Polk County DAC - Success! Tom gets his COVID-19 vaccine

Times Report
Crookston Times

    Holly and Bill Anderson are the parents of Tom (and brother Jack) who is sensitive to sounds, being touched, someone walking behind him, the environment and more.  

    Tom is Autistic and has a kind soul. Tom has the greatest smile and a delightful personality. Tom enjoys structure and routine, loves his family and dog, Cedar.  Tom is a Twins and Vikings fan and a basketball player. You can witness these great qualities of Tom’s, once you get to know him and establish a trusting relationship with him.

    Tom attends the Polk County Developmental Achievement Center (DAC) in Crookston along with two of his housemates. Right now, the DAC is forced to only offer partial days of services as restrictions of 50% capacity and social distancing preclude the DAC from offering full days (per unusual circumstances).  

    In an effort to get back to full days of services, Jo Bittner, DAC executive director, is encouraging all staff and participants to take advantage of the COVID-19 vaccination.  The DAC staff and participants are scheduled in Phase 1a in the vaccination schedule.

    Tom has sensory issues and receiving a shot is not high on his list of pleasurable activities. This presents a real challenge for Tom (and others) and the DAC if he is not vaccinated.  Special efforts are necessary for any shot or medical examination of Tom.  

    Holly reports that most often (in the past), Tom has been given an anesthetic to receive shots, get his teeth cleaned or when he undergoes more intrusive medical examinations.

    Last fall, the DAC and Polk County Public Health (PCPH) teamed up to offer a flu shot clinic at the DAC.  PCPH nurse Nan Widseth (who is now the director of Student Health Services at the University of Minnesota Crookston) and her team came to the DAC so every DAC participant did not have to go individually to their healthcare provider.  

    Jo asked Holly to come to the flu shot clinic and assist her son through the process.  It took a good 25 minutes to “desensitize” Tom into being touched by a stranger (Nan).      The first step was to clear the room of everyone except Tom, Holly and Nan. Nan started by introducing herself and talking to Holly and Tom, always staying in his view (never walking behind Tom as that makes him nervous). Nan started by touching Holly’s arm and then sharing a “shot assist” (plastic, pliable half-moon shaped assist with little prickly extensions). The nurse holds the plastic assist in one hand and pinches the skin while she inserts the needle at that same time with her other hand. It is intended to distract the recipient from focusing on the shot. Tom also touched and held the shot assist in his hands.

    Holly received her shot first and demonstrated that Nan was safe to be around, and that the shot did not hurt her. After numerous times of simply pinching Tom’s arm with the shot assist, he became much more comfortable with the process. When Tom appeared comfortable enough to be administered the flu vaccine, Nan was ready and Mom (Holly) held Tom’s hands. It was a success and Tom received his flu shot without incident, Mom and Nan got teary-eyed and this was all accomplished with some forethought, patience and understanding.  

    This was a huge breakthrough for Tom and his family.  What a tribute to Mom and Nan for trusting one another and taking the time to build that trust so Tom could be safer from possible illness. What a difficult decision to make; do the benefits of a vaccination outweigh the side effects of having Tom put out through anesthesia or not receiving the vaccine at all?

    In January, the Polk County DAC offered its first COVID-19 vaccination clinic for staff and participants.  Once again, Jo Bittner called Tom’s Mom (Holly) to ask how she felt about attempting this. Holly was geared up and ready as she definitely wanted Tom to get the COVID-19 vaccination.  

    But a monkey wrench was thrown in this time, as it was not Nan from PCPH this time. Thrifty White Pharmacy was the agency offering this clinic. Kendra from Thrifty White came to the DAC and Jo asked about her willingness to attempt to administer the shot to Tom while trying to work with him through his fears. Kendra had some past experience working in a group home setting, and she was more than willing to give it a try.  

    Once again, the room was cleared except for Kendra, Tom and Holly. Sabrina from Tom’s Eagles Rock home was also there as monitoring needs to occur for 15 minutes after the vaccination is given. They went through the process of desensitizing Tom and getting him used to Kendra. He seemed a bit more nervous this time and Sabrina noticed that Tom kept looking in the mirror. Those in the room determined that Tom might have thought that someone was coming up from behind him. So the mirror was taken off the wall and desensitizing continued.  

    Holly had brought the shot assist again, which appeared to be effective this time around as well.  This time Mom simply gave Tom a hug when he appeared comfortable and accepting of the shot.        

     Success again!

    This may seem like such a small accomplishment, but in the eyes of Tom and his family, it was huge.

      "When I heard PCPH was going to do flu shots at the DAC, I didn't even consider having them try to give one to Tom. We've only been able to have him given vaccinations and have blood work done when he's been put under for another procedure,” Holly said. “But Jo doesn't give up or give in, thank goodness. Now he's completed his COVID-19 vaccination, and we have these wonderful people to thank."

    Now, Tom awaits his second round of the COVID-19 vaccine and everyone anticipates that, too, will be successful as the process will be followed and all the “tricks” learned along the way will be applied once again.

    Jo Bittner beams with gratitude for all those that assist Tom and his family to reach a goal that, not so long ago, was not even a consideration. It takes a village!  

    "Jo and her team at the DAC are a Godsend for our family. Tom is home with us every weekend, but the amazing staff at the DAC and the great staff at the Eagles Rock home where he lives during the week see things in a different light than my husband and I do as 'mom and dad,’” Holly notes. “They are always thinking 'out of the box' and coming up with ideas and solutions for issues that arise.''

Tom Anderson and his mom, Holly, are pictured along with, far left, Sabrina from Eagles Rock group home and Kendra from Thrifty White Pharmacy. Kendra was able to give Tom, who is autistic, his COVID-19 vaccination after various techniques were administered to make him comfortable with the procedure.