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Heartland Hospice Volunteer Salutes Veteran Patient at End-of-Life

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Heartland Hospice serving South Central Wisconsin Administrator, Ryan Klaustermeier, was recently in awe of his hospice team and how they continue to Love, Honor and Respect their patients. “To be completely transparent, I have teared up every time I look at these pictures and read Robert’s story and his connection to our veteran volunteer. This is what we do, this is who we are, and we must not allow COVID-19 to rob people from love, honor, respect and dignity.”

Johnny Simmons, Heartland Hospice veteran volunteer, has been visiting with patient Robert Gay since February. They hit it off right away when Robert invited Heartland into his “barracks”. Johnny visited Robert every other week and they always had good talks about their time in the military. Johnny brought some of his military equipment during one of their visits which sparked a lot of conversation.

Due to the visitation restrictions from COVID-19, Johnny was only able to visit a couple of times but made numerous attempts to reach out to Robert via phone calls. Robert began to decline quickly. On March 25th Johnny called and was able to get through to Roberts room, but he was physically unable to have a conversation. Johnny spoke with Robert’s son and told him about their previous visits and his admiration for his father. Johnny expressed his gratitude for Robert’s service to the country.

It became apparent that Robert was declining quickly after the phone call and Johnny reached out to Brittney Behrendt, Heartland Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, letting her know that he would keep Robert and his family in his thoughts and prayers and pray that he would get to see Robert again. Johnny stated that if Robert was close to end-of-life, he would like to show up to his window in uniform and honor him. Wind, cold, rain, whatever the weather conditions, he said he wanted to salute Robert one last time. Heartland made that happen after receiving a nursing report that Robert had declined more and was nearing end-of-life. Brittany called Johnny to inform him about Robert and Johnny was at the facility in full uniform within the hour. As Brittany and Johnny walked up to the window, Robert’s Heartland Hospice Social Worker, Allison, opened his bedside window. Brittany spoke to Robert from outside to let him know that Johnny was there to see him and stepped back to allow Johnny and Robert be “together” one last time. Johnny walked up to the window and Robert slightly opened his eyes and Johnny spoke to him, letting him know that he was there, how thankful he was for the time they were able to spend together and thanked him for his service to our country. Johnny said goodbye and took a step back to salute Robert, a friend, brother, and Hero.

Johnny and Bob's son, Andy, were interviewed by NBC 15 about this moment. To watch the interview, click here