Florida Blocks an Infirm 92-Year-Old's Use of Memory Aid and Comfort-Giving CBD Oil

John and Genevieve at her 92nd birthday party.
John and Genevieve at her 92nd birthday party. Courtesy Jason Wilkotz
click to enlarge John and Genevieve at her 92nd birthday party. - COURTESY JASON WILKOTZ
John and Genevieve at her 92nd birthday party.
Courtesy Jason Wilkotz
Twice a week, John Kondelka, a 96-year-old Air Force veteran, boards a Go-Go Grampa bus in Hollywood and rides an hour or so, all the way to Kendall, to see his 92-year-old lady friend, an also-retired social worker and flight attendant named Genevieve Kennedy. He wears a string tie sometimes. She's, well, about as beautiful as any woman anywhere could ever be.

They met and fell in love three or so years ago when both lived at a place in Hollywood. As dementia and age took their toll, Genevieve fell ill in December 2017 and moved south to a nursing facility appropriately called the Palace, near Indian Hammocks Park. John didn't give up on her. Probably never will.

"It's beautiful," says Genevieve's daughter, Tya Eachus. "He was married for 60 years and his wife died. Then they fell in love."

This story, though, doesn't have an altogether happy ending. Genevieve gets anxious sometimes. Often, she forgets what happened just a few hours before. Her daughter has asked authorities at the Palace to give her hemp-derived cannabinoid (CBD) oil, which is distantly related to pot but is technically legal. The authorities have refused, though, citing vague state rules and federal funding issues. Genevieve's 95-year-old sister, Phyllis Schmidt, who lives in Massachusetts, where pot is now legal so bureaucratic rules are fewer, takes the drops daily. It's helped with many of the same health issues that torment Genevieve, including lack of appetite, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even memory loss.

“The state of Florida is impeding my mother's well-being,” says Tya. “It's just wrong.”

Genevieve Foti Kennedy was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1926 and grew up in Medford, not far from Harvard. Her family started coming to Miami Beach when she was 14. They bought a house in North Bay Village a few years later. Genevieve served as a flight attendant for National Airlines on the New York/Miami/Havana route before marrying a master sergeant in the U.S. Army, bearing three children, and moving to Japan for three years. There she learned to speak Japanese.

She returned to North Bay Village, where she reared her kids. Then she went back to school in her 40s, studying Spanish and social work. She worked with Cuban refugees who flooded the city — also gaining fluency in Spanish.

Genevieve was a smart cookie.

But age can wreak havoc on memory and health. That's where CBD oil comes in. These days, she can remember the name of Tony, a horse she rode as a 12-year-old, but often not what happened in the morning. 

Michelle Weiner is an osteopathic doctor who teaches at FIU and does research on substituting cannabis for opioids in chronic pain patients. She also works with some older people like Genevieve, whom, she says, can sometimes be greatly aided by CBD oil.

“There are many ways it can help,” she says. “It is good for dementia firstly because dementia patients do better when they get a good night's sleep and it helps them sleep better at night. During the day I use it for anxiety and depression. It calms them down. They don't want to eat? It can make them hungry.”

There are several kinds of CBD oil, she explains. The easiest to obtain comes from hemp and contains less than .03 percent THC, so it doesn't make you high; it has been legalized in two national farm bills, the most recent last year. (More potent stuff is available but requires a pot card in Florida.)

So, she says, it should be legal and easy for places like the Palace to provide it to 92-year-old Genevieve.

Not so fast, says Ricardo Martinez, general manager at the Palace. In an email refusing to give the product to Genevieve, he cited a lack of regulations from the state's Agency for Health Care Administration “on the handling, storage and documentation of CBD oil.” Patients can take it themselves but staff can't “administer” it. “Until there is a formal regulation by the state of Florida in Chapter 429, which governs assisted living facilities, we will not be able to handle this medication."

When I called Martinez, a genuinely well-intentioned and decent guy, I asked him if Genevieve could drink the peppermint-flavored stuff herself. He said yes, but, “our policy is not to administer it based on the state rules and federal funding.” Asked to explain further, he referred me to an attorney named Karen Goldsmith, who didn't return several calls seeking comment.

This upsets Genevieve's daughter, Tya. Just a few drops of the CBD oil each day, and Genevieve might better remember visits with her string-tie-wearing boyfriend. There is even evidence the THC in CBD oil might dissolve some of the plaque thought to impede memory — though studies on this are just getting started. 

"Three drops in the morning and three drops at night, that's all I am asking for," says Tya. "In three days, we could see a change. I just want to cry. My mother would be so much better."
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Chuck Strouse is the former editor in chief of Miami New Times. He has shared two Pulitzer Prizes and won dozens of other awards. He is an honors graduate of Brown University and has worked at newspapers including the Miami Herald and Los Angeles Times.
Contact: Chuck Strouse