VITAS Healthcare Team Makes a Hospice Patient’s Bucket List Wish Come True

By  //  October 10, 2021

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From the front porch where Chaplain Rich sits and chats with hospice patient John, above, the background noise for their friendly conversations is often the hum of small airplanes taking off from a nearby airport. Never in his 81 years did John think that he would one day be sitting in the cockpit of a Cessna 172, sharing the controls with a pilot he’d just met and staring down over the landscape he calls home.

BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – From the front porch where Chaplain Rich sits and chats with hospice patient John, the background noise for their friendly conversations is often the hum of small airplanes taking off from a nearby airport.

Never in his 81 years did John think that he would one day be sitting in the cockpit of a Cessna 172, sharing the controls with a pilot he’d just met and staring down over the landscape he calls home.

Thanks to the committed efforts of his VITAS Healthcare hospice care team and several local volunteers, John finally found the answer to a question his daughter said he asked frequently as he watched planes take off: “I wonder what it’s like up there?”

A Chaplain’s Chat Seeds the Idea 


Rich says the seeds for the flight were planted when John mentioned that in all his years of living next to an airport, he’d never been up in the air. The chaplain turned to his patient and said, “Let me think about that, John. We might be able to make this happen.”

In less than a week, all the pieces fell in place, thanks to coordination by VITAS team members and local volunteers. John’s social worker, for example, helped with logistics and coordination.

“We’re going to be here for you,” she reassured John and his family. “We’re going to take you through this. We’re going to support you every step of the way.”

The pilot, whose mother is also in VITAS’ care, volunteered his time, expertise, the plane, and fuel to make the flight happen.

From the front porch where Chaplain Rich sits and chats with hospice patient John, above, the background noise for their friendly conversations is often the hum of small airplanes taking off from a nearby airport. Never in his 81 years did John think that he would one day be sitting in the cockpit of a Cessna 172, sharing the controls with a pilot he’d just met and staring down over the landscape he calls home.

WATCH THIS VIDEO, created by Storyvox, that captures John’s experience.

Into the Wild Blue Yonder

And so it was that on a slightly overcast day, John climbed into the co-pilot’s seat next to the pilot and was soon looking down in awe as the plane circled the lakes, fields, and landmarks of the landscape.

At one point, the pilot radioed the tower at the nearby airfield and received permission to circle his passenger’s house and surrounding neighborhood.

Not only did John get his wish to fly, he also made the front page of the local newspaper and a segment on the evening news.

A Can-Do Attitude and VITAS Values: ‘Patients and Families Come First’

The VITAS Difference describes how the team supports patients and each other by demonstrating commitment, compassion, and can-do attitude.

“It was so good to see John come out of that plane with his thumbs up,” says Rich. “He was so happy after that flight, and it was all he talked about. It’s just a thrill knowing that we could do something for someone like John.” It was a journey made possible thanks to the VITAS Difference.

On a follow-up home visit three weeks later, Rich found an even more energetic, appreciative patient.

“(John) literally came alive after that flight,” he says. “He told me, ‘Chaplain, I feel so good. I want to love my wife more. I want to live my life more. I just thank you, because you created this happiness for me.’”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kathleen Kashow is general manager for VITAS Healthcare in Brevard County. To learn more about fulfilling volunteer opportunities in hospice, call VITAS at 321.339.2893 or visit VITAS.com/Volunteer.

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