The Faces Behind Our Campaign

The Faces and Stories Behind the Campaign

In a series of articles, we would like to introduce you to some very special people who have agreed to take part in Good Sam’s media campaign. They are local residents who have become part of our Good Sam family. Their willingness to share their personal journeys in an effort to raise awareness of hospice care is genuinely appreciated. They have walked the end-of-life path and they have a story to tell. 

Get to know several of these folks here:

Who is Dick Wall?

“He’s different since December 2014,” Wall said confidently. Even though his wife, Carol, navigated a long illness and they knew what to expect, “you are never prepared,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was preparing for.”

Dick Wall and Carol Wall grew up together. They were married January 8, 1972. He was 19 and she was 20. They had two sons and one daughter, all of whom have come together in an effort to share their wife’s/mom’s story. Carol Wall received her third cancer diagnosis in 2012. Good Sam was privileged to be alongside the Wall family the latter half of 2014. Wall explains his journey over the past few years as one where every turn was based on her. “Now, all those turns are new,” he said. Since his wife’s death, he has recognized that these turns are now not endings, but rather beginnings and that hospice helped him with that. He went on to explain that on the one hand, he is very busy and, on the other hand, he feels like he has all the time in the world.

What’s His Story?

Wall continues managing his local law practice, but he now has an additional passion – joining with his family to promote Carol’s first-person account of her unlikely friendship with Giles Owita, a Kenyan gardener. Her book, “Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart,” published in March 2014 to critical acclaim and was dubbed of the best books of the year by USA Today and AARP. The book’s message is simple, yet profound. It’s about friendship, faith, humanity, transformation and the wonderful secrets of life. Mr. Wall now spends much time speaking with groups about his wife’s journey to a deeper understanding of life, even in the midst of illness and grief.

The book has enduring stories, Wall suggests, including a true love story, a dream that was interrupted and the gift of life perspective. “Giles was the teacher and Carol was the student,” he explains. Giles Owita may not have intended for their conversations to be about end-of-life and preparation but, nevertheless, they were. In her own words, Carol said “He [Giles] was the best of teachers. What he taught me was what you do when that script you have written for your life doesn’t work out. How do we graciously slip into Plan B.” (excerpt from video on CarolWall.com).

Why Does He Believe in the “Good Sam. Great Talk.” Campaign?

“Cure is the elimination of disease,” said Wall. “But healing is about being made whole. That’s what hospice helps us learn, both in the days before and after death.” He goes on to explain that you never “get over” loss, but that you can “heal.” He references two noteworthy quotes from the book and describes the healing perspective of hospice as encompassing these fundamental truths:

“Every day brings something good.”   Giles Owita

“The ground in winter holds a thousand lovely secrets.”   Carol Wall

“What a way to live,” says Wall. “If you can embrace that………..that’s a pretty rich life.”

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Who is Leigh Dunnagan?

Leigh is a Roanoke native. She is married to Machelle and has a son named Shaffer and a daughter named Julia who you’ll see with her mom in Good Sam’s campaign ads.  Leigh is the Business Development Support Manager for Gentry Locke.  She is a true fan of animals, giving back to the community, chocolate and Earl Grey tea!  But, most of all, her family is her genuine priority and it was her family, namely her mom, who she faithfully accompanied on a very difficult road.

What’s Her Story?

Leigh was the primary caregiver for her mom who was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in January 2010. It was her mom’s wishes to fight the cancer with everything they had and Leigh was intent on honoring that.  Unfortunately, as time went on, her mom did not tolerate the aggressive treatment well and increasingly became quite sick and very weak.  By the end of the year, she was experiencing major treatment-related issues and her esophagus was fully deteriorated.  The question to the doctor was simple, “What do we do?  How can we fix this?” Leigh said.  Sadly, the response was equally as simple.  “We can’t.”

The day before Christmas eve, Leigh and her family brought their mom home with Good Sam. “We just weren’t prepared,” Leigh said as she described those first few days home. “We didn’t know anything about hospice, how it worked and didn’t know anyone who had any experience with it. “  She described it as a very ‘chaotic’ time.  “We were mentally not ready for this to be happening and we were angry.”  However, looking back, she says she is “very grateful to have had the support from hospice.”

Good Sam’s nurse was there to help them get settled in with medications, equipment and supplies. She was there to help answer questions and provide education.  She was there at the end to make sure the family was supported in their deep loss.  One of the experiences she remembers talking to the nurse about was her mom’s moments of lucidity when she spoke of what she was seeing.   “I remember, at one point, mom told me that she had to go with her friends,” Leigh remembers.  “I told her that she should……..that it was o.k. to go.  But, she wrinkled her face as if to say ‘No, not quite yet.’

Within a couple of weeks of her return home, Leigh’s mom went into a coma and died shortly thereafter.

Why Does She Believe in the “Good Sam. Great Talk.” Campaign?

