Hannah W., 29, is a collector. Her favorite pop culture icons are on display around her condo, superheroes that provide inspiration to be strong and to make the best of any situation.
Hannah has two favorites. Superman (“he proves that even a god can fail and come back to be victorious,”) and Batman (“even through great tragedy, he made himself better and stronger and helps others so that no one should ever go through what he did”).
Hannah knows what it’s like to struggle and emerge victorious. A year ago, she was 941 pounds, unable to move much or climb stairs. She had become confined to the basement of her parents’ condo, and her health was steadily declining, a concern for both herself and her doctor.
It was a downward spiral, a ride that neither she nor her doctor could find a way to stop.
During one home visit, Hannah’s doctor connected her to VNA for home health services, from which she received some nursing care, physical and occupational therapies and social work services. With a VNA social worker’s help, Hannah applied to and was accepted into VNA’s long-term care program, where she met Anya, 45, her case manager.
“I had just joined the VNA and Hannah was my first client,” Anya says. At one of their first meetings, Anya was struck by Hannah’s feelings of helplessness. “Hannah felt trapped. She was trapped,” says Anya. “She couldn’t do certain things and felt hopeless.”
“It was a very dark time for me,” Hannah acknowledges.
She developed infections in her leg, skin issues and heart problems. “Both Hannah’s doctor and I knew she needed to get to the hospital to receive care before it was too late,” Anya says. “Honestly, I was scared for her life.”
Anya called the local fire department and brainstormed possible ways to get Hannah safely to the hospital. When Anya had a plan, Hannah’s doctor had a heart-to-heart talk with Hannah about the need to go. With the help of local firefighters, Hannah was safely moved from her home to the hospital. “It was an emotional day for everyone,” says Anya.
Hannah had respiratory failure with hypoxia and was promptly admitted into the intensive care unit. Hannah says that the truly defining moment about the seriousness of her condition happened during a conversation she had with a doctor.
“I needed to have a full-mouth CPAP machine to breathe and it was uncomfortable, so I kept taking it off,” she says. “Finally, the doctor said if I was going to keep doing that, we would need to have “the talk” about my DNR orders. I didn’t realize it was that serious. I realized at that moment that I wanted to be saved no matter what. I made the decision that I wanted to live.”
She was put on a calorie and fluid restriction diet. Staff worked with Hannah to get her up and moving. While in the hospital, Hannah lost her first 80 pounds.
She, her doctor and Anya worked together to devise a plan for moving forward. Hannah applied for disability and began receiving help for her medical issues. With her parents’ help, she moved into her own condo and Anya helped set her up with the resources and services she needed, including VNA homemaker services and LNAs who continue to come a few times a week to help with showering. Hannah has also developed a passion for cooking healthy meals and loves to try new dishes and enjoys going for walks with friends.
A year later, Hannah has lost 381 pounds and continues to make progress to a healthier and happier lifestyle.
It’s the milestones that make her happy. She reached a weight that allowed her to finally use an estrogen patch to continue her transition to the gender with which she has always identified. She could finally buckle the seatbelt in her friend’s car and go out with her friends.
Anya is proud of the progress Hannah has made. “I was visiting the other day and Hannah had a friend over with her baby. Hannah’s friend stepped out of the room for a moment and the baby began to cry. Without thinking, Hannah bent over and picked the baby up off the blanket on the floor,” says Anya. “This was so profound to me. The Hannah I first met a year ago would never have been able to bend and move like that.”
Hannah says Anya has given her the encouragement and support she has needed to take charge of her own life. With determination worthy of a superhero, Hannah is forging a new path for her life. She has long-term goals like being able to drive a car and overcoming her medical issues to join the navy.
One goal in particular, though brings a smile to her face, especially when she eyes the wrestling champion belt on her coffee table. “I want to do what I can to become the World Wrestling Entertainment’s first transgender wrestling women’s champion,” she says.
Holy Motivation, Batman!