This year, Friends of Caroline Hospice is bringing together two medical professionals with very different backgrounds – but a shared passion for caring for people their whole lives through – for the Annual Festival of Trees celebration in Port Royal.
Medical Director Dr. Gordon Krueger and Board of Directors Member Mary Beth Donovan are teaming up as co-chairs for the annual fundraiser, which kicks off the holiday season for the
Beaufort area with a magical weekend of creatively decorated Christmas trees, twinkling lights and even snow.
The Festival launches Nov. 30 with the Opening Gala at The Shed in Port Royal, with more than 60 trees decorated and donated by the community, music, a silent auction and a celebration of the 37 years of hospice care, bereavement and caregiver support services provided by non-profit Friends of Caroline Hospice, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.
Donovan is a board-certified acute care nurse practitioner who joined the Board of Directors for Friends about a year ago when some of her patients, who volunteer with Friends, suggested her name for the board. Donovan and her husband, William, moved to Beaufort seven years ago when he was stationed at Parris Island as a Navy Dentist. When he got out five years ago, he established Donovan Family Dentistry on Lady’s Island. She worked originally at Joseph Chandler for two years before moving to Beaufort Memorial Coastal Care and recently joined Beaufort Memorial Primary Care.
Donovan is passing along her passion for compassionate care to her daughter, Mary Collins, a fourth-generation Mary. While talking about Festival of Trees, she multi-tasked by helping her little one with a little “surgery” on a doll she was playing with. “The main thing is just getting into the holiday spirit,” she said. “It’s really just a great way to kick off the holiday season. The trees are obviously the best part, and it’s just a magical setting, for children and adults. I love the Christmas trees and lights as much as my four-year- old.”
But the trees and the lights and the snow – which Donovan said she can’t wait to show to her daughter – are more opportunity for fun. It’s an opportunity to spread the word on what hospice is and how it can help.
“In our community, all the hospice organizations – but especially Friends – are really good at going out and talking with people about what is hospice, what is end-of- life care,” she said. “Hospice has been something that I am very passionate about, and it’s always been near and dear to my heart. It’s nice to have someone in the home who helps you with your decisions.”
She reflected on her own personal experience, and said, “My grandmother was on hospice for almost a year. For my mom, it meant there was someone who able to be a helping hand. It’s a tough thing for families to finally get on board with it, but it really is just good for loved ones and family who have someone who has to go on hospice.”
Dr. Gordon Krueger, her co-chair, came to hospice care after a lengthy career in medicine that began with three years as a Navy surgeon followed by more than 30 years of private practice, including as a surgeon at Beaufort Memorial Hospital, a partner with Coastal Carolina Surgical Associates and co-founder of the Beaufort Surgery Center.
He retired in 2012, and in became the medical director for Friends of Caroline Hospice in 2014. He said some friends told him it was an easy job, and one he could do a in a few days a week. But Krueger – a colorful, jovial man who proudly sported rainbow sock and spends his free time working on his “farm” – a colorful patch of azaleas and other flowers – has never done anything the easy way, or the expected way.
“Everyone has a different drumbeat and that can apply to hospice – you learn to accept yourself, and have everyone else accept it as well. If you dig deep down enough, you get the feel for what hospice can do for everyone, not only the patients but also the family members, the loved ones, and even the people who work within hospice.,” he said.
As the medical director for Friends, Krueger meets with each new patient and, depending on the length of their treatment, he’ll periodically meet with them again. Friends is a Medicare-certified hospice provider, and he works with patients across the county, regardless of whether they live in a gated community or a trailer home with holes in the floorboards.
“I want to know our patients, I don’t want to just see them,” he said “I love making home visits.”
A father of three – two sons and a daughter – and a boasting grandfather with a phone filled with photos of his daughter’s baby girl, he said working with hospice has helped him discover more balance in his life after a career of long work days and difficult work that he was trained in med school to handle stoically.
“My wife says they take this sweet Indiana farm boy and rip his heart and mind out and place them on a shelf and make him as mean as possible,” he said, shortly after he wiped away tears from recalling the death of one of his hospice patients. “She feels she’s getting her softie back.”
Like Donovan, he sees the Festival of Trees as an opportunity to reach out to the community to share the message of hospice care.
“It’s satisfying in its own way, if you can help someone pass away in their own way, being pain free, being happy, being clean,” he said. “This is a way for people to perhaps see and recognize what’s going with their family members, and to see what options there are for the patient to see themselves they can choose.”