While her mom was realistic and addressed what she wanted done after death, they did not spend as much time discussing the process of dying.  While she does not regret proceeding full-steam ahead according to her mom’s request, Leigh admits that she wishes they would have discussed hospice earlier, just in case, because “the truth is, things don’t always turn out the way you imagine they might.”  She said that her mom was very practical, but when everything started happening so quickly, her mom did not want to address the fact that she was dying.  “Somehow, we lost sight of the possibility that this may not go the way we want.”

As is often the case, they learned a great deal during that painful process. Today, Leigh says her kids are very comfortable with talking about end-of-life.  “Death is real,” she adds.  “It happens to everyone.”

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Who is Jan Wallace?

In 2008, Jan Wallace became a full-time caregiver, a role she did not anticipate when she and her husband, Clifford, moved from New York to Floyd in 1986. Clifford was enjoying his retirement, including his woodworking hobby, when he suffered a major brain stem stroke and, shortly afterward, was diagnosed Lewy Body dementia.  Through rehab, frequent falls, some hills and many valleys, it was Jan who managed it all.  In 2013, her husband’s doctor suggested hospice.

“I thought that hospice meant that it was the end,” Jan explained. But she agreed to it when his doctor explained the benefit it was for her and her own mother.  “If it is good enough for your Mom,” said Jan, “then it’s good enough for me.”  She called Good Sam.

What’s Her Story?

“Good Sam was at my house the very next day and it was the difference I needed,” Jan said. “My only regret is that I didn’t call sooner.  They did everything they said they would do and continuously exceeded my expectations.”

In the midst of taking care of her husband, Jan was also caring for her daughter, Theresa, who had come to live with them after losing her eyesight following a bout of MRSA. Not only that, Jan was also fighting her own battle – a second diagnosis of Hodgkins Lymphoma.

“I have always been self-sufficient and I really do not like to ask for help so I really appreciated the way Good Sam empowered me.” She explained that Good Sam’s nurse “showed” her how to take care of some of the issues they were dealing with in terms of equipment and she always spoke directly and respectfully to her husband.  “She also helped me prepare myself for what was to come, but I don’t think you’re ever really ready.”  After two strokes in three weeks, Clifford passed away with Jan and their two children there in the home with him.

Within minutes, a Good Sam nurse joined them. “My son wanted to change his Dad’s clothes and our nurse helped him. After the funeral home left, our nurse stayed by our side,” Jan remembered.  “And, little did I know, I would be saying ‘goodbye’ again sixteen days later.”

Jan’s daughter, Theresa, died those sixteen days later from a MRSA-related infection.

Why Does She Believe in the “Good Sam. Great Talk.” Campaign?

Following a series of scans, interventions, tests and conversations, Jan made the excruciating decision to remove her daughter from life support. “I knew what I had to do,” she said.  “We had talked about it years ago.  She had told me, ‘If I can’t be Theresa, I don’t want to be.’”  On April 19, 2015, Jan’s daughter, Theresa, passed away. She was 44 years old.   “It cut me off at my knees, really,” Jan said, “but I’m so thankful that we had already had that conversation.”

Jan and Clifford had also talked about their wishes following Jan’s father’s death. She said they watched what some of their family went through in that loss and they wanted something different.  Like Theresa, she knew what Clifford wanted when the time came. “I have also had the same conversation with my son and his family,” Jan added.  “I’ve told them that if I get in that same position, do not feel guilty about making the same decision I had to make.”

Today, Jan’s health is good. She went on to attend “Living with Loss,” one of Good Sam’s support groups and then on to volunteering with Good Sam.  In addition, she has found herself regularly alongside others who are dealing with loss in the role of mentor and friend.  “We talk and we cry and we laugh.”  She explained that she learned a great deal from the support groups on how to share with others and how to help them have those difficult conversations.  In addition, she now leads a support group for parents who have lost children and journals on Face Book as a venue for others learn from her journey.

“I just had this feeling of sort of being ‘pushed’ to move on. I didn’t really know what to do, but I knew I still had family, friends and grandkids so I had to do something,” she said.  “Life can change in a second.  Mine sure did.  But if I can help someone, it’s all worthwhile.”

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Who is Reggie Davis?

“I am the most blessed person you’ll ever talk to,” Reggie says as he describes himself. In every respect, Reggie is grateful for his life experiences and his journey thus far.  He is a gentle, humble man whom countless people in the Roanoke valley have had the privilege to meet.  Many of his friendships were formed during the 35 years he worked at  Davidson’s, the prominent men’s clothing store in Roanoke, but Reggie is still as helpful and engaging with everyone he encounters along his current path and quickly makes another new friend.

Among other interests, Reggie is active at First Baptist Gainesboro and serves on the Good Sam Board of Directors, offering the unique and valued perspective of a hospice family member. He also spends much of his time working in his yard because he truly enjoys the outdoors.

