Stacy Gervelis Shares Her Mother’s Story
Terry Lee Gervelis (Jan. 31, 1958–Oct. 4, 2017)
Our Mom loved being a mom. Even when she was battling cancer, she drove my brother, Gabriel, and I to soccer, volleyball and karate practices. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1992, and Gabe and I didn’t fully realize how sick she felt. The following year, she beat her cancer, but her struggle was far from over.
Fifteen years later, after I had served seven years in the U.S. Army and Gabe had started his own tech company, Mom’s lungs began to deteriorate. She was just out of shape, she would say. The reality was that she could no longer lift the heavy boxes required of her as a records manager. Eventually, even a few steps left her winded. She had to stop working, and she moved in with my brother.
Mom needed several tests, but because she had had cancer, a pre-existing condition, she couldn’t find health insurance, which made the tests too expensive. We were all left in the dark. That’s when we heard about charity care at Harborview Medical Center. When Mom found out her case had been accepted, she cried.
Right away, a doctor at Harborview ordered a pulmonary function test and a CT scan. It turns out that Mom had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema — caused by chemotherapy and years of smoking. With less than 20-percent lung capacity, she needed a lung transplant to survive.
That said, the doctor was realistic with us about the transplant. The lungs are the only organ you can’t seal off from the outside world — you’re always breathing in mold spores and viruses. There were no guarantees. We realized then that we couldn’t cure her, but we still wanted to help her live a better life.
As we waited for the transplant, Mom’s condition worsened. She could no longer go up the stairs in Gabe’s apartment, so she moved in with me and my husband, Ryan.
In the year before the transplant, we tried to do everything she loved. We went to the Oregon coast to watch storms. We went horseback riding. We took Mom on her first helicopter ride. Ryan is a helicopter pilot, and he picked her up in our front yard!
On September 17, 2016, after several years of waiting, Mom received her double-lung transplant at UW Medical Center. But the very next day, we realized things weren’t going well. Her doctor pulled us aside to explain that she had to go on a heart-lung bypass machine because her blood pressure was so low. We realized that she wouldn’t be getting out of the hospital anytime soon.
Those first few months were the hardest. Every other day, Mom almost died. But the nurses and doctors on the fifth and sixth floor at UW Medical Center were amazing. They kept her alive so many times. One nurse practitioner, Musetta Fu, would visit my mom a couple times a week and play the guitar and sing to her. It was a bright spot in her life.
Everyone noticed her strength of spirit and her will to live. When they’re sick and hurting, so many people become angry and rude, but not Mom. She always had a smile and would try to get people to laugh. It was pretty amazing considering how much she was struggling just to breathe.
Mom was in the hospital for a year. Throughout our time there, the entire UW Medicine team became part of our family. When we had to put Mom on comfort care, Musetta came in and played her five favorite songs while she was dying. Never once did anyone at UW Medical Center make us feel like our mom was a burden, and that made the whole process so much easier.
After Mom died, we wondered how we could say “thank you.” When I learned about the Harborview Mission of Caring Fund, I could hear her saying, “Give back to others, so they can get the kind of care that I received.”
Mom was only on charity care for a few months before Medicaid and Medicare came through, but it was a critical bridge to the treatment she needed. I can’t say it was life-saving, because she passed away. But in a way, it was. It allowed her to know what she was up against. It gave her hope. And, most importantly, it gave all of us a few extra years together.