Lions treat hospice patient like royalty, Johnson adds surprise

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By Leslie Kenney
Public Relations Coordinator
Hospice of Helping Hands

FROM CALVIN Roscommon’s Leo Sutherland holds the ball given to him during pregame warm-ups by Detroit Lion Calvin Johnson. Sutherland got to go on the field for pregame warm-ups prior to the Sept. 8 Lions’ game against the Minnesota Vikings. (Courtesy photo) FROM CALVIN Roscommon’s Leo Sutherland holds the ball given to him during pregame warm-ups by Detroit Lion Calvin Johnson. Sutherland got to go on the field for pregame warm-ups prior to the Sept. 8 Lions’ game against the Minnesota Vikings. (Courtesy photo) On Sept. 8, Hospice of Helping Hands’ patient Leo Sutherland of Roscommon checked another accomplishment off his bucket list – going to a Detroit Lions’ football game. Dressed in Detroit Lions’ fan apparel, Sutherland was kind enough to give me a play-by-play of his once-ina lifetime experience.

Before Sutherland was admitted to Hospice of Helping Hands in June, his family had purchased tickets to the Detroit Lions’ opening game on Sept. 8. When Sutherland met his Hospice of Helping Hands’ nurse, Cathy Baughman, he explained that it was his hope that he would be able to attend this game. As a sports enthusiast, Sutherland followed the Detroit Lions and Tigers his entire life. However, due to work and family commitments, he simply was never able to make a game. Being able to attend this game was a big deal. It was a goal, and as hospice employees, we love to see the smiles when our patients get to make those big life events. That is what hospice is about, ensuring quality of life so those moments can be savored, as loved ones gain another lasting memory.

Making it to the game would be easy – they had the tickets. However, Sutherland’s nurse, Baughman, wanted it to be special. Baughman made repetitive calls to the Detroit Lions’ public relations department. On the call-backs, she explained what made her patient special, “He is a stage-four kidney cancer patient who chose hospice because he wanted to live his life to the best of his ability without chemotherapy and this is his first game!” The response on the other end of the line rang true, “He is a very brave guy.”

The Detroit Lions asked Baughman what she wanted for her patient. She replied, “I’ll ask for the moon, all you can do it say no.” However, the most important action was to get Sutherland’s seats moved into the handicapped seats. This request was granted and followed by a spectacle of surprises.

Shortly before the big game, Baughman informed Sutherland she was purchasing tickets to the game as well. The plan was made that she would join Sutherland and his family at the game.

The big day arrived. Sutherland and his family met Baughman and a Detroit Lions’ staff member at the gate. The next thrill was the announcement that they were being granted four pregame passes.

Those pregame passes allowed Sutherland and his family to go through the tunnel and watch the pregame from the 20-yard line. The ultimate surprise and gracious gift came next. A coach approached Calvin Johnson, leaning in to tell him something. Johnson turned, with football in hand, and approached Sutherland handing the football to him and giving him knuckles. “It happened so fast!” Sutherland explained. “I didn’t know he was walking over till he was right in front of me.” When asked how he felt after the pre-game, he broke a smile, “I couldn’t believe it. Fired me up a little bit.”

Sutherland’s family shared his excitement. His caregiver, Judy Purkey, explained that she was the one screaming in the video of the meet and greet, saying, “I was bouncing off the walls! I was so excited!”

Baughman had asked for the meet and greet in one of her many phone calls, but wasn’t expecting it. “They (Detroit Lions’ Public Relations) made it happen!” Baughman excitedly stated, “I just made a phone call. They made it happen!”

Following the pregame, Sutherland, his family, and his nurse were all relocated from their purchased seats to handicap seating. From there they watched the Detroit Lions win their opener, defeating the Minnesota Vikings 34 -24.

“We couldn’t have had better seats,” states Sutherland. “It was quite a day.”

Home from the big game, I listened to Sutherland and Purkey review that day’s events with excitement, smiles, and appreciation. When I left their home, my heart was smiling. I was proud of Sutherland for making the decision to live his life his way. Proud of our Hospice of Helping Hands’ nurse, Cathy Baughman, for pushing to make such a special experience for her patient. Proud of the Detroit Lions for making it all happen; and in turn, touching the lives of many.

To watch the video of Sutherland’s meet and greet with Johnson, visit the Resorter’s website, and click on Videos.

Hospice of Helping Hands is a nonprofit hospice organization, affiliated with the John Tolfree Health System, serving Northeast Michigan since 1979. For information, call (800) 992-6592 or visit

2013-10-03 / Happenings

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