In February, volunteer Joyce Olkiewicz had the pleasure of escorting a patient’s family from Buchanan Air Field to Ygnacio Valley Care Center where they could visit with their loved one. This wonderful family was granted a trip on Angel Flight West with the help from the patient’s social worker Suzanne Amendt. Angel Flight West has a mission of charity—the pilots donate their time, aircraft and fuel to assist those with health care and other compelling needs.

Betty and June, our patient’s mother and sister, were flown out to see their loved one, whose health was declining. They reflected on the visit and how their loved one was doing. Betty explained that her daughter hadn’t been up all day until she heard her voice. Opening her eyes she said, “Hello Mom.” Betty’s eyes glistened with tears as she smiled.

Betty and June are grateful to Hospice of the East Bay and Angel Flight West for all their help. Driving home Joyce reflected, “I am so fortunate to be a volunteer for such an admirable organization. Hospice of the East Bay has given me the opportunity to make a difference. My experiences of helping patients and families during this stage of life is invaluable. I will always remember them.”

Walnut Creek, CA - JR Cude, owner of the Flower Bowl in Walnut Creek, has been donating flower arrangements to Hospice of the East Bay patients once a week for over 19 years. These lovely compositions are uniquely tailored to each patient and occasion. Until recently, he has declined public acknowledgment for his unwavering generosity and unfaltering kindness. On September 25, 2013, the Walnut Creek Journal and the Lamorinda Sun editions of the Contra Costa Times ran an article entitled “19 Years of Compassion - A Special Brand of Flower Delivery.” It was a long deserved tribute to JR, and flower delivery volunteer Cathy Conners.

We all know that flowers can make us feel better. According to behavioral research conducted at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, “the presence of flowers triggers happy emotions, heightens feelings of life satisfaction and affects social behavior in a positive manner far beyond what is normally believed.” For hospice patients, when the emphasis is on creating the best possible quality of life in one’s final days, flowers can help brighten their environment and bring a smile to their faces.

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Lori and Slim

Slim is 1600 pounds, has a blond mane and is an unlikely candidate to be a hospice volunteer. He stands in the hot sun, nuzzling hospice patient Lori Michaels, as she wipes away tears from her eyes. Visiting a horse was her dying wish, and today that wish is fulfilled.

Lori grew up around horses. Her uncle had scores of them on his farm in Washington State. She already has had regular visits from a hospice Pet Pal, a dog which she much enjoys. But Lori wanted to know if it was possible to visit the animal she most loves—a horse. Joyce Rosevear, Volunteer Coordinator and volunteer Kay Aaker were determined to make it happen and sent out the call to all the volunteers about finding a horse for a visit. It was a little daunting to try and take Lori out to a ranch, where dirt, rocks and uneven ground are a fall risk.

Today Lori felt well enough to go out. It was the hottest day of the year, and we just needed a horse! Emails and text messages were sent around—who has a horse today for a visit? Enter Sarah Pipkin, who volunteered her wonderfully sweet, beautiful horse Slim. Slim is a big horse! His mother was a Quarterhorse-Arabian mix and his father was a Belgian—a draft horse as big as a Clydesdale. Sarah met Slim at a summer camp, where he was a vaulting horse, which means he would trot around the ring in circles as kids would do gymnastics on his back. Sarah would sneak out after dark and ride him.

Years after she was grown up, she went back to her old camp and found that Slim was getting too old for vaulting and was to be sold, by the pound. Sarah jumped into action and rescued him!

Lori started her visit at the skilled nursing facility where she now lives. Even though it required great effort, she was determined to visit Slim. Everyone at the facility knew about the horse, and everyone wished her a great visit. She was so excited and everyone was excited for her. The ride to the ranch was short, and Slim was brought out of the paddock by Sarah, who had set up a chair for Lori under a shade tree, where even the heat of the day was pleasant. Lori knew just where to pet him, under his mane, along his nose and on his neck. Lori gave him some carrots which Slim much appreciated. Both were blissfully happy.

