40 for 40: Cynthia Todd’s Story

In January 1978, I read an article in the Washington Post called “Death of a Daughter,” by Victor Zorza; the article was about his daughter, who had died under hospice care in England.  During this same time, my father was on the Arlington Cancer Society board, and had recently heard Dr. Magno speak about Hospice in Virginia.  I had an interview with Dr. Magno, and I volunteered to do whatever she needed.  The interview took place on my birthday, January 24, 1978, and I started working with Dr. Magno that night.  I typed, drove her to meetings, and helped maintain the first office, which we carried around in a Lord & Taylor shopping bag.  I met the Board of Directors for Hospice of Northern Virginia, went on the first homecare visit with Dr. Magno, and even delivered medications to our patients’ homes.

The very first patient Hospice of Northern Virginia saw, was a young woman who lived in Alexandria, with her 2 children in a room in her aunt’s apartment.  She slept in the lower bunk bed, and her children slept in the upper bunk. Back then, we worked with the Visiting Nurse association whose nurses provided our nursing care, until we could start hiring our own nurses. In fact, several of the VNA nurses applied when we began hiring. Our first social worker continued with the family after the patient’s death, so the family didn’t feel abandoned after a patient’s death.

Dorothy Moga was the first employee of what would become Capital Caring, and she hired me on May 1, 1978. By then we had traded in our Lord & Taylor bag for an official office in the Church of the Covenant on Military Road.

I visited the Woodlawn School in Arlington with Dr. Magno, where she shared her dream of a Hospice unit for the community; this center is now known as the Capital Caring Halquist Center and is the oldest continuously operating inpatient hospice center in the United States.

One of the reasons I’ve stayed so long is because I have seen the difference we make for families, both as an employee and as a family member.  My mother died in the Halquist Center in 1987, my father died in the Halquist Center in 1995, my housemate’s mother died while being cared for by Capital Caring in 2013, and then my housemate died last year after a brief stay at the Halquist Center.  I’ve seen all sides of the care Capital Caring provides, as a family member, caregiver, and then as an employee, visiting family members and patients, helping them make their loved one comfortable.  After all these years, with so many memories, I cannot imagine doing anything else.

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