Open Accessibility Menu

North Oaks Hospice Helps Bring Patient’s Childhood Memories Back to Life

North Oaks Hospice Helps Bring Patient’s Childhood Memories Back to Life

"There is something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man." -Winston Churchill

North Oaks Hospice helped bring childhood memories back to life for 80-year-old Hammond resident Donnie Carter, who has been a hospice patient for more than six months. Donnie is battling dementia and other health challenges, which have restricted his mobility and confined him indoors.

Hospice is a special kind of care given in the home that provides support in a compassionate manner for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their families. Whether the needs are emotional, physical or spiritual, the North Oaks Hospice team emphasizes the importance of quality of life.

As a child, Donnie was placed in foster care and later adopted, where he lived on a strawberry farm in Ponchatoula. For him, owning a horse was one of the most remarkable aspects of living on a farm. "Having that wonderful home environment that he didn't always have was just a blessing to him," says his daughter Shelly Carter Gaydos. "And, one of his dearest childhood memories was the incredible bond with his horse, and the sense of stability and comfort it gave him. Since his dementia has progressed, that's one thing he does remember most."

Donnie's wife of 57 years, Carol, first approached the hospice team with the idea of arranging for a horse to be brought to their home to surprise him — but it would have to somehow come to his bedside.

So, from there, they hatched a plan. Hospice Social Worker Amber Cocchiola enlisted the Bankston family, whose daughter, Atley, owns a horse named Blaze. The Bankstons knew the Carters from church and were honored to help. Atley and her mom, Millie, set about training Blaze to be comfortable entering a house and safely following their lead (with the help of treats).

On the day of the visit, Millie wrapped Blaze's hooves with padding and pink and purple elastic wrap — selected by Atley — to prevent damaging the floors and brought her right to Donnie's bedside! "The look on Dad's face when that horse walked in was incredible! For him to have that moment and be able to pet Blaze was special. For Dad, it was like an escape to a familiar place where he has such a deep connection," said Shelly.

"It was the coolest thing I've ever been a part of,” asserts Amber. “People always ask me if it's hard working in hospice care, and I always say it's not about death; I get to help people live and celebrate their life to the fullest. It's beautiful and gratifying."

Shelly continues, "The North Oaks Hospice team has been amazing. They are such a perfectly aligned group of caregivers, which, in my opinion, is perfection. You've got all the different specialties working together — from nurses to social workers to chaplains — and it's exactly the type of care you would want for your loved one.

"They have greatly impacted my Dad's overall well-being and the entire family; they are there just as much to support Mom. When they are visiting with him, or doing activities, or treating or caring for him, it doesn't feel clinical; it's more like a family member coming in. They've taken a very difficult situation and made it as good as it could possibly be for us — and we are grateful for that.”

North Oaks Hospice and the Carter Family

North Oaks Hospice provides skilled and supportive care for patients and their families through a specially trained and compassionate team of professionals and volunteers. Led by Director Lisa Goings, RN, BSN, the team includes the patient's attending physician; Registered Nurses Trenice Coleman, Jane Frederick and Patrice Pellittieri; Social Workers Amber Cocchiola, LMSW and Atona King, LCSW; Certified Nursing Assistants Tadiane Conley and Carolyne Haynes; Administrator Cheryl Flynn, RN; Chaplain Edie Tranchina, MA, BCC; Program Assistant Belinda Badeaux; and volunteers and bereavement counselors. They also offer a free grief support group twice a month open to any grieving adults in the community.

North Oaks Hospice consistently ranks in the top one percent nationally for patient and family satisfaction, according to national, independent Press Ganey surveys. For more information on North Oaks Hospice or to schedule a complimentary evaluation with no obligation, call (985) 230-7620 or visit