Hospice Patient Gets Last Wish to Return to Nature, Thanks to Local Firefighters and Caregivers

PHOTO: Edward Reis, a patient with EvergreenHealth Hospice, had been a forest ranger. The hospice arranged with the local fire department to take Reis out into the woods one last time before he died.
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Edward Reis loved it when his hospice nurse, Leigh Gardner, would bring him a warm chocolate chip cookies from Starbucks every Friday, Gardner said.

Reis, 62, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2008. For two hours a day, three days per week, Gardner, a registered nurse case manager with Evergreen Health Hospice in Washington state, would visit Reis in the Edmonds, Washington, adult nursing home where he lived.

The former forest surveyor lived for the outdoors, and being bed-bound was hard on him. So when hospice chaplain Curt Huber told her of his idea to get Reis back to the great outdoors, Gardner told ABC News in a Sunday interview that she had only one answer: “I was like ‘Oh, anything I can do. I want to make this happen.’”

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Huber contacted the chaplain at the Snohomish Fire District 1 and they got other people involved in the discussion. Two weeks later, a fire department medical unit was at the adult home to pick up Reis and, along with a fire truck, take him to the Meadowdale Beach Park in Edmonds.

Once there, seven members of the fire department -- accompanied by Gardner and Huber -- took Reis on a nearly three hour tour of the park. Wheeling him on his gurney, they took him on trail after trail, stopping so he could listen to a running brook or gaze at a verdant vista.

“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 said of the March 26 excursion. “And you know I went over to him and I said, ‘Are you happy?’ He’s like, ‘I’m so happy.’”

Gardner said the firefighters would periodically go off and get a piece of cedar and bring it to Reis's gurney, holding it near his face so he could inhale the fragrance of the forest.

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

Reis died not long afterward -- on April 13, but the act of kindness that the nursing home and the fire department performed for him is just now resonating online.

A June 9 post on the Evergreen Hospice Volunteers Facebook page that details the incident had been liked more than 36,000 times and shared more than 9,000 times as of Monday night, with many posters sending thanks and good wishes to everyone involved in helping Reis on his final trip outdoors.

Colleen Cutcheon of Queensland, Australia, wrote: “How beautiful for Ed and how wonderful are all those dear people who transported him and made his final wish come true. Great to read a story such as this.”

Kirstie Mulvihill added: “This is how we should care for the dying always with dignity and respect this story made me cry.”

Huber said he believed the trip outdoors was a “spiritual need” for Reis.

On his second visit with Reis, Huber said, they had a conversation about where the patient had most felt the presence of God. Reis immediately began to talk about the forest, Huber said.

“I could just see his spirit kind of light up as soon as we started talking 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,’” Huber recalled.

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