Rick’s Story

A Cross-Country Trip’s Detour Leads to UH Ahuja Medical Center

Rick McHale is reunited with his dogs

In mid-May, Cheryl and Rick McHale left Uncasville, Conn. with their two Labrador retrievers to make a long-awaited cross-country journey in their RV. Their ultimate destination was Sedona, Ariz., but they planned to take their time getting there.

The two retirees were only eight days into their trip when they stopped at a campground in Ravenna. There, Rick became very ill – and his condition was precarious enough that EMTs decided he should be transported to University Hospitals Ahuja Medical Center.

Rick was unconscious his first two weeks at UH Ahuja Medical Center, but his wife spent the days and evenings with him. She had parked the RV at the far end of the parking lot. During the day, hospitals employees volunteered to feed and walk their two dogs. At night, Cheryl would take them for another walk, then head to the RV to sleep. (The 26-foot Gulfstream was powered by an on-board generator.)

Sandra Merkel, nurse manager in UH Ahuja Medical Center’s intensive care unit (ICU), says that as the rest of the staff learned about Rick and Cheryl’s situation, they wanted to cheer up the couple, who were strangers to Ohio. Staff left care packages outside the camper for Cheryl and the dogs, as well as notes and phone numbers in case she needed anything.

In his third week as a patient, after Rick was feeling a little better and could sit up, UH Ahuja Medical Center employees wheeled his bed downstairs and through the wide doors of the Emergency Department. There, he was reunited with the couple’s two dogs, Sadie and Buddy, who were ecstatic to see him again.

To celebrate his improving health, and to make the Connecticut couple feel more at home, the staff (inspired by ICU nurse Melissa Byram Waldman) held a cook-out and party in the parking lot for the McHales. While Rick had to go back to the ICU, there was a little table set for him with fresh flowers and a photo.

“From the day we came here people have been so supportive with what we were going through,” says Cheryl. “It’s like a group of angels have wrapped their arms around us.”

On Friday, June 12, after three full weeks at UH Ahuja Medical Center, Rick and his wife were flown back to Connecticut by a charity that provides hospital flights.

But what about the dogs and the RV? Suzanne Wald-Rice, who works in maintenance at UH Ahuja Medical Center, has volunteered to watch the dogs for a few weeks at her home in Parma; she also provided space there for the RV to be parked until an Ohio friend of the McHales can drive the RV and the dogs back to Connecticut.

Now, Rick is doing well at a hospital in Norwich, Conn.

“I told my family at home we were so fortunate and blessed to be surrounded by such a wonderful, supportive group of people at UH Ahuja Medical Center,” says Cheryl.

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