Nancy and Michael Larsen
Making a Loving Choice
After 23 happy years of marriage, Nancy and Michael Larsen were looking forward to their plans to travel. Michael’s retirement from his career as a bus driver meant that Nancy and Michael could begin planning the next chapter of their life together. However, without warning, Michael began to have trouble remembering simple daily tasks, forcing the Larsens to postpone their vacation plans.
Michael’s memory issues worsened, deteriorating to the point that he was no longer able to drive. They did not share a last vacation together.
Although he was not a drinker, Michael was diagnosed with liver disease. His doctors soon determined that Michael would require liver and kidney transplants, devastating Nancy. Michael was able to receive transplants for both organs, but his condition continued to decline. Two days after his transplant, his kidney failed.
During his nearly year-long treatment, his health rebounded and Michael and Nancy were able to live a fairly normal life. That quickly changed, however, as Michael developed a chronic low-grade fever caused by an antibiotic resistant bacteria, proving especially dangerous in his weakened condition.
Michael was transferred to several hospitals for treatment before finally being admitted to Barlow Respiratory Hospital, dependent on mechanical ventilation to breathe. He began receiving intense speech, occupational and physical therapy, some of it tough on Michael. “The therapists at Barlow were great,” said Nancy. “They would not let Michael get away with his little tantrums, and they pushed him to get better. They were in constant communication with me, and they treated us like family – with compassion and dignity. That’s what sets Barlow apart.”
Michael and the therapists worked very hard over many, many hours, which paid off in Michael’s ability to speak, first through a speaking valve, and then after some time, without a valve for short periods. Nancy was elated, telling Michael jokes just so she could hear him laugh.
Michael’s improvements would not last, however. Soon, he would have more bad days than good, and Nancy would seek strength and comfort from Barlow’s Medical Director, Dr. David Nelson. “Dr. Nelson went out of his way to explain things to me, and he would do so as if you were with a friend – face-to-face, very thorough, caring and honest. He let me know if Michael was progressing or if he was having a bad day,” said Nancy.
Dr. Nelson and his team met with Nancy to discuss her options for Michael – whether to keep him on life support or let him go. One of the staff members gave Nancy an article to read about grieving and what patients experience when a loved one attempts to keep them alive, which Nancy found impactful and very helpful in making such a difficult decision. It gave Nancy the strength to make the right choice for Michael: let him go. ‘‘You have to do it for them, the person that you love, not for yourself,” said Nancy. ‘’Michael, the love of my life, was ready to leave this world.”
Nancy held Michael’s hand as he passed away, two days after his 70th birthday. As Nancy’s friends and family reached out for comfort and support, she asked one request of them – to donate to Barlow in honor of Michael. “I’m not an extensive donor or a significant benefactor, but I know that every little bit helps towards building the new Barlow Respiratory Hospital,” said Nancy. ‘’With the care they provided for Michael, this hospital deserves it wholeheartedly.”
Nancy says, “I don’t know what Dr. Nelson wanted to be when he was a little boy, but he is what he was meant to be. He was born to be a good friend and an exceptional doctor. He’s such a warm human being that when he gives you a hug, it’s not a hug in passing – it’s a caring and comforting hug from a dear friend. I’ve read about Barlow’s history and about the compassion that Dr. Barlow had – and that’s Dr. Nelson today.”