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Coming together to fulfill hospice patient's wish

GONE FISHING – Oxford resident Dave Gerber (clockwise from left), Waterford resident Jeannie Chambers, social worker Linda Van Wulfen, nurse Nora Sparks, Leonard resident Geno Mallia, Jr. and Lake Orion resident Brian Omilian. In the center is Waterford resident John Stiller. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
July 30, 2014 - July 24 was certainly a beautiful day to go fishing.

But the warmth of the sun shining down on the clear, blue waters of Lake Orion was nothing compared to the warmth of the people that came together to make a dying man's wish come true.

All John Stiller, of Waterford, wanted to do was a grab a fishing pole and spend one more day with his line in the water, hoping for a bite or two.

"I used to fish in White Lake. We used to own property out there," said Stiller, a hospice patient who suffers from multiple sclerosis, stage 4 kidney disease and congestive heart failure.

He hadn't been fishing in about five or six years and didn't have a way to fulfill his desire until he expressed it to Oxford resident Dave Gerber, or "the preacher" as he called him.

Gerber serves as Stiller's chaplain through Heart to Heart Hospice. "He's one of our patients," he said.

Hospice is all about making terminally ill patients feel as comfortable as possible and helping them deal with pain.

But it's not just about physical pain, according to Gerber.

"Part of what I do is I help people deal with spiritual and emotional pain," he explained. "Some of that pain comes from things that they miss, things they can't do anymore or have lost the freedom to do."

Not being able to go fishing was definitely causing Stiller this type of inner pain so Gerber, who's also a pastor at Williams Lake Church of the Nazarene in Waterford Township, decided to act.

"I said, 'Well, I can do something about that.' So, I started putting a plan in place," he said. "When you see somebody that is hurting and you have the ability to make something happen that will bring them some joy, even if it's temporary, it's a good feeling."

Gerber got in touch with Lake Orion resident Brian Omilian, who arranged for Stiller to go fishing on Lake Orion in comfort and style aboard a luxurious, handicap-accessible pontoon boat.

"It's what I do," said Omilian, who earlier this month helped organize a cruise around Lake Orion for a group of local veterans. "Dave asked me and I didn't mind at all."

The boat belongs to Lake Orion resident Brian Sylvain.

Stiller was happy as could be as he prepared to board the pontoon boat in his wheelchair. When asked what type of fish he likes to hook, the pragmatic Stiller replied, "Whatever I catch."

"That's a true fisherman there," remarked Leonard resident Geno Mallia, Jr., who joined the outing.

Mallia did Stiller's casting for him because he lacks strength in his arms.

Gerber reported that Stiller landed approximately eight fish including a "decent-sized" rock bass. "He seemed to really have a good time," he said. "He caught some fish and laughed a little bit."

Stiller's daughter, Waterford resident Jeannie Chambers, also helped arrange the outing and even went out on the boat.

"It's my chance to give him one last thing he enjoys," she said. "It definitely makes him happy. I'm glad I can do this for him."

Gerber's grateful his position with Heart to Heart Hospice afforded him the opportunity to help enhance the quality of the time Stiller has left on this earth.

"The crass part is it's my job and the cool part is it's my job," he said. "This is the goal of every hospice, or at least it should be."

To Gerber, "the best part" was the way everyone pitched in and did their part to ensure Stiller had a wonderful day.

"How cool is this – you can ask a community to do something and they're more than happy to do it," he said. "People coming together and helping somebody – that's the best of what hospice is. I thought it was a win today for the community."

CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.
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