VITAS Healthcare, Florida’s Citrus Community and Mother Nature Make a Dying Man’s Wish Come True
By about noon on Tuesday, April 2, the morning downpour had stopped. The fish were biting in Kings Bay, Florida, and a VITAS Healthcare patient who had spent a good portion of his life exploring the world’s oceans was granted his dying wish—and managed to bring home eight nice-sized fish.
Accompanied by members of his VITAS hospice team and local volunteer boat captains, 89-year-old David Fletcher and his wife, Alice, spent a glorious day together on the water, enjoying the sun on their faces and the whrrrrrr of a fishing line cast into the water one last time.
A Life Spent at Sea
Plans for David’s last-wish fishing excursion started to materialize shortly after VITAS General Manager Philip Wiechmann met David at his home during a team visit. When the two began discussing boating and fishing, David’s face “just lit up,” according to VITAS Volunteer Manager Karen Rizzo.
“The clouds parted, the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day.”
David, who has advanced dementia, is an Englishman who lived most of his life in Jamaica. He and Alice sailed around the world in their 46-foot sailboat and owned a rum distillery in Montego Bay before moving to Homosassa about 14 years ago.
Karen reached out to Mercy Transport, which provided free round-trip transportation for the Fletchers from their home in Homosassa and Crystal River. There, two pontoons with captains donated by the Freedom Boat Club waited to take David and Alice onto the water for several hours.
Initially, Karen was concerned by the morning’s hard rain and gusty winds. “But as we left the docks and headed out into Kings Bay, the clouds parted, the sun came out and it turned into a beautiful day,” she says. “It was meant to be.”
No Need for Fish Tales
Members of David’s VITAS hospice team accompanied him onto the Crystal River: Karen, Philip, Physician Joe Hildner, MD; Registered Nurse Sharon Snowden; Volunteer William Devenney and Registered Nurse Ethel Gallagher, who also served as event photographer. Kim Leoffler, a Bay News 9 TV reporter from Tampa, chronicled the day’s events.
Better yet, there was no need for fish tales at the end of the day. The fish, it turns out, followed Mother Nature’s cooperative lead.
David and his fishing companions hauled in a red drum, red snapper, several catfish and a bait-snapping blue crab. In one of the day’s photos, David looks into the camera and issues a heartfelt thumbs-up.
“He had a smile on his face the whole time,” says Karen.