Last Mile Ride Raises Record $56,000 for Patients at End of Life

Last Mile Ride

The Stockwell family is ready to ride Saturday at Gifford Medical Center. (Provided: Janet Miller)

RANDOLPH – Nearly 300 motorcyclists, cyclists and runners/walkers participated in Gifford Medical Center’s eighth annual Last Mile Ride on Saturday, raising a record $56,000 for end-of-life care.

Beneath sunny skies, the day juxtaposed heart-wrenching, yet inspiring, stories of loss with a celebration featuring the high tempo sounds of “Jeanne and The Hi-Tops,” food, fun and prize awards.

Earning the top prize for his fund-raising efforts was Reg Mongeur of Randolph, who collected $3,458 from generous friends, family and strangers alike. A much-anticipated Harley/$5,000 cash raffle was won by Carol Bushey of Brookfield. A quilt made by Gifford nursing staff and a patient went to Martha Howe of Randolph.

Last Mile Ride

Runners sprint through the start line of the 5K Fun Run as part of the Last Mile Ride. (Provided: Tammy Hooker)

Palliative care physicians Dr. Cristine Maloney and Dr. Jonna Goulding along with rider/founder and Gifford nurse Lynda McDermott all addressed the crowds, offering thanks for riders’ efforts to make the hospital’s dream of providing alternative therapies, special wishes and more for free for patients in the last mile of life.

“Everyone has arrived here today for unique personal reasons to unite in a larger, common cause. Many are motivated to be here to honor the loss of a loved one and to ensure that future families shepherding someone to the end of life are granted gifts or services … ,” Gifford Director of Development Ashley Lincoln said.

Last Mile Ride

Cyclists leave Gifford Medical Center Saturday for the Last Mile Ride. (Provided: Janet Miller)

“The enthusiasm of this crowd and the building excitement of riders garners more and more sponsors, gives me and the staff at Gifford … not only financial reserves but emotional reserves to walk alongside our friends and neighbors on some of their longest days,” Lincoln continued.

Shelly Pearce knows how long those days can be. Her husband Kevin died in the Garden Room on July 4. On Saturday, Shelly Pearce offered an emotional, personal thanks to riders.

“The Last Mile Ride funds helped us as a family in numerous ways,” said Pearce, describing massages for pain management, meals for the family, a gas card and a special family celebration. “So whether this is your first or your eighth time participating in the Last Mile Ride, I want you all to know what a difference you making in a patient and their family’s life. Keep participating or volunteering even if it seems like a small thing, because it is very important and appreciated.”

Last Mile Ride

Led by Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, motorcyclists return to Gifford during the Last Mile Ride held Saturday in support of end-of-life care. (Provided: Janet Miller)

The Last Mile Ride began in 2006 when McDermott brought the idea forward to help provide comfort measures for people in life’s last mile. The first ride was held in 2006, and since its number of participants, funds raised and impact have all grown.

The event now includes a 5K and cycle ride in addition to the popular motorcycle ride. And this year’s event featured a Friday night “Kick-Off Rally” of dinner and dancing at the Three Stallion Inn with more than 80 community members and Last Mile participants in attendance.

The Randolph Area Chamber of Commerce made the event possible.

Last Mile Ride

Cyclists and motorcyclists line up for the post-ride BBQ. (Provided: Janet Miller)

The Last Mile Ride was made possible by a huge group of volunteers, who were mostly Gifford employees who gave up their Saturday to support the cause, as well as volunteers from the Combat Veterans Motorcycle Association, Orange County Sheriff Bill Bohnyak, the Green Mountain Bike Patrol, police support in multiple towns, and Terry Heath and Erin Bianchi of Massage Professionals of Randolph.

Significant community involvement came in the forms of people lining the event routes to show support and many, many sponsors. Among this year’s sponsors were the Frankenburg Agency Inc., Froggy 100.9, Lucky’s Trailer Sales, Northfield Savings Bank, Wilkins Harley-Davidson, Booth Brothers Dairy, Connor Contracting, E-Management Associates, Mascoma Savings Bank, Aubuchon Hardware, Barry T. Chouinard Inc., Dimmik Wastewater Service, Gillespie Fuels and Propane, Infinitt North America, K&R Rentals and Storage, Kleen Inc., Magee Office Products, MetLife, Rain or Shine Tent and Events Company, Schiring Radiographic Imaging, Superior Development and many others.

Next year’s Last Mile Ride will be Aug. 16, or the third Saturday in August.