On the ride home, Lori said she was so happy it happened—a magical day with a beautiful horse!

World War Two veteran Leo

Through volunteering for Hospice of the East Bay, I have had the honor of meeting many WWII veterans of the Army, Navy and Air Force. They all told stories that would be worthy of movie scripts, though they are decidedly matter-of-fact and humble about their deeds.

Theirs is called the "Greatest Generation" for good reason. As civilians, they exhibited an incredibly strong work ethic and stoicism despite the enormous challenges presented by the Great Depression. As soldiers in the Second World War, they did their jobs and simply followed orders, because in many cases they had no choice, if they wanted to survive. Afterward, they built our nation to the heights of post-war prosperity and were responsible for leading the country through demanding, difficult and necessary social changes.

Recently, I accepted an assignment to visit one of these "ordinary" heroes—a man named Leonard. Not only is Leonard a decorated veteran of the U.S. Army who served meritoriously in World War II, he was held captive by the German army for nearly four months.

The first few years of the war were not terribly dramatic for Leonard. Drafted into the army in 1941, he served as an artillery instructor at Camp Roberts near San Luis Obispo. When the German army conducted a major offensive that led to the famous Battle of the Bulge, the U.S. military's need for reinforcements caused Leonard and many others to be shipped overseas. He became a Platoon Sergeant in Company C of the 317th Regiment of the 80th Infantry Division supporting General George Patton's 3rd Army.

On New Year's Eve in 1944, Leonard was leading his 24-member platoon on combat patrol in Luxembourg when a German machine gun suddenly opened fire and artillery shells exploded all around. His unit had been ambushed. When he came to his senses, with blood and snow on his face and missing his helmet which had rolled into a creek, a German officer was pointing a gun at Leonard's head. He and two other Americans were taken prisoner.

Over the course of the next 16 weeks, Leonard was forced to march tremendous distances—sometimes as much as 75-100 miles within a few days—and was held at several different prison camps. Conditions were miserable: he suffered from frozen feet, dysentery, dehydration, a bad cough, and constant hunger, as prisoners were given barely enough food to survive. More than once, while marching, the prisoners were shot at by Allied troops and aircraft who mistook them for Germans. In one camp, a Russian prisoner with whom Leonard was trying to conduct a trade was shot to death. To this day, Leonard has an aluminum tobacco case he acquired via trade while being held captive.

Despite his hunger, poor health, and life-threatening situations, Leonard survived. He had been moved to a German-controlled POW camp in Northern Germany—Marlag und Milag Nord—when an Allied counter-offensive caused the remaining prisoners to be marched yet again. On April 28, 1945, Leonard and thousands of other prisoners were finally liberated by the British Army near Lubeck, Germany, on the Baltic Coast, approximately 400 miles from where he had originally been taken prisoner. He was taken to Brussels, Belgium, and then to Camp Lucky Strike in France.

Leonard was very ill and confined to a hospital bed for many weeks after being liberated. As is often typical of POWs who suffer severe deprivation of food and water, Leonard experienced the complications of readjusting to a normal diet and was also in danger of contracting gangrene, but a very strong constitution and will to survive kept him alive.

Eventually, Leonard was well enough to be transferred back to the United States where he was honorably discharged after the war. He went on to become happily married, raise a family, and is now 94 years old. Leonard is still strong after all these years. His will to survive has helped him to "graduate" from hospice care and I am pleased to report that I can no longer visit him in that official capacity.

Through the lives of our senior citizens, we can learn so much about our history, our roots, and ourselves. Getting to know another of these extraordinarily "ordinary" individuals is another great reason to volunteer for Hospice of the East Bay and an experience I would not trade for anything.

