Isabelle Jessich: Happy return to 'my sweet home’

  • Article by: JAMES ELI SHIFFER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 2, 2009 - 8:54 AM

Isabelle Jessich's first foe was alcoholism. Her second was the court system that kept her from returning home.

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Forced to live in a nursing home for nearly a year by a court-appointed guardian, recovering alcoholic Isabelle Jessich returned home Tuesday and was reunited with her teenage daughter and the family cat, Knowing.

Photo: David Joles, Star Tribune

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On Tuesday morning, Isabelle Jessich stood on shaky legs in the driveway of her Edina home and held out her arms to her smiling teenage daughter.

"Hello everybody," Jessich shouted. "My sweet home!"

Jessich, 56, had longed for this homecoming ever since she was taken to a hospital in June 2008, malnourished, disoriented and weakened by alcoholism. She thought it would come sooner. She has been sober for more than a year, and in May, her doctor pronounced her ready to live in her own house once again. Jessich was desperate to take care of her daughter, Allison, who was left to fend for herself after her mother was institutionalized.

But Jessich was legally barred from making the decision to go home. Where she lived, and virtually all other major life choices, were under the control of a professional guardian, Joseph Vogel, who was appointed to the case last year when a Hennepin County judge determined Jessich was incapacitated.

Vogel never earned the trust of Jessich, who found that the more she fought to regain her rights, the harder the system fought to keep her a ward of the state. For months she languished in the Robbinsdale Rehab and Care Center nursing home, feeling more like a prisoner than a patient.

After the Star Tribune published an Aug. 23 story about Jessich's situation, she felt a gradual easing of the guardian's restrictions. This fall, she began going home on weekends, and she spent Thanksgiving with her family. Her next step, according to updates from her guardian and staff at the nursing home, would be a move to a group home.

But last week, a social worker gave Jessich stunning news. On Dec. 1, she would go home. Jessich said no one explained what had changed.

On Tuesday morning, Vogel, who remains in control of her affairs, handed Jessich her driver's license and a piece of paper detailing the approximately $200 per week she would receive for expenses.

Vogel, who previously said it was either unsafe or too costly for Jessich to go home, refused to explain his change of mind.

"I think the best thing to say now is nothing at all," Vogel said Tuesday.

The interim administrator of Robbinsdale Rehab and Care Center wouldn't discuss Jessich's case either.

"We help residents every day with discharge planning," said Amy Wiffler, regional director of operations for Extendicare, the nursing home's owner. "Our goal is to have a safe and successful discharge."

Jessich, her daughter and a circle of friends and supporters didn't dwell on what was behind the twist of fortune. Allison, who turned 17 in September, has spent the past 18 months living in a half-dozen places and surviving on the generosity of friends and neighbors. In preparation for her mother's arrival, she dusted the furniture in the family's split-level home and vacuumed the floors.

When Vogel's black SUV pulled into the driveway Tuesday, her mother could see Allison's handwritten sign by the front door. "Welcome Home Mom," it said, and "I love you" in English and French, in recognition of Jessich's Belgian origin.

With help, Jessich made her way up the stairs on her feet and then settled back into her wheelchair, which she uses because of persistent dizziness related to a still unknown neurological condition. She clasped her daughter in a hug and then stared into her face. "I'm here now," she said. "It's just you and I again."

Jessich will get a weekly visit from a nurse, and she'll wear a device around her neck that can summon help in an emergency.

Allison seemed thrilled, but dazed by the sudden reunion: "I don't think I've taken it in yet. I don't know what to feel."

Jessich plans to argue in court for the right to make decisions about her life again. She is confident that she has overcome the crisis that left her near death a year and a half ago. She said the first step would be making her daughter's favorite dinner: baked potatoes and green beans with bacon, seasoned with tarragon.

"I want to be somebody now," she said. "I want to be a mother."

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