Physician assistant helps make ill veteran's dream come true

Photo credit: Arthur Tilley
Photo credit: Arthur Tilley

I work in primary medicine at the St. Cloud Veterans Affairs in Minn. and am blessed to serve our nation's heroes. As you can imagine, I have several older patients on my panel. I am privileged to serve Lee, an older Korean War veteran who served in the Navy as an aircraft mechanic.
 
Lee has faced many struggles lately, including loss of his home and loss of mobility. He is also facing the end of his life. Lee has end stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – he wears an oxygen mask and endures recurrent exacerbations.  Although he is seen in my clinic regularly, between visits he sends incredible letters filled with humor and prose, along with updates on his declining health.
 

In his first letter Lee informed me that I must have drawn the short straw to have him assigned to my panel. He went on to fill me in on his health and closed telling me to not feel embarrassed if I confuse him with Robert Redford at our meeting as, "we look like twins."  (He is cachectic and bald.)
 
Over the past six years, I've met with Lee several times. Nearing the end of his life, we have had conversations on the progression of his disease and what to expect.  I have received several eloquent letters from him also, each with a piece of humor. Ideas on possible last activities have included ski diving with his oxygen tank.
 
On one particular visit, I asked Lee to tell me what one thing he would really like to do before he dies. He promptly mentioned meeting the Navy's Blue Angels and seeing their planes in person one last time. This past summer, we were lucky enough to host the Blue Angels here in St. Cloud. Going out on a limb, I contacted the organization via email and truly did not expect to receive a reply.

My email was forwarded on to Chief Warrant Officer "Demo" Demontalvo. He promptly invited Lee, his wife and I to attend their show as his guests and to be seated right up front in the Blue Angels tent. Later CWO Demo delivered tickets to future Blue Angels events so that more of our veterans, other nurses and their families could also attend.

To share a last dream with a patient is truly special; our day with the Blue Angels was amazing. Every troop member in attendance in the Blue Angels' special tent thanked Lee for his service to our country. The Blue Angels also presented him with incredible signed lithographs and posed for several pictures with him, including one professionally shot in front of their jets with the pilots, CWO Demo and myself.
 
It was an amazing day filled with happiness, smiles and tears of joy. Not only was my patient treated with total gratitude for his service, but also his dream was fulfilled. During the show, so was one of my dreams – assisting in making a veteran's dream come true.  
 
Clearly, the straw I drew on the day I first received Lee's letter is one of the best I have drawn so far.

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