Last Mile Ride

Shelly Pearce, right, offers her heartfelt thanks to Last Mile riders as her daughter, Samantha Blakeney, provides her comfort. Pearce’s husband, who was Blakeney’s stepfather, died just last month in the Garden Room at Gifford. The ride raises money for patients like Kevin and families like the Pearces. (Provided: Tammy Hooker)

‘Start The Conversation’

All ages invited to join local experts in talking about end-of-life care options, to improve quality of life now.

Start the ConversationRANDOLPH – Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire, the Vermont Ethics Network and Gifford Medical Center’s Advanced Illness Care Team are joining to create a community discussion around end-of-life care planning.

Called “Start The Conversation,” the talk will be held on Nov. 29 from 5-6:30 p.m. in Gifford’s Conference Center at the main medical center in Randolph.

“Start The Conversation” is a public education initiative of Vermont’s Visiting Nurse and home health and hospice agencies in partnership with the Vermont Ethics Network. Collaborating with medical providers like Gifford, the talk is offered around the state. A Web site, starttheconversationvt.org, also focuses on the issue of end-of-life planning.

“In life we prepare for everything: college, marriage, children and retirement. Despite the conversations we have for these important milestones, rarely do we have conversations about how we want to be cared for at the end of our lives,” explains the site.

“Talking is the single most important thing that you can do to prepare for the death of someone you love. While difficult, the end of life can be amazingly rich. Talking about this time makes a rich ending more likely. Often such conversations are avoided out of an understandable desire to spare each other’s feelings. They need not be.”

An Advance Directive is one way to get the conversation started and experts leading this Nov. 29 talk in Randolph will talk about end-of-life options, medical decision making and how to put ones wishes in writing through an Advance Directive.

“Planning for end-of-life care before it becomes a worry is as important as all the other life plans you make. Having a plan in place makes it easier for you, your doctor and your loved ones if you are unable to tell them your health care choices because of an injury or serious illness,” explains Jared King, business development manager for Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire.

“Every moment is precious – especially at the end-of-life. Starting the conversation early can ensure that your choices are heard. It also means that when time becomes short, it can be spent doing what you most enjoy and not making last-minute decisions.”

As a psychologist and member of Gifford’s inpatient care management team, Cory Gould spends much of her day talking to patients about Advance Directives. “We spend a lot of the day holding discussions with family members about how to talk about death,” Gould says. “The beauty of bringing this discussion to the forefront is to improve the quality of all of our lives.”

If end-of-life wishes are known there is more opportunity to enjoy the present and erase the worry, Gould explains. Discussing how one wants to celebrate the end can also increase understanding about what matters most to that individual in life. “Thinking about death is a way of celebrating life,” Gould says.

For Gifford and its Advanced Illness Care Team, the talk will be the first in a series on death and dying. Titled “A ‘Good’ Death,” the series will look at what is a “good” death, family dynamics when death approaches, what happens when someone dies, grief and more. The series begins with “Start The Conversation.”

“Start The Conversation” is free and open to people of all ages. Registration is not required. The Gifford Conference Center is on the first floor of the medical center and marked by a green awning from the patient parking area. For handicap access, take the elevator from the main lobby to the first floor and follow signs to the Conference Center.

To learn more about this talk or the upcoming series, call Gould at (802) 728-2608 .

 

Connie Niland: A lady and an optimist

Niland family carrying on ‘attitude of gratitude’ by joining Last Mile Ride

Connie Niland

Connie smiles on her 94th birthday on Dec. 24, 2011.

RANDOLPH – Connie Niland was a fearless optimist.

So even when her husband died of a massive heart attack on the day of his retirement, she carried forth with his plan to move from their home in Peabody, Mass., to Vermont.
Connie and her youngest daughter Lisa (now Lisa Hill of Bethel) moved to Barnard in 1972 when Lisa was 13 and Connie was 55.

In Massachusetts, Connie had offered guided tours of the North Shore for women, but mostly stayed home with her four children and played golf. In Vermont, Connie went to work as an administrative assistant first at Dartmouth College and then Vermont Law School. She also shoveled the roof, maintained the home and took care of Lisa and the family’s horses. The older children were already out of the house.

Connie Niland

Connie, born Constance Allington, age 7 months, sits in a high chair on her family’s back lawn in Everett, Mass., on July 12, 1918.

Connie worked until age 84 and then filled in on vacations. Lisa recalls her mom’s intellectually curiosity. “She just had this wonderful curiosity about people and ideas.” Connie loved the law school students and computer technology. She learned to Skype and text her older children. “She was as fearless as that as she was with other things.”
And she was fearless about death.

