This is the story of an incredible journey, a loving family and a nurse on a mission far beyond the call of the most vigilant of hospice caregivers.

Hospice. The very thought of working in hospice used to make Nancy Schneider uncomfortable. A nurse for nearly 35 years, Nancy began her career at Beaumont working at the very “start of lives” in the Beaumont Fertility Center. Helping to bring babies into the world was joyous work that she loved to do.

In 1993, life threw Nancy a curve.

Tragically, her husband died of a heart attack. Shortly after, Beaumont closed the Fertility Center. As a widow with two young children, Nancy found herself at a crossroad when a spot opened up on the Beaumont Hospice team. “My whole outlook on life changed,” she recalls. “My job interview literally rocked my world. I remember the day of the interview as a transformation, getting into my car and praying, ‘Please God, let this be what I am supposed to be doing.’ Two days later, when they offered me the job, I just knew it was right. And it’s been right ever since.”

More than a job, it’s a calling

In the 20 years that Nancy has been a hospice nurse, she has answered the calls of hundreds of families in times of great need, in moments of sorrow, deep grief and profound gratitude. But there’s been no call like the call she received in November last year.

“It all started with a call from Rita Weiner – a Hospice nurse at Beaumont and a member of the Jewish Professional Women’s Hospice Alliance – asking if I would be interested in accompanying a family planning to move their loved one, Professor Edward Rosenbaum, age 89, out of hospice at the D. Marvin & Betty Danto Health Care Center in West Bloomfield to a care facility in Israel. I said sure (in principle), thinking I’ve never been to Israel, but come on, this is never going to happen.”

No sooner did Nancy get off the phone with Rita, than a call came in from Debby Spinner, Professor Rosenbaum’s daughter-in-law in Israel.

Speaking on behalf of the family, Debby shared a bold plan to transport the Professor, along with his wife, Mildred, to their town in Israel where the family had arranged for the Professor’s care at the Dor Tivon nursing home. Mildred, too, would be well accommodated in an apartment connected to the home.

Debby and her husband, Ron Spinner, both originally from Oak Park, had made Aliyah years ago. They lived in the town of Hoshaya, a close-knit religious settlement in Northern Israel. (Jewish Detroiters visiting Michigan’s Partnership2Gether Region will be familiar with the area nestled in the Jezreel Valley, near the Tzipori National Park.) In years past, Mildred and Edward spent their winters there in the company of a growing circle of family and friends. In fact, there’s a park in the town, named after the Rosenbaums who gave a gift to the community to build a playground for the children.

A circle of love

The Professor was frail. The doctors and staff were dubious. But the family was determined. Edward had been admitted to Danto with pneumonia in October. With no immediate family in town for support, and winter weather hampering Mildred’s regular visits, Edward’s health continued to fail. Fearing the worst, Debby and Ron flew in from Israel to be by his bedside. Much to everyone’s surprise and relief, as the family gathered, Edward rallied.

Quickly the family switched gears to arrange for Edward’s travel with a request for a medical release from the team at Danto, reasoning that Edward’s quality of life would vastly improve in Israel, in a town where he was acclimated. There he would be spending his days in close proximity to his wife, his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren – in total, family that had grown to more than 20 people, including newborn twins.

Long story short, the Professor and his wife, Ron and Debby – accompanied by Nurse Nancy –  loaded into a wheelchair van first thing in the morning on December 6, 2015, drove 250 miles to Toronto and, that same evening, boarded a direct El Al flight to Israel. Eleven hours later (on the first day of Chanukah), they landed in Tel Aviv where family members were waiting to escort them to their destination in Hoshaya.

The trip was arduous for the Professor, but the logistics went off like clockwork. “We were on a mission,” Nancy reflected, “None of us lost sight of the goal to get Edward safely to Tel Aviv. From the airport, the drive to the nursing home took another two hours and, when we arrived, there was an RN and an aide standing outside the door to greet us. The whole experience felt like a big warm hug.”

The next day, Nancy returned to the nursing home to coordinate Edward’s care and found his condition had much improved. “His coloring was better, he had gotten a good night’s sleep and a shower. It was like he was a whole new man, settling into a beautiful room with a beautiful view of the hills.”

A town of lights

The called it their adventure. A “Chanukah miracle.”  While the family took a holiday trip to Elat, Nancy stayed with a neighbor in the community for a few days before touring Israel. “I’m Reform, I don’t speak Hebrew,” she said. “I felt a little out of place at first, but they welcomed me, they shared their lives with me and taught me so much about my Jewish background. It was wonderful.”

Nancy still hears from the family. Edward, still the quiet, thoughtful Professor of Law, is doing remarkably well in his new surroundings. Mildred – as Nancy describes – is a dynamo – swims every day, plays bridge with friends and enjoys life to the fullest with her family.

With special thanks

Can a hospice nurse save a life? “There’s no predicting such things,” says Nancy. “But it’s amazing what love and determination and connections can do to bring a patient back from the brink.” The Professor’s journey started with the recommendation of Rabbi Yerachmiel Rabin, a Danto administrator and the chaplain with the Jewish Hospice & Chaplaincy Network who assessed the inner strength of the family and respected their desires. Dr. David McAree with Hospice made the medical assessments and cleared the way for the Professor to travel. “Hospice is a team effort, in step with the family, every step of the way,” says Nancy. “We’re not about dying, but we’re there to help for the best of endings.”

Reflecting on her role in the Rosenbaum family’s “adventure,” Nancy added, “I am truly blessed to have been trained and to continue to work with the most caring, professional and highly skilled hospice nurses, as well as the Jewish Hospice team. Beaumont was supportive in allowing me time off when they heard of this mission, and Hospice of Michigan – Dr. McAree  and his team – were encouraging and supportive along the entire way. The Jewish Hospice and Rabbi Rabin and his wisdom, sense of humor and quiet strength helped to put things into perspective as we all forged on.

“I can only say this in conclusion: The end of life deserves as much beauty, care and respect as the beginning.  And, as a former Invitro Fertilization nurse, I know this first-hand!

“It’s an honor to be a part of the “journey” at the end of life. The love, determination, fortitude and sheer faith that Professor Rosenbaum’s family has is truly heart-warming; and I was blessed to be a small part of this “adventure!”

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