and told him that she watched the video with her mother.

Since April 11, DiPalma has spent time pondering life.

"This human body that we think is wonderfully made has limits. It was a warning and wake-up for me," he says. "I'm thankful to God that I work at a place where employees are family — and family spoke out."


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