Chaplains, Volunteers, Working at VITAS
July 15, 2021

‘You Created This Happiness for Me’ with Commitment and a Can-Do Attitude

VITAS patient John Kimble was able to fly in an airplane for the first time after his Florida care team organized the flight. Thanks to Caleb Bish, creative director for Storyvox, for creating this video for VITAS to share.

From the front porch where Chaplain Rich Behers sits and chats with hospice patient John Kimble, the background noise for their friendly conversations is often the hum of small airplanes taking off from nearby Bartow Municipal Airport in Central Florida.

Never in his 81 years did Kimble think that he would one day be sitting in the cockpit of a Cessna 172, sharing the controls with a pilot he’d just met, wearing headphones to block out the hum of those familiar engines, and staring down over the landscape he calls home.

On June 22, thanks to the committed efforts of the VITAS care team and several local volunteers who helped bring his bucket-list dream to life, Kimble finally found the answer to a question his daughter, Lucinda Pressly, said he asked frequently as he watched planes take off: “I wonder what it’s like up there?”

A Chaplain’s Chat Seeds the Idea

Behers says the seeds for the flight were planted in mid-June, when Kimble mentioned during one of their front-porch chats that in all of his years of living next to an airport, he’d never been up in the air. The chaplain turned to his patient and said, “Let me think about that, John. I think we might be able to make this happen.”

“In hospice, we can journey with people in their greatest time of need, and we don’t have to journey it alone.”-Ken Bish, VITAS bereavement services manager

The VITAS Difference in how we support our patients and each other is all about demonstrating our commitment, compassion, and can-do attitude. In less than a week, all the pieces fell in place, thanks to can-do attitude, the connections, and coordination by VITAS team members and local volunteers throughout Hardee, Highlands, and Polk counties

Melissa Owens, Kimble’s VITAS social worker, for example, helped with logistics and coordination.

“We’re going to be here for you,” she reassured Kimble and his family. “We’re going to take you through this. We’re going to support you every step of the way.”

When Bereavement Services Manager Ken Bish heard about the patient’s wish to fly, he connected Behers with his friend and pilot Eddie McGuire, whose mother is also on VITAS services. McGuire volunteered his time, expertise, the plane, and fuel to make the flight happen. 

Kimble’s team manager, as well as VITAS General Managers Deborah Totten and James Rogers, lent their support and secured approvals from other VITAS operational executives. Dave Helper, another volunteer, drove Kimble from his home to the airport and back.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder...

And so it was that on a slightly overcast day on June 22, hospice patient Kimble climbed into the co-pilot's seat next to McGuire and was soon looking down in awe as the plane circled the lakes, fields, subdivisions, and landmarks of the Florida landscape around Gilbert Field at Winter Haven Regional Airport. 

At one point, McGuire radioed the tower at the nearby Bartow airfield and received permission to circle his passenger’s house and surrounding neighborhood. 

Not only did Kimble get his wish to fly, he also made the front page of the Lakeland Ledger newspaper and a segment on the Tampa Bay evening news. Caleb Bish, Ken’s son and a local videographer, volunteered his time and talent to film the day’s events.  

A Can-Do Attitude and VITAS Values: ‘Patients and Families Come First’

“It was so good to see John come out of that plane with his thumbs up,” says Behers. “He was so happy after that flight, and it was all he talked about. When the Channel 13 truck pulled up in front of his house and the reporter pulled up in his convertible, all of the neighbors came out and stood on their porches to watch the whole interview...it was a wonderful thing to see. It’s just a thrill knowing that we could do something for someone like John.” It was a journey made possible thanks to the VITAS Difference.

The VITAS Difference in how we support our patients and each other is all about demonstrating our commitment, compassion, and can-do attitude.

On a follow-up home visit three weeks later, Behers found an even more energetic, appreciative patient.

“Mr. Kimble literally came alive after that flight,” he says. “He told me, ‘Chaplain, I feel so good. I want to love my wife more. I want to live my life more. I just thank you, because you created this happiness for me.’”

For Bish, opportunities to make dying patients’ wishes come true validate his decision to specialize in hospice care. 

“I was a pastor for 34 years before joining VITAS, and people sometimes ask why I left being a pastor,” he says. “In hospice, we can journey with people in their greatest time of need, and we don’t have to journey it alone because we have all of these other wonderful disciplines to support our patients and their families.

“I've been with hospice for a little over five years now,” he adds without hesitation, “and the best day of those five years so far was the day we took Mr. Kimble up in that plane.”

If you’re interested in a career in compassionate healthcare that honors patients’ wishes and goals for quality of life near the end of life, join the VITAS team today.

 

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