Unity Hospice celebrates its 20th anniversary

By Mary Deem Maxted

Unity Hospice of Western Illinois has a story to share with you — a story about heroes, who can be found in the most unlikely of situations.

It is a story about how we, no matter where we are in our life, can be a hero. Our story is about individuals who become heroes because they extend a helping hand to someone in need. It is a story about someone in need becoming a hero to the individual who was originally there to help them. This story is meant to inspire the hero inside each of us, no matter what our circumstances are in life. This is a hospice story.

What I would like to share with you is a lesson we have witnessed over and over again. A lesson that unveils the truth that sometimes, just by simply reaching out your hand to touch someone in pain, you might find they are actually there to heal your own pain.

Every company has a story, and ours begins with our own hero, Michael Klein, the founder and president of Unity Hospice. Mr. Klein chose to create this company in November 1992. He was a successful young lawyer hoping to find something different for his life. Sitting at his kitchen table, he drafted plans to create a hospice. This was the path he chose to take in life so that he could come home each night and lay his head on his pillow with the knowledge that he made a positive impact on his world. It is not surprising to us that his first client was a patient who had no payer source, a veteran. At that time, veterans did not have a hospice benefit. There was no hesitation in his voice when on that first phone call with our first client, he said, “Yes, we would be happy to take on this veteran.” This first dream, this first client, has shaped the destination of our organization!

We are now in the midst of celebrating our 20th anniversary, which has given Unity Hospice the opportunity to do seveal things to celebrate. One of the first things we did was to collect the hospice stories from our staff. We all have one. We all have that one story that inspires us to crawl out of bed in the middle of the night to sit at a dying patient’s bedside or to hold the hand of a loved one who has just lost the most important person in their life. But by far, the most inspirational lesson we learned from our collection of hospice stories was that we weren’t always the hero. We have found many patients who have inspired us to live better, fuller and happier lives. Those we came to serve ended up becoming our heroes. Our story is the story of a hospice worker, hospice volunteer, and hospice patient and how we all have a hero within us.

Our anniversary happens to fall in November, which is National Hospice Month. Here are a few memorable stories from our staff.

“Sometimes We Are the Hero” — From Deanna Perrone: It was New Year’s weekend, and a psychiatrist was not able to come out until Tuesday, and it was only Friday. I decided to do a suicide assessment to determine what the next step of action would be.

He had intent and no means. We decided, given his past, he probably just needed to have someone there and know someone cared until the doctor could come. I visited him every day, did repeated suicide assessments. We talked about his past a great deal. He had lost his wife to cancer and both children in car accidents when they were in their 20s. He had since suffered from alcoholism and lost all his friends. This man had nothing.

I did a suicide assessment on him every day and on the second day, he told me, “I don’t want to die anymore, and if there is any reason why, it is because of you; thank you.” I held his hand most of the visit.

He died New Year’s (the next night) peacefully and knowing we cared. This visit was touching for many reasons, mainly because it showed me the power of relationships. I don’t take anything for granted now and feel thankful for the relationships I have with others in my personal life as well as those I meet in hospice.

“Sometimes the Hero Is Our Patient” — From Cheryl Johnson: We had an ALS patient that did not have a volunteer in his area, so I agreed to visit him. I was rather reluctant to go, given his age and diagnosis.

They (he and his wife) had the kind of home that was very welcoming. They were both very accommodating people, which put me at ease. I was supposed to be easing their burden, yet every time I went, both of them were asking me about my life, my job, my kids, etc. I eventually came to see that this was the kind of people they had always been, warm and gracious, and they weren’t going to let a terminal illness change them.

He was one of the most positive people I have ever met. He only complained once, and that was only out of concern for his wife, and how she would handle everything when he left, not out of concern for himself.

He spent countless hours researching ALS. He joined as many online sites as possible, making friends around the world with victims of ALS, giving his support and advice to many. We also e-mailed regularly, and he always ended his e-mails with this:

Laugh often and long

Laugh until you gasp for breath

And if you have a friend who

makes you laugh

Spend lots of time with him/her

Live while you are alive

Surround yourself with love

family, friends, lovers, pet,

… whatever.

He and his wife were such an inspiration to me. Knowing them has changed me, and I will never be the same.

From Christine Villalobos, RN Case Manager: The very first patient I was able to see by myself after my orientation was a sweet elderly lady who lived near the hospital. Coincidentally, on the same day at the same time, my first granddaughter was preparing to make her entrance into the world.

I was with my patient while she was dying. When I left her, I went across the street to witness my first grandbaby’s birth.

My patient had asked for prayer, which I honored. She touched my life as my first patient. The situation showed me how fragile, but wonderful, the gift of life really is! Nine years later, I still think of her often.

From the Nov. 28-Dec. 4, 2012, issue

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