NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJW) — Virginia Stevens and her husband Tommy, both 91, spent their final days at the hospital, together until the very end.
The Palliative Care Unit of Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) shared their story.
The two married on Sept. 9, 1954.
Tommy died just one day before their 69th anniversary — nearly seven decades later — on Sept. 8.
Virginia died just nine days after Tommy.
“What a love story. In life, in death, in life eternal. Together,” her obituary reads.
Recent health issues led them to VUMC, where they were initially placed in different units.
The Palliative Care Unit and the Trauma Intensive Care Unit teams recognized the importance of keeping the couple together and worked diligently to reunite them.
“He was awake when she came in,” daughter Karen Kreager told VUMC Voice. “His eyes were open. He wasn’t communicating a lot — just in small whispers. But he knew that she was there and that she was going to be right beside him. They haven’t stopped holding hands the whole time. She won’t let go of him.”
Tommy, who had Alzheimer’s disease, was being treated for pneumonia and sepsis. Virginia had a fall and was treated for multiple injuries, including six broken ribs, a spinal fracture and a hip injury.
When the two were in different units, their family was split apart. But that soon changed.
“We were able to focus on both of them at the same time versus having to worry about going back and forth,” Kreager said “And the most important thing for us was that they were together.”
“It reminds me of why we do this work,” said Dr. Mohana Karlekar, medical director of VUMC’s adult Palliative Care Program. “We take care of people — husbands, wives, mothers, fathers — not patients. We brought this family together during one of their most difficult times with little effort on our part. It involved a call, seeing an extra patient that day and some conversations.
“I watched Mrs. Stevens tease her grandson, and her grandson and granddaughter in turn tease her back, feed her yogurt and drinks, and just rejoice in each other’s company. It did not take a whole lot of work on our part. It is a reminder to me about how each of us should remember that taking just a little time can be so impactful and that we should do this more often.
“From the time we brought Mrs. Stevens over, she held her husband’s hand and fussed in a very loving way with him,” Karlekar said. “She was able to tell me Monday that she was at peace with what was going on, and she wanted to be there until the end.”
“Surrounded by their loved ones, their passing marked the end of an extraordinary love story,” VUMC Voice wrote.
Tommy and Virginia are survived by two children, several grandchildren and a great grandchild.
“We will always remember how happy they both were to share everything they had with us and everyone they loved – their generosity has left a mark on all of us,” Virginia’s obituary reads.
“In true Virginia form, she made sure we were all okay even in her last days. Virginia has been the family’s constant axis, and she will be greatly missed.”