Lisa calls her mom a “buddhiscopalian.” She read incessantly about spirituality and a relationship with God.

In 2002, she moved from Barnard to an apartment in Randolph on Randolph Avenue, when the home became too much to take care of alone. “She really considered that she had moved from the country to the city,” Lisa says.

And Connie embraced her new community. She became active with the Randolph Senior Citizen Center, the Gifford Medical Center Auxiliary and began volunteering at Gifford. “My mother was just so grateful for Gifford and loved that it was such an important part of the community where she had chosen to live,” Lisa says of her local hospital.

Connie Niland

This undated photo shows a younger Connie Niland.

Connie also continued to play golf into late 80s and was such an optimist that age 90 she took out a four-year lease on a car.

Eventually rheumatoid arthritis and limited mobility would cause her to stop driving, but still Connie lived well and with her constant “attitude of gratitude.”

She turned 94 on Christmas Eve last year. After a day of visiting with family and drinking a bit of champagne – one of Connie’s favorite – Lisa called to check in. “I’m just sitting here thinking about how lucky I am and how happy I am,” Connie told her youngest.

A few days after New Year’s she had a stroke.

Connie Niland

Connie married husband William Niland in Boston in 1941. He died in 1972.

On a whim, Lisa visited on New Year’s Eve day, a Saturday, with Connie’s monthly scratch tickets and her winnings from the previous month. “When I got there, she was out of it,” says Lisa, who brought her mother to the Emergency Department. She had a urinary tract infection but a CT scan revealed nothing else unusual.

Lisa stayed with Connie in Randolph over the weekend. They cooked, laughed and giggled, and had a great time. On Monday, the day after New Year’s, they enjoyed a nice lunch. After lunch, Lisa was rubbing lotion on her mom’s face and asking her a question, when Connie failed to respond. When she finally looked up, her face pointed to one side. “I literally had her face in my hands,” says Lisa, and “It was clear that she had had a stroke.” Lisa activated Connie’s Lifeline and awaited an ambulance to bring her to Gifford.

Connie Niland

Connie poses with Karen Lyford of Chelsea at the Vermont Law School, where Connie worked until age 84.

She didn’t get better.

“She clearly wasn’t progressing. It was just clear that she had a really devastating event,” says Lisa, who was faced with the decision of moving her mother to a nursing home.

That Friday, Lisa came to the hospital ready to do just that, but Connie, who “couldn’t stand” nursing homes, had made a different decision. She had stopped eating, was growing sicker and was moved to the Garden Room for end-of-life patients at Gifford.

She was there exactly one week until her death on Jan. 13 of this year. The whole family came, all four children, including two or three who stayed over every night, and almost every grandchild. The room, which includes a patient room and family room, was filled with 12 or more people at a time.

Connie Niland

Connie Niland, 1917 – 2012

“My mother was very gracious and she loved to entertain. She had a steady stream of people (visiting her in the Garden Room), and we were loud. We sat with her and we talked about great times in our family’s life and we told the funny stories that we always told when we’re together,” Lisa recalls.

The family faced no difficult choices. Connie had made her wishes clear in “the most beautifully written Advance Directive.”

They brought her quilt from home and other comfort items were provided in a kit from the hospital. The hospital fed the family during their weeklong stay. Connie had Reiki for pain management as well as music therapy from Brookfield’s Islene Runningdeer and local hospice singing group “River Bend.”

Most importantly, says Lisa, the hospital staff preserved Connie’s dignity – an important measure for the family and for Connie who was foremost always a “lady.”

“That experience of being in the Garden Room and the support that we had was such a beautiful experience. It just was incredible to us how thoughtful everyone was,” says Lisa.

The special services Connie and her family received – the family meals, Comfort Kit and music therapy – were provided thanks to funds raised at Gifford’s annual Last Mile Ride – a charity motorcycle ride this year to be held on Aug. 18.

And this year, Lisa, her brother Richard and two friends will be participating in the Last Mile Ride for the first time.

“For us, it’s knowing what we received in the Garden Room, we want to make sure we give back a little of that so another family can have an island of calm in the middle of such chaos,” Lisa says. “Until you are there you have no idea how much you need and our family was just so overwhelmed with how much (hospital staff) did for us.”

The Last Mile Ride is supports end-of-life and advanced illness care at Gifford Medical Center, including free services for patients and their families. This year’s ride is Aug. 18. The event also includes a cyclist ride and 5K. Learn more online at www.giffordmed.org or call (802) 728-2380. Participants can register up to and on the day of the event.