He grew up in Roanoke and graduated from Lucy Addison High School. He married his high school sweet heart, Gerri, who he described as “one of the prettiest girls in the school.”  Their son, Darrell, is Reggie’s “pride and joy,” as are his three granddaughters.  He and Gerri had 56 years together.

What’s His Story?

Reggie’s wife’s illness came up suddenly. Gerri developed migraines that, after about a year, were diagnosed as brain cancer.  For eight years, Reggie cared for her as she struggled with various symptoms of her cancer.  “She was a very good patient,” he said.  “I never heard her ask, ‘why me, God.’”  Reggie was a devout caregiver and worked hard over the years to help his wife enjoy life and remain as comfortable as possible.  He was not familiar with the hospice philosophy of care until his good friends, Linda Manns and Rev.  Bill Lee, suggested that it may be time to get in touch with hospice to see how they could offer him some support.

When Good Sam became involved, Reggie said “they made an uncomfortable situation bearable.” Gerri genuinely looked forward to the visits from Good Sam staff and volunteers, and they taught him a lot each time they came to visit.  “I felt at ease when they were coming,” he explained “and left home with a smile on my face knowing that she was happy.”  Reggie remembers a specific moment when the hospice nurse took the time to put Gerri’s hair up in braids and how very happy that made her.  “I’ll be forever grateful,” he said.  The night before she died, they shared her favorite black walnut ice-cream together.

“Good Sam was there for us from the very first day,” he said. “The day Gerri died, the nurse was at our house within 15 minutes.  They made sure I knew I wasn’t alone.”

Why Does He Believe in the “Good Sam. Great Talk.” Campaign?

“I made the right decision when I called Good Sam for my wife,” Reggie says. “I did the best I could and then they helped make her journey easier. It was the beginning of relief for me.”

Reggie went on to say that he was honored to be part of the media campaign because he wanted to help educate others about the hospice philosophy of care. If it weren’t for his friends, he would not have known this was available to him.  “I was very proud to have had the experience I had,” he said.  “I would recommend Good Samaritan Hospice to anyone because I know they will be so grateful for this kind of service and care.  As far as I’m concerned, Good Sam deserves a medal for being so wonderful.”

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Who is Russ Beimler?

Russ is a husband of 48 years, a father to both a son and a daughter, a grandfather to five grandchildren, a volunteer, a caregiver, a friend, and a retiree with an extremely active calendar. He is a graduate from Milwaukee School of Engineering, has a Masters in physics from Lynchburg College and is retired from GE as an electrical engineer.  He and his wife, Joan, are members of a local Secular Franciscan Fraternity.  He has done everything from cross-country and international travel to being a co-team manager for his grandson’s Destination Imagination teams.  He is currently helping in the planning of a college fraternity reunion, heavily involved in an Alzheimer’s support group, serving on a steering committee for a caregiver’s group at his church, navigating numerous “handyman” tasks for others and is an after-school driver for his grandchildren’s activities.  His life is a wide-array of caring for others in a variety of capacities, including his wife.  Joan started showing signs of Alzheimer’s about 10 years ago and now resides at Brookdale Roanoke, Alzheimer’s & Dementia Care  where he faithfully visits her almost every day – with an apple and Trident gum in hand.

What’s His Story?

Russ and Joan met on a blind date in college. They married in Wisconsin and lived in several states before moving to Virginia, first to Lynchburg and then to Roanoke.  Joan’s mom had Alzheimer’s and they were her primary caregivers so Russ had some significant exposure to the disease before he started noticing Joan’s early onset around 60. It was the little subtleties of forgetfulness that caught Russ’s attention and, in time, they began pursing tests and studies through Duke, UVA and other research facilities.  The results did, indeed, provide a diagnosis of this all-too-familiar disease.  Prior to this, Russ and Joan had always been active in their community and had served as volunteers at a Lynchburg hospice.  When they moved to Roanoke, they continued this path and began serving as family support volunteers at Good Sam.   They served in this capacity for two years. When asked about his involvement with hospice, Russ said “I just have an inborn concern for people, in general.  The sense of community and goodwill spurs me on.”

Russ and Joan’s story were part of the WDBJ series “The Long Goodbye,” which originated with Alison Parker and was completed by Chris Hurst and Kimberly McBroom. Alison had planned to follow Russ and Joan’s story before her untimely death in August 2015.

Why Does He Believe in the “Good Sam. Great Talk.” Campaign?

Russ said that discussing end-of-life was never a particularly delicate issue for him and Joan, but he recognizes that it is for some. “I can’t talk to Joan about it now, but I know what she wants and I’ve learned a lot through caregiving, volunteering and training.”

“You have to think about things like placement, funeral, discussions with kids, and other issues,” Russ explains. He also feels that simply supporting others in their individual journey helps them get through the fear of whatever they may be facing.  “I hope that sharing my own story helps others prepare.”  In his unassuming way, Russ continues to be a true proponent of hospice care and remains an integral part of the Good Sam family.

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