Bowling with Tommy: A Patient’s Surprising, but Perfect, Last Wish

 In Patient & Family Stories, Uncategorized

A special request from one of our recent hospice patients caught friends and family by surprise, but ultimately proved to be the perfect choice for one last memorable outing with loved ones.

Tommy O’Neill, 35, wanted to go bowling. His wife, Amanda Rusch, recalled jovially, “Tommy and I had never gone bowling before. He never went bowling. I was totally confused!” 

Tommy loved to watch sports and played softball in a league with friends, but the particular choice of bowling as a final experience was a curveball. However, as the proud and dedicated father of two young children, ages two and four, Tommy’s reasoning for the experience became clear.

“He said he wanted to go bowling with our kids for their first time,” Amanda explained.  

A man in a wheelchair poses with his wife and two small children at a bowling alley

Tommy O’Neill and his family enjoy bowling at their last outing together.

Tommy was diagnosed with spindle cell sarcoma, an aggressive form of cancer, in March 2020. His doctors believed he had only months to live. His diagnosis came around the same time new restrictions were being put into place because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the threat of a new viral illness, Amanda said Tommy wasn’t able to leave his house for several months.

Soon after Tommy began receiving care from The Denver Hospice in August, our team was honored to work with his family and friends to make his final wish possible. More than two dozen of his loved ones came together for a bowling bash at Holiday Lanes in Golden.

A man gives the peace sign alongside a caretaker at a bowling alley

The Denver Hospice CNA, Nicole Palfy, smiles with Tommy at his bowling night out.

“It was amazing because that was the only time, due to Covid, and the last time he got out of the house. His friends were there, and people from the hospice showed up. It was like a normal night for him, and the hospice made that possible,” Amanda said.

Tommy and Amanda’s two young children were determined to make their father proud that night.

“My son is just two, and would go pick up an 8-pound ball, try to run it to the lane, throw it down the lane, and run back for another ball. He did that for two whole hours!” said Amanda. “The kids loved it, and Tom loved being there with them and helping them. It was amazing. He smiled the whole night.”

Despite the pain Tommy was experiencing at a late stage of illness, Amanda says he insisted on staying longer than planned at the bowling alley that night. It would become his final opportunity to gather with friends and family prior to his death the following week. Amanda says she will forever cherish the memories made and the beginning of a new tradition for her family.

“Clearly we need to go bowling more!” she exclaimed.

Amanda offers generous praise for The Denver Hospice care team who supported Tommy and her family through his final weeks at home.

“They are the most amazing people I have ever met. No matter what we needed, what we asked for, it was done with a smile. It takes a very special person to come in at the darkest time of your life – being there, supporting me and supporting our kids,” said Amanda. “Because of these people, they made my husband’s last month of his life the most enjoyable that he had since his diagnosis.”

She is especially grateful for Tommy’s nurse, Rachel, and certified nursing assistant, Nicole. 

“These two amazing people made us feel like family. They never made us feel like we were just patients. I’ll forever be indebted to those two. They were like our angels during that month.” 

A couple pose with a hospice nurse in their home.

The Denver Hospice nurse Rachel Phillips poses for a picture with Tommy and his wife, Amanda, at their home in Golden.

Throughout his illness, Tommy maintained an inspiring attitude, and even shared his story in a radio interview. He told fellow fans of The Rick Lewis Show on 103.5 The Fox, “I may not be able to walk my daughter down the aisle, or throw a football with my son in person, but I will in spirit – that’s what’s keeping me through. I’m going to be there.” His interview can be heard here.

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