Kevin Donnelly and his wife, Eileen, hadn't celebrated their wedding anniversary with a formal party for 42 years. But with Kevin in the hospital battling lung cancer and respiratory failure, nursing staff at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato knew the couple's 43rd anniversary carried extra weight.
When Julie Sanger, a nurse administrator, learned that Aug. 25 was their special date, she quickly gathered a team to give the couple a celebration to remember.
The team made quick work of the logistics to determine how they could host the event in the hospital courtyard.
"Kevin was a little hesitant at first, but that was mainly because he didn't want to burden us," says Dustin Schipper, a nurse manager. "After we assured him that it was our honor, he approved. We even had Shylah Cassidy, one of our ICU nurses, use her cosmetology skills to give Kevin a haircut and a shave."
The Donnellys were joined in the courtyard by 11 loved ones for cake and social time.
Despite being tired and even nodding off a few times, Kevin stayed for two full hours. He told members of the nursing team that he appreciated the fresh air and being outside.
"I'm so proud of the team for their genuine commitment to making this happen — simply to interject a few hours of happiness into an otherwise difficult situation."Julie Sanger
The unique occasion had an impact on the nurses, as well.
"I love that we were able to help him be surrounded by family as if he wasn't in the hospital," says McKenzie Hemann, one of the nurses on Kevin's care team. "We were able to help things feel more natural by placing them in a comfortable gathering area where Kevin and Eileen were able to be themselves and enjoy time with their loved ones without the focus being on health care."
She adds, "It was truly special. I haven't seen Kevin smile as much as he did when he saw his family outside."
According to Sanger, the small touches and extra efforts by the care team are what resonated most with her: from helping Kevin with personal grooming to work by a patient care assistant to strategically place Kevin's medical tubes in a less prominent way so they weren't as visible in photos. She says the team was fully engaged in going above and beyond.
"Meeting patients' needs is what we do every day, but the focus on Kevin and Eileen's emotional needs is what sets this situation apart," Sanger says.
"I'm so proud of the team for their genuine commitment to making this happen — simply to interject a few hours of happiness into an otherwise difficult situation," she says. "Making a difference in people's lives is why we went into nursing."