We are deeply saddened by the unexpected passing of Belle, our dear and devoted Pet Pal, who passed away on Saturday, April 26th from a toxic reaction to macadamia nuts. Belle, a two and a half year old miniature Australian Shepherd, was a faithful, loving and dedicated volunteer who visited patients with her owner Jody Mills. Belle loved people. Early on, she showed an affinity for family members in emotional crisis and served as an emotional support service dog. She was unusually calm for her breed. The last patient to which Belle was assigned had requested a picture with her. Sadly, that picture was to be taken this week. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to Belle and Jody for all the loving care and comfort that they provided to our patients. We will cherish her memory.

Two years ago, Betty Wass found that she could no longer provide care for her husband, Mohamed El Wakil, at home. After much consideration he was admitted to a local board and care facility.

Due to Mohamed's declining health and mobility, the simple task of getting dressed was becoming too strenuous for him, and a hospital gown was recommended. Unfortunately, the facility he was in did not provide hospital gowns. His hospice nurse, Claire Finne, suggested to Betty that she might alter a few of her husband's shirts to use as an alternative. Betty immediately began working to design a comfortable, attractive "hospital shirt" for Mohamed. She took several of his favorite shirts, removed the buttons, stitched up the holes, shortened the sleeves, opened the back, and added piping ties so they would close completely and securely.

The shirts turned out to be functional and stylish. They helped to make Mohamed look his best when friends and family came to visit and provided easy access for the medical care he needed.

Attempts at designing hospital gowns are nothing new. In 1999 the Hackensack University Medical Center in New Jersey redid its gowns with the help of designer Nicole Miller. In 2004 the Maine Medical Center in Portland introduced a floor-length option to accommodate the requests of female Muslim patients. In 2009 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation offered a six-figure gift to the College of Textiles to work on designing, producing, and marketing a new style of gown. However, what makes these gowns special is that they are made with love.

When Mohamed passed away in June of 2012, Claire asked Betty if she would be interested in sewing shirts for other hospice patients. Betty said she'd be happy to and set to work.
When word spread of how much patients appreciated the shirts, Thrift Shoppe Volunteer Angie Dometrovich offered to contribute her sewing talents to the project.

Angie and Betty select the shirts that they sew for our patients from the racks at the Hospice Thrift Shoppe in Walnut Creek, and recently began using women's shirts to make gowns that are a better fit for female patients.

To date, 150 Hospice Shirts have been sewn for our patients. We are indebted to these two wonderful women who have made it possible for our patients to maintain their dignity and comfort during their final days.

The books of Bill Burke, Author & Hospice Patient

Bill Burke, a Hospice of the East Bay patient, is living life to the fullest despite his terminal diagnosis. When Bill Burke's doctor first recommended that he begin using hospice services, Bill was reluctant—he still has a lot of living to do and saw hospice as the final stage of life. For Bill, living life to the fullest includes spending time playing cards with his wife and friends, watching his grandchildrens' sporting events, and publishing his fifth book prior to the end of his life. Bill said the media makes hospice look like the experience is all about dying but Bill feels like his experience with Hospice of the East Bay encouraged him to manage his symptoms and to keep on living.

Bill Burke is a retired corporate executive, veteran and author. Burke lived in Iran in the 1970s and has traveled to 51 countries and all 50 states. He especially enjoyed the customs, cuisine and people that he encountered while living in Iran and traveling through the Near East and Middle East. His journeys included Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Syria, and Turkey. Based on his experiences, Bill Burke has three published works of non-fiction including Adventures in the Middle East, Near East and North Africa, Odyssey from Iran and My Army Days: Hup, Toop, Threep, Fourp! His first fiction novel The Persian Caper was published in 2010.

When Bill started on hospice services, he had already completed the manuscript for his fifth book, a fiction novel called The Palestinian Caper: A Black Ops Thriller. It was important to Bill that his book be published prior to the end of his life since he had been working on it for several years. As his condition progressed, Bill's eyesight was becoming worse and he was having difficult editing the manuscript, so Burke's wife took on the project of reading and editing the manuscript as Bill continued to communicate with his publisher. Bill Burke's fifth and final book The Palestinian Caper was published in December 2013 and is available on Kindle and in paperback.