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Elvis connection made for Agnesian HealthCare Hospice Hope patient
November 27, 2012

Hospice patient Leo Kolodzek, 69, who lives with his wife Dianne in Fond du Lac and suffers with lung cancer, recently had a dream come true experience – one that put him on cloud nine with the former wife of Elvis Presley. His wish was always to visit Graceland, the Memphis home of Elvis. In fact, he and his sister had plans to do so once he retired.  Instead, Graceland came to him - in the form of a phone call from Priscilla Presley.

Diagnosed with advanced lung cancer in December 2011, Kolodzek had never made it to Graceland even though just two years earlier he retired and moved from Princeton to Fond du Lac to be closer to his sister Renae and his mother. Their trip to Graceland now seemed a reality.  Sadly, his sister was diagnosed with brain cancer and died before their trek to Graceland materialized.  

“Renae and I were such huge Elvis fans,” Kolodzek says. “She had seen him at a concert in Milwaukee years ago, but I never did. Graceland was our dream.”

After entering the Agnesian HealthCare Hospice Hope program with in-home care last summer, Leo and his wife Dianne began getting regular visits from various hospice staff and volunteers.

“One of our nurses, Julie Van Vleet, was talking to him about his goals,” says Kristy Herzig, a social worker with Agnesian HealthCare’s Hospice Hope program.  “It’s important that we help them achieve their goals. Leo had always dreamed of going to Graceland, so I visited with him and explored the idea.”

Herzig informed Leo and Dianne about the California-based Dream Foundation - a non- profit organization that grants wishes for terminally ill adults, similar to Make-A-Wish for children. “After exploring the idea with Leo, I completed an application about his wish to go to Graceland,” Herzig says.

In the end, Kolodzek opted not to make the trip to Graceland. “I was worried something might happen to me while there, and I didn’t want my wife to have to deal with that,” Kolodzek says. “It seemed too risky.”

After hearing that, Hospice Hope associates kicked into high gear to get creative about Leo’s wish. There had to be another way to help make his dream come true. 

“I contacted the Dream Foundation and also talked to our hospice team about putting a gift basket of Elvis memorabilia together for Leo,” Herzig says, noting the Dream Foundation sent her items one-by-one, allowing Herzig to begin assembling the gift basket of Graceland goodies - two signed and framed pictures of Elvis, a book and a puzzle on Graceland, a DVD containing the Greatest Elvis performances, a virtual tour of Graceland on DVD, and more. 

What happened next is what landed Leo on Cloud Nine. Priscilla Presley called him.

“The phone rang, and my wife said somebody wanted to talk to me,” Kolodzek recalls. “When she told me she was Priscilla Presley, I responded with “Whatever.’ I certainly didn’t believe it was her. I thought it was Dianne’s sister playing a prank on me. But she said, ‘No really, I am Priscilla.’”

“We talked for a good half hour. She was so down-to-earth and easy to talk to - you’d never know she was some famous person,” Kolodzek says. “She told me about Elvis and asked about my hobbies and interests. When I said I liked to fish and collect old cars she told me about some of the stuff Elvis did with cars and fishing too. She also said she enjoyed taking her grandkids fishing. And when our dogs started barking in the background she asked about them too. She told me she had six dogs - that she had just added two rescue dogs because she can’t resist them.”

“It was such a relaxing phone call. And the fact it really was her just blew my mind. It was amazing. I told her she made my day and that her call was better than going to Graceland.   If I had actually gone there I probably wouldn’t have seen or talked to her. She also said she was very sorry to hear I had this cancer, and I told her you have to take it with a grain of salt and just accept it. I thanked her very much for taking the time out to call.”

In addition to the basket of Graceland gifts that hospice staff assembled for Leo, he says he received some gifts directly from Priscilla as well. “A book and DVD she sent me called Elvis by the Presleys told a lot of details about him, like the colognes he liked to wear,” Kolodzek says.  “When I looked at the video it was so neat to see Elvis riding his horses and driving the golf cart around his lawn with his little girl in it.”

“The call from Priscilla Presley sure made his day,” Leo’s wife Dianne says. “He sat there afterwards like he was numb. He was in la-la land, and it all had to sink in. Actually, it made us both feel so good. I enjoyed talking to her too. Leo and I both just sat there, saying we couldn’t believe it.”

The Graceland basket of gifts was presented to Leo around the same time - just recently, in late October. But the phone call pushed the excitement level over the top. “Leo was so excited,” Herzig says, noting that Priscilla is an ambassador with the Dream Foundation. “The Foundation had contacted Leo’s wife ahead of time about the idea of Priscilla calling him, but Dianne kept it a surprise for Leo.”

“We try to meet the goals of hospice patients and help them achieve their dreams,” Herzig says. “Some wishes are very simple, and some are more challenging like Leo’s. Even though it ended up he didn’t go to Graceland, he got some things that were pretty fantastic.  Hospice is not about dying, it’s about living. It’s about helping people connect with what’s important in their life and bring meaning to their final days.”

Hospice nurse, Julie VanVleet, was the first one to find out that Leo yearned to make a connection with Graceland. “Not only did we help Leo fulfill a wish, but we were able to show him and his wife that there are people who truly care for and about them,” VanVleet says. “It is a privilege to be allowed to be a part of a person’s final journey in life. Hospice has been the most gratifying experience of my 34 years as a registered nurse.”

SIDEBAR

Agnesian HealthCare’s Hospice Hope program, in operation for nearly 35 years, features a team of caring staff and volunteers trained to meet the physical and emotional needs of those with a limited life expectancy. Patients can be seen by Hospice whether living in their own homes, a nursing home, an assisted living facility, or at the Hospice Home of Hope in Fond du Lac - a residential facility providing palliative care to individuals diagnosed with a terminal illness and a life expectancy of less than six months. The 9,700-square-foot facility includes 12 private, homelike patient rooms; a sunroom, porch areas; a common family/TV area; meditation room and a large living room with a fireplace. Families who want hospice care will receive routine services regardless of insurance or financial resources.

Hospice Hope provides the following comprehensive services directed toward keeping the patient at home:

  • Physician directed medical care
  • Skilled nursing care
  • 24-hour on-call service
  • Spiritual counseling
  • Medical social services
  • Bereavement support to family
  • Volunteer support system
  • Equipment and medical supplies
  • Medications for pain and other symptom management
  • Continuous nursing care at home for short periods of crisis
  • And much more....

For more information, call the Fond du Lac office at (920) 923-7950 or (800) 236-4156 or the Green Lake site at (920) 294-6220 or (800) 361-9499.

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