To See Blake Shelton

June 6, 2016, was a magical day for Hospice Care Plus patient, Brenda Roberts.

First, she was in the audience to see one of favorite people, Blake Shelton, perform at the Country Musical Hall of Fame CMA Theater in Nashville. She was treated to the performance by Hospice Care Plus and Madison Health and Rehabilitation Center (MHR) in Richmond, KY, who partnered to secure three tickets for her, her daughter Dreema (a nurse), and her son-in-law.

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Brenda with her daughter and son-in-law during their trip to Nashville.

Brenda is from Cynthiana, KY, but is currently a resident at MHR and a patient of Hospice Care Plus’s, who partners with MHR to provide her care.

On May 23, Brenda, who has cancer of the larynx, and Dreema met with Hospice Care Plus nurse Dorsie Puckett to learn more about hospice care. Brenda was initially resistant to the idea, but opened up to it after learning more about the care the program offers.

“We were sitting there and she was upset and tearful,” says Dorsie. “I could see she felt that choosing hospice meant giving up and just waiting for the end. I wanted her to turn her focus to hope and to living, so I told her about our Bucket-List Program and asked her if there was anything we could do for her, anything special that was important to her that she really wanted to do. That’s when Dreema mentioned that Brenda loves Blake Shelton. And Brenda, who has a tracheotomy and is unable to speak, whispered very softly to me, ‘Yes I do. I’m not a great country music fan, but I think he’s the most handsome man in the whole world and it would make my life to get to see him.’”

Dorsie explained that she would do her best, then immediately worked with her team and the rest of the Hospice Care Plus staff to treat Brenda’s wish as a bucket-list request. Hospice has an informal Bucket-List Program, although Brenda prefers the word “dream-wish.” The staff works hard to learn what’s important to patients and families, what a great day looks like, or what special things they need or want to accomplish. Then, using a modest pool of funds and staff time, they try their best to make each need or request a reality.

In Brenda’s case, this involved researching Blake Shelton performances that were reasonably close to Richmond, KY, and that were soon enough for Brenda to attend while her health could support travel. Once they learned about the June 6 performance at the intimate CMA Theater at the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, they then had to secure affordable tickets and research hotels that would discount their rates. Brenda’s care staff knew that she couldn’t physically endure a round trip to Nashville without a two-night stay to help her rest and recover.

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Brenda with her family as they prepared to leave for their adventure.

Dorsie then worked quickly to gather the medical equipment Brenda would need for a long drive and two nights away from her facility: a portable suction machine, 12 e-tanks for portable oxygen, a wheelchair-mounted carrier for the e-tanks, an adequate supply of all her medications, and numerous routine medical supplies.

Tickets were purchased and a hotel stay was booked at The Capitol Hotel, which offered  a discounted rate. MHR shared a portion of the ticket cost with Hospice and the family agreed to share the cost of the hotel.

In the meantime, Hospice Care Plus decided to take things one step further and attempt to arrange for a backstage meeting with Mr. Shelton. Staff worked on contacting Blake Shelton’s managers and fan club. When their calls and emails weren’t returned, they launched a social media campaign, using their Facebook and Twitter sites to ask for help.

When June 5 came, Brenda was doing well and able to travel. She and her family left for Nashville. On the morning of June 6, the day of the performance, the Hospice staff still had no way of knowing if their social media campaign had worked. While they were aware that one high-level industry executive promised to work on it and that several mangers received the request, no one had made contact with Hospice.

When Brenda’s family texted Hospice to say they made it and were inside the venue, everyone was happy that Brenda was about to see

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With their concert tickets just inside the Country Music Hall of Fame.

her wished-for concert, but also a little disappointed. It was assumed that, if anything special had been planned for Brenda, it would have been made clear to them when they presented their tickets. Nothing had happened.

By the time the performance began an hour later, the Hospice staff was certain that a meeting wasn’t in the stars.

“I was texting two people who had worked incredibly hard to make it happen,” says Brenna Wallhausser, director of public relations at Hospice Care Plus. “I was preparing them for the fact that it wasn’t going to happen, but also thanking them and reassuring them that Brenda would not know any disappointment. To our knowledge, she didn’t know we were trying for the meeting. We agreed not to tell her, because we didn’t want to risk a let-down. We wanted her to feel nothing but joy at seeing him live in concert.”

Then, ten minutes into the performance, Hospice received an email from Berkley Myers with Starstruck Management Group in Nashville asking the staff to call her as soon as possible. Brenna called immediately.

“When she told me to text the family to ask them to remain in their seats after the performance, I knew what it meant and I was elated,” says Brenna.

Mrs. Myers went on to explain that someone with the Country Music Hall of Fame would go to the family’s seats and escort them backstage to meet with Mr. Shelton.

For the next few hours, Brenna and others waited patiently for word from Dreema. It came at 6:30 p.m. when she texted the photograph of her mother with Blake Shelton.

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“Blake Shelton was amazing,” says Dreema.

“When I saw it, I thought that it captured how special all of this was for Brenda,” says Brenna. “It was easy to see the joy on her face. Surprisingly, it also seemed to catch how special it was for Blake Shelton.”

That joy stayed with Brenda. When Dorsie saw her at MHR again on June 8 for her hospice nursing visit, Brenda was still radiating happiness.

“The look on her face when I saw her . . . She looked at me and . . . I cried. She held her arms out wide to me and said, ‘Thank you all. Thank you all. Thank you all.’”

As for the details of the meeting with Blake Shelton, Dreema reports that it was beyond anything they could have expected.

“Everyone was so kind, and Blake Shelton was amazing,” she says. “He hugged her over and over. He held onto her and rubbed her shoulder. He held her hand. He kissed her on the cheek and let her do the same. She mouthed the words, ‘I love you. I have cancer.’ He told her he knew, and he just hugged her.”

In a Facebook post to thank everyone involved, HCP also took notes of Shelton’s graciousness.
“You not only agreed to meet her, but you made her feel cared for, special, and welcome. You gave her joy.  Anyone can agree to a backstage meeting, but not just anyone can achieve that.

To learn more about Brenda’s wish and Hospice Care Plus’s journey to make it happen, see the Facebook page and the posts that begin on June 3.

To Get Back Home

Nancy Isaacs, a Hospice Care Plus nurse, now retired but with 20-plus years under her belt, will never forget one patient’s bucket-list story.

“He hadn’t lived in our county very long,” remembers Nancy. “He was from a small town in eastern Kentucky, and his greatest wish was to have his body taken back there to be buried in the family cemetery.”

The patient explained to Nancy and his hospice social worker, Jennifer, that the family cemetery was the only place where he felt he’d truly be at home.

“He said all his people were buried there,” says Nancy, “and that he wanted to be there with them.”

It was also important because he and his wife had almost no money, no life insurance, and no way to pay for burial anywhere else.

They also had no money for a casket.

His preoccupation with this challenge kept him from finding peace with what was to come.  So Nancy, Jennifer, and the rest of his hospice care team came up with a plan.

Jennifer enlisted her boyfriend’s help, talking him into finding wood and building a casket. Nancy and Jennifer agreed to purchase the materials to make the pillow and padding for the casket, and also to do the sewing. Family and church volunteers agreed to transport his coffin to the family cemetery.

“We told him what we were doing,” Nancy says. “He just couldn’t believe somebody would do that for him.”

For nearly four weeks, Jennifer and Nancy took their sewing machines to work with them. They left them in their cars during working hours, but brought them into their office as soon as their shift was over.

“We didn’t have any patterns or anything, just the casket measurements,” says Nancy. “We felt we needed to hurry so he could see that it was taken care of, so we sewed together most evenings after work, right there in the office.”

When the casket was complete and fitted with the padding and pillow, Nancy, Jennifer, and the rest of his team presented it to him and to his wife.

