Steve’s Last Trip: Rainbow Social Workers Give Patient One Last Wish | Way of life
FORT ATKINSON – Whenever Steve Cunningham had the chance to get on his motorcycle, there was no better feeling in the world for him. Hearing the roar of the engine as he accelerated on the open road gave him an adrenaline rush as well as access to almost any destination and a feeling of freedom with nothing in the way.
“I loved the open landscape. There are just some things you can see on a bike that you can’t see in a car, ”Cunningham said.
Cunningham was a longtime Harley rider and even took a trip to South Florida on his own. He used to take trips everywhere with his wife, Sandra. She died in August 2020 following a long illness. He keeps his ashes with him in his room and talks to him daily. He hopes his ashes will be mixed with his and placed in an urn when the time comes so they can be reunited.
Sadly, for nearly two years, Cunningham couldn’t get the same feeling of being on the road. Cunningham not only lost his wife, but his health began to decline and his energy declined.
He became a patient of Rainbow Hospice Care and a resident of Fort Atkinson Health Care Center. Cunningham still wanted to ride. But he had to sell his motorbike when he moved into the retirement home. Getting back on a bike with his illness seemed almost impossible. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, a race seemed more unlikely.
“I never thought of getting on or approaching a bike again,” Cunningham said.
But Rainbow Anderson’s social worker discovered in her conversations with Cunningham that they share a special bond. They both liked to ride motorcycles.
“Cunningham thought he would never come out again,” Anderson said. “Cunningham spoke of a Fort Atkinson Health Center staff member who stops outside his window when the weather warms up and turns his bike around for him. Cunningham was delighted to just hear this bike. He often spoke of wanting to be strong enough to go back and ride.
As facilities ease COVID-19 restrictions, Anderson began to think about how she could get Cunningham back in the sidecar of a motorcycle.
“I know how much it means to me to get out on the road, so I knew it would be important for Cunningham,” said Anderson. “It’s an indescribable experience to be on a Harley with the wind in your hair. I knew it would be one thing that would make him happy. He didn’t think I could make it, but said it would be great if I could. “
Anderson only rides solo, so she doesn’t have a sidecar, but knew that another Rainbow social worker, Phalin, also had a passion for motorcycles. Phalin grew up in the back of motorcycles and in a sidecar with his father and still rides today.
Phalin had never met Cunningham before, and he was not one of his patients on his workload. But when she heard about her love for motorcycles, she was eager to help him make his wish come true.
Phalin enlisted the help of several friends, including Jamie Branton, who volunteered to drive Cunningham in his Slingshot, which is essentially a three-wheeled combination of a car and a motorcycle. She also contacted Bill Kincaid, a member of the 72 Twisted Shifters and Sisters, a motorcycling association founded in Wisconsin in 2013. Their motto is good people, who do good things. They help in their communities and volunteer their time to support many benefits and events.
Anderson and Phalin then coordinated with staff at Fort Atkinson Health Care Center to plan the details of Cunningham’s journey.
When they told Cunningham the wheels were moving for him to go for a spin, he thought they were joking.
“It was a shock to me at the start,” Cunningham said. “I mean a big shock. Because normally I stay lying in bed. Every now and then I go up and down the hallway in my wheelchair.
His excitement continued to grow as the day drew closer.
Everything was ready for Sunday afternoon, June 27. The good weather made this a perfect day for the Cunningham hike.
Phalin and a group of about 35 riders met at Lucy’s Hideaway in Milton and went to Fort together.
Meanwhile, Anderson helped Cunningham pick out some clothes and they decided on something that was appropriate for “Harley”. Some of the Fort Atkinson Health Center staff took Cunningham outside just as the group of cyclists arrived so he could see everyone riding together.
“As the bikes rolled, his eyes lit up,” Anderson said.
Phalin then came to talk to him to see if he was ready to go.
“He said, ‘you didn’t have to do all of this for me,” Phalin said. “He looked great in his Harley gear and we were all excited to ride with him.”
The Slingshot looks like a Batmobile, but it was Cunningham who was lucky enough to feel like a superhero that day.
“He could feel the wind in his hair and hear the bikes in front and behind him,” Phalin said.
The final surprise came when the other riders presented Cunningham with a Harley t-shirt signed by everyone who helped make the ride possible. Finally, it was time to return to the Fort Atkinson Health Care Center so that Cunningham could rest.
“Cunningham was excited and very happy,” Phalin said. “You could say that the trip cost him a lot.”
Even though it was a short drive for Cunningham, it turned out to be a day to remember for him and everyone who was there and a day they will not soon forget.
“He was exhausted but when he got into the wheelchair one of the runners asked if he thought it was worth it, and Cunningham gave a big smile and said he would go back.” , Anderson said.
“Seeing the smile on his face when we pulled over and he was wiping away tears made me cry and made the whole organization useful,” Phalin said.
A few weeks later, Cunningham’s last wish came true. He has found his beloved wife. Cunningham died at Fort Atkinson Health Care Center on Sunday July 11 at the age of 61.
Contribution by Kenyon Kemnitz, Rainbow Hospice Care