In the span of nine months, one’s life can witness drastic change: the gestation of a pregnancy, receiving new orders, or perhaps a financial development that alters one’s life.
One Sailor has been affected by a rarer occurrence. In the span of nine months, she has experienced something a young Sailor – or anyone, for that matter – should never have to deal with: the sudden loss of a spouse.
Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Valerie Stevenson lost her husband, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Austin Stevenson, over a nine-month span. He was battling leukemia, a type of blood cancer.
“I’ve lost more than my husband. I’ve lost my best friend, my companion, my love,” said Stevenson, as she looked at a picture of her husband she held delicately in her hands.
The picture showed the two in a loving embrace. It was almost as if her gaze was willing him back to life. She flipped through each picture in her collection, reliving each moment she had with her husband.
Stevenson added, “Losing my husband was something I would have never imagined, especially so soon. It’s just something you never think about.”
Initially, Austin’s diagnosis was unclear. He was first diagnosed with lymphoma in July 2013.
“The doctors called us back the next day and said that it wasn’t lymphoma, it was leukemia,” Stevenson said. “They told us to get to the hospital right away because the situation is more serious than expected.”
Initial treatment left Austin with a leukemia-free diagnosis. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, the cancer returned, catching the Stevensons off-guard.
When Austin was first diagnosed with cancer, the Stevensons, both stationed at Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC) in North Chicago, Ill., reached out to Navy Wounded Warrior – Safe Harbor (NWW) to establish a plan.
Stevenson said, “We were struggling financially because of his treatments. They were very expensive and the travel situation was draining us, too. It felt like we had nowhere to turn.”
The Stevensons had to regularly drive to Milwaukee for Austin’s chemotherapy. Luckily, they had a direct path to help.
Lt. Michael Chalfant, a NWW non-medical care manager, FHCC nurse Jolene Moore and Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Patricia Herring, casualty assistant calls officer at FHCC played vital roles in the care of the Stevensons.
“NWW really put things into perspective for us,” said Stevenson. “They let us know what options we could and couldn’t take.”
Chalfant said, “NWW is designed to take care of ill or injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen’s non-medical needs. With Valerie and Austin being stationed here, notification and communication worked out really well. We got the command’s personal casualty report and worked from there.”
“Austin received an unexpected prognosis of one week to live,” said Chalfant. “We had to rush to get everything taken care from his beneficiary list, to other arrangements.”
Austin’s last wish was to enjoy the beach in Daytona, Fla.
“There were some obstacles with his last wish because of certain medical liabilities,” said Chalfant. “We couldn’t do a medical evacuation because it wasn’t considered a necessity of care.”
NWW looked for a way to make Austin’s last wish come true. The staff even turned to charitable organizations. Because of Austin’s prognosis, there was a medical liability preventing charities from helping.
“TRICARE, under a provision, was able to fly Austin to Daytona Beach, Fla. because it was a transfer from one care facility to another,” said Chalfant.
Austin was transferred to a hospice. He spent his last moments the way he wished, enjoying the sun on the beach.
“Unfortunately Austin passed away only a few hours after his arrival, but he got to enjoy his last moments with his wife and family,” said Chalfant.
“Austin was just so positive the whole time,” said Stevenson. “He never faltered or showed fear.”
Austin passed away April 30, 2014.
For many, death is considered the end. For Stevenson, the death of her husband is the beginning of her journey to share his story.
“I hope Austin’s story might be able to help people in need while they’re going through some tough medical issues,” said Stevenson. “NWW can help and that’s the message I want to get out there. Austin just wanted to help people in his situation. I want the same thing, so I hope this story reaches out to people so they know they have options.”
For more information about NWW, call 855-NAVY WWP (628-9997) or visit www.safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil.