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.
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.
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
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.
“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.