“He really loved the casket,” says Nancy. “He still couldn’t quite believe it, but he was thrilled.”

Although he died soon after, Nancy and the team noticed that a burden had been lifted and he was able to find peace.

“He was worried that he’d be a burden to his wife, because she’d have to find the money to buy a casket or pay for funeral home transportation to his family cemetery. He was finally at peace, and he needed that. He needed peace.”

To Give Back

Don Ray loved music. Specifically, he loved to collect it, sing it, and entertain with it. By the time he chose hospice care, he had thousands of CDs that made up an impressive

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Don with Nikki Stuart and Julie Hatfield, who helped him organize his bucket-list karaoke event.

collection for one of his favorite hobbies: karaoke.

When Sally Iseral Shepherd, his Hospice Care Plus chaplain, visited him, they often sang a song or two. In spite of end-stage lung disease, Don never stopped singing.

“Singing opened up his lungs and made him feel better,” Sally remembers. “Plus, we enjoyed it.  We had a great time singing those songs.”

During one visit, Don mentioned that he wanted to put all that music to good use. He’d decided he wanted to host a karaoke concert as a fundraiser for Hospice Care Plus.  He talked it over with Nikki Stuart, who helps with fundraising at Hospice.

“He told me he wanted to give back,” Nikki says. “He said it was important to him, and that he wanted to make sure other people could benefit from hospice the way he had. He and his wife had only one request—to do it soon, while he still felt well enough to host and sing.”

In the first week of June, Nikki and Sally shared the work of going door-to-door in Richmond, looking for a place that would allow Don to perform on short notice and without charging a fee. Unfortunately, during the summer months, most venues have entertainment scheduled weeks in advance. Although owners wanted to help, they were understandably reluctant to bump a scheduled entertainer from the schedule.

Then, Nikki walked into Purdy’s Coffee shop on Main Street in Richmond.  Owner Kristin Purdy heard the story and, without a second thought, agreed to give their next Thursday night music event over to Don.

Even though there were only a few days to advertise, dozens of friends, family, and supporters crowded Purdy’s on a beautiful June evening. Anyone lucky enough to wander in got to see Don, flushed with excitement, making the rounds to greet everyone, choosing the right music for the next karaoke performer, or—if they were truly lucky—singing a duet with his chaplain, Sally.

Don seemed to swell with pride with each dollar dropped into his fundraising jar that night.  By the end of the evening, he knew he’d accomplished his goal of helping patients and families who, like him, have more living to do but need help feeling well enough to do it.

“It was a real honor to be there and watch this dream come true for him,” says Nikki. “His face was lit up with an enormous smile all evening long. It clearly made him very happy, and that felt great for all of us who were there.”

To Make a Joyful Noise

Marlene Payne had a very specific wish. Granting that bucket-list wish would involve getting her up five flights of stairs into a bell tower, so she could play the instrument she loved one more time. It would take four men, special equipment, and the cooperation of a small college. This is a great story about a great woman, and this little video tells it well.

To Leave a Special Legacy

Jeannie Strong is a talented and creative woman with a heart for service. She helped her husband, former Richmond, Ky., Mayor Bill Strong, serve his community for decades as a city commissioner, a magistrate, and as mayor.  And, in her life away from public service, she put her creativity to work.

Jeannie’s creative touch extends to nearly everything around her: growing flowers and vegetables, upholstery, sewing, and endless crafts.

Her walls are draped with aprons she made from vintage material. She has steamer trunks

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Jeannie with her daughter and some of her beautiful, hand-made stockings.

filled with pictures of blue ribbons she’s won at the Madison County Fair over the years.

So, nine months ago, when she was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer and given a prognosis of one year to live, Jeannie responded in typical fashion.  She wanted to work through it with her hands—to put them to use on a special project.

Jeannie’s immediate bucket-list wish was to make every single person in her family a Christmas stocking before she dies.

