Featured PieceHealthThe Northern Westchester Examiner

Phelps Hospital Caregiver Center Able to Grant Dying Man’s Wish

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Phelps Hospital raised more than $3,000 to pay for the trip home for Herbert Sazo, center, to be with his family and for end-of-life care in his native Guatemala as he battles prostate cancer.

Herbert Sazo may only have a few weeks to live, but to look at him you’d never know it.

Last week, Sazo had a huge smile on his face as he was surrounded by friends and staff at the Phelps Hospital Caregiver Center. It was his last day in the United States before heading to Sanarate, Guatemala, the city he left 33 years ago in search of a better life.

Hugs, kisses and tears marked a bittersweet sendoff for Sazo, a 65-year-old Ossining construction worker who is dying of prostate cancer. His wish was to be with his family for the final days of his life. On Friday, he had a flight to his native country to be with his 93-year-old mother and three sons and would meet his five grandchildren in person for the first time.

Wearing a purple shirt over his slight physique, Sazo greeted doctors and nurses who have cared for him for the past six years.

“I am looking forward to seeing my family,” he told the group who gathered last Thursday afternoon to wish him well. “I’ve never met my five grandchildren; I’ve only seen them on WhatsApp. The first thing I will do when I see my family is hug all my kids.”

Sazo’s eyes filled with tears when embracing his oncologist, Dr. Keyur Thakar.

“I’m very grateful to Dr. Thakar. He has love in his heart and has given me great care,” Sazo said. “I felt that I was really loved.”

Thakar and his nurse practitioner, Van Nghiem, have been treating Sazo since he first arrived at the hospital’s Cancer Center about six years ago.

“Herbert was first diagnosed in 2001,” said Thakar. “He was treated and seemed to be doing very well. He always had a smile, even when he wasn’t feeling well. And he always insisted on working no matter how bad he felt.”

But about a month ago Thakar said doctors realized Sazo’s cancer had quickly metastasized and spread to his pancreas, liver and bones. Sazo knew it was time to return home to be with his family.

Dr. Michelle Espinoza, director of palliative care at Phelps, informed Sazo about end-of-life care. Phelps’ administrators, staff, social workers, nurses and doctors were able to raise more than $3,000 to cover Sazo’s flight home and special palliative care that will help him manage his pain and to provide a nurse in Guatemala.

“What we are doing for Herbert is what we would do for any patient in any capacity,” said Phelps Hospital Executive Director Eileen Egan.

Joining Egan at last week’s event was Annmarie Mulhearn, director of Phelps’ Cancer Center, who coordinated the hospital’s team’s efforts to have Sazo realize his wish, and Gaby Naranjo, senior manager of the Caregiver Center, who applied for the grant funding that made his wish a reality.

Thaker said Sazo was a patient he would never forget.

“Herbert is a nice soul and he never complained about anything,” Thaker said. “Today, I’m overwhelmed by what we were able to do for him.”


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