Louisville, Ky. – At the VA hospital in Louisville, Kentucky, an organization is trying to make sure no veteran dies alone.
“As soon as those three players walked in the door, he sat up in bed, he was smiling. They handed him a U of L football that was autographed. It just made his life, I mean he has a short time left and it was what he wanted at the end,” says Army veteran Renee Finnegan.
On Saturday, Air Force veteran and avid University of Louisville fan Tim Webb got the visit of his lifetime from U of L football player Will Gardner, along with Kentucky female veteran of the year Lindsay Gargotta.
“When the players left, I asked them, ‘How does that feel that somebody is dying and they want you to come visit them?’ and the three young men were just really, really taken by it,” says Finnegan.
And you do not have to be a football star to change someone’s life.
“I started three years ago, and I love it. Some of my friends think that’s weird, but I love it,” says Finnegan
That’s because there’s power in a smile, a hug, and a hand to hold.
“I love being able to make a veteran feel better, even if it’s just holding their hand. That they know that somebody is there with them.”
No Veteran Dies Alone is a national program and it’s in place at Louisville’s VA hospital. Rarely does a vet die alone here. The program is designed for vets who have no family, but often Finnegan finds herself helping families who won’t leave their loved ones’ side.
“‘How about I stay with him? I promise you I’ll stay with him until you get a shower or run home, do some errands,’ and they… They think you’ve given them a million dollars.”
Volunteers are trained and put on a call list, but if no one is available, nurses often have to step in.
“They couldn’t get a volunteer — say there’s no one on the list that could come in that night — then they would try and free up each other so that somebody could be with the patient, so they wouldn’t die alone,” says Associate Chief of Staff Dr. Lisa Vuocolo.
Typically, volunteers are only called in a few times a year to give veterans dignity, honor and love as they leave this world.
“You know, a lot of the whole military culture is, you know, you leave no man behind,” says Dr. Vuocolo.