Hospice Workers, Firefighters Fulfill Dying Man's Wish

| by Michael Howard
Hospice patient Edward Reis has final trek outdoorsHospice patient Edward Reis has final trek outdoors

Thanks to the efforts of two dedicated hospice workers and a fire department's medical unit, a dying man's final wish was fulfilled.

Edward Reis, of Washington state, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis when he was 54, according to ABC News. The disease left him bed-ridden, which was particularly hard on Reis given his love for the outdoors. As the former forest ranger neared the end, his nursing home decided to give him a final taste of fresh air.

"I could just see his spirit kind of light up as soon as we started talking [about] being outside, and in the forest in particular, and I had just the thought right at that moment that, 'Gosh, it would be good if we could get him outside,'" Evergreen Hospice chaplain Curt Huber told ABC News.

They contacted a local fire department, and within two weeks Reis was on his way to the Meadowdale Beach Park in Edmonds, Washington.

At the park, Reis' nurse, Leigh Gardner, joined Huber and seven members of the fire department as they wheeled Reis around the park on his gurney.

"The wheels of a gurney are like a shopping cart, so very small wheels on a trail, and it wasn't like one of those little running trails at all, it was like a hiking trail ... and we would stop every so often and he would just sit and listen,” Gardner told ABC News. "And you know I went over to him and I said, 'Are you happy?' He's like, 'I'm so happy.'"

Throughout the hike, the firefighters would bring pieces of cedar to Reis' gurney so that he could breathe in the scent.

"He was just smiling the whole time," Gardner said. "He was saying he was so happy. He was incredibly grateful to us."

One of the firefighters, Shane Cooper, said the experience was a "highlight" of his career, especially since he and his colleagues had recovered dozens of bodies from a mudslide in Oso, Washington, not long before.

"We saw a lot of bad things up there in Oso, and this was a time to just watch somebody at the end of their life enjoy what they could," he said. "It felt good inside to help him and to watch his face. The payment was in his expression when he was out there."

Reis passed away a few weeks later. It remains unknown whether he had ever married or had children.

"We were kind of his family in the end," Gardner said. "For the first couple of weeks after he'd passed away I was like, 'It's so weird not going three times a week and working so hard to take care of him.' It felt a little odd. So I miss his presence and just, you know, he was a gentle, gentle soul."

The Evergreen Hospice Volunteers described how rewarding the experience was on their Facebook page.

"People sometimes think that working in hospice care is depressing," they wrote. "This story … demonstrates the depths of the rewards that caring for the dying can bring."

Sources: ABC News via Yahoo!, Evergreen Hospice Volunteers/Facebook / Photo credit: ABC News via Yahoo!

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