When she came to Hospice Care Plus, the team saw right away that this project was very important to her.  They saw the beautiful fabrics Jeannie was working with to make the stockings: burlap, ribbons, even an old mink stole that belonged to her mother. But they also knew that it was about much more than fabric, or even the stockings themselves.

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Jeannie shows her Hospice Care Plus nurse, Junie, one of her vintage aprons.

What Jeannie Strong was working on her legacy.

The hospice team knew its job was to make sure Jeannie continued to feel well enough to finish the project.  So, together, they dealt with pain and symptom management so Jeannie could continue sewing stockings.

Every day, Jeannie walked down her narrow basement stairs to check her progress.  She was admitted to Hospice Care Plus in October. By January, Jeannie was finished with every last one.

But, she wasn’t done yet.  Her next project is a quilt for her newest great-grandchild.

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Jeannie with husand Bill Strong.

When that’s finished and Jeannie turns to her next project, we’ll be by her side the whole way, making sure she feels as well as she can for as long as possible. Because, as hospice care staff, we know that fine-tuning one’s legacy is a top bucket-list wish for patients. We also know that, in order for peace and quality of life to truly win the day, those bucket-list wishes must be met.

To Celebrate My Birthday

John Shelton may have come to Hospice Care Plus with end-stage heart disease, but, to us, his heart was perfect.

He loved life. He loved his wife. He even loved his hospice care team.

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Jane and John open cards and gifts at John’s birthday celebration with his Hospice Care Plus team.

He also loved celebrating his birthday.

“As soon as one birthday passed, he would start reminding you that he had another one coming up, counting down the months,” says his wife Jane.

One reason he enjoyed celebrating each year of his life had to do with his medical history. He had his first heart attack at a young age and was diagnosed with heart disease at 39.  So, to John, every single year—even every day—was a reason to celebrate.

“John loved life and lived it to its fullest . . . I think he was determined to make every day count,” says Jane.

By the time John came to us for care, he outlived his doctors’ prognosis by many years.  But, at 76, his heart was very weak.

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John and all his guests snap a quick picture during his birthday dinner.

“He was the picture of health on the outside,” says Jane, “but it was his inside that was failing him. His heart disease was taking its toll.”

Weakened heart aside, John Shelton was not going to let his 76th birthday go by without a celebration.

He spoke to his hospice team about it, and told them he was determined to celebrate for fear it would be his last birthday. They supported and encouraged him, and joined him in planning the big day.

John’s traditional birthday celebration was an evening out to eat with Jane at the restaurant of his choice. This year would be no different. He told his hospice team that he wanted to go out with his wife to Red Lobster.

But, this year, he wanted a few extra people to join them. He asked his entire Hospice Care Plus team to come along.

This was no surprise to Jane. She remembers that, the previous Halloween, John wanted to make goodie baskets for each member of the hospice team who visited him regularly.

“John sat there smiling and was so excited as we worked on those baskets that night,” Jane says. “He couldn’t wait to give them to the girls.”

So, on the evening of his birthday, John and Jane drove to Red Lobster.  When they came into the entrance, the party began.

There was his nurse, Norma; his chaplain, Sally; and his social worker, Jackie, all of their arms filled with helium balloons and gifts.

John, Jane, Norma, Sally, and Jackie enjoyed a full meal, with John feeling well enough to eat a wonderful dessert.

“He was smiling from ear to ear.  He was so excited to get to celebrate with them,” says Jane.

A modest birthday party is a very modest bucket-list wish. But, to John, it meant everything. Thank you, John, for inviting us to celebrate with you.

To Salute My Grandson & Be Baptized

When we shared the story of Mr. Ramirez’s very special wish on our Facebook page, it reached nearly 400,000 people. Later, we made this simple video to use as part of our 2016 Bucket-List Challenge. Special thanks to his family, and especially his granddaughter, Blue, for sharing their memories and photos with us, and with you.