Forever Grateful: One Family's Touching Tribute to their Mother's Care

It was a stunning 32 hours, and something few families must endure.

On the Monday prior to Thanksgiving, Christine Bruns was a strong 53-year-old wife and mother of three watching her grandkids until dinner time.

By 7 that evening, she was in the ER for a cold and possible pneumonia. Scans soon revealed breast cancer, which no one knew she had. It had spread into her lungs.

By 2 a.m., Christine was on a ventilator.

And by 4 a.m. the next morning, she was gone.

Christine’s husband, Dale Bruns, daughters Brooke Spencer, Morgan Corwin and McKaila Gorby can tell you how wretched those hours were. They can also tell you where they found peace.

A few weeks later, Brooke and her family returned to the ICU room where their mother took her last breath, and they brought treats for the staff. Now, with no nurses coming in and out, and without beeping machines or flashing monitors, calmness prevailed. Moved by the moment, Brooke wrote two heart-warming messages on Facebook.

The posts found their way to Allen Hospital, where employees shared the grateful sentiments with their co-workers. In the posts, Brooke talked about how amazing her mother was and thanked the people who provided care, compassion and empathy, including ICU nurses Shelby Bowman and Nate Fleming, and Bobby Rogers, a nurse practitioner in the ER.

“Bobby, Shelby, Nate … it was just important for me to let them know that that was literally the worst 32 hours or so of our lives, and they couldn’t have done anything more than they already did for us,” Brooke said.

First, Bobby had to break the news to the family that their beloved wife, mother and grandmother didn’t have pneumonia. She had cancer – and the outlook wasn’t good.

“Everyone's human, and I felt awful for them,” recalled Bobby. “One of the hard parts of the job is when you have to deliver that kind of news. You try to put yourself in their shoes and be as personal as you can about it."

“I can’t imagine having to be that person – to deliver that news to a family,” Brooke said. “But the way he delivered it, it was just awesome. He was so kind and so caring. He even looked at my sisters and me and said, ‘Are you guys all daughters?’ We said we were, and he was like, ‘If there’s anything you can do for me, please go get yourselves checked out (for cancer).’”

Once in the ICU, Shelby answered every question the family had with a blend of honesty and empathy.

“She didn’t sugarcoat anything, and she did everything with such care,” Brooke said. “Before she would leave the room, she’d say, ‘Can I give you a hug?’”

Brooke has seen Shelby a few times since then. In each instance, Shelby gives her a smile, an embrace, and asks, “How are you?”

“That’s not stuff that they have to do. That’s going above and beyond,” Brooke said.

“The biggest thing for me is to look at my patients and think that this is somebody’s mom, or this is somebody’s dad,” said Shelby. “Seeing Brooke somewhere else is just kind of making that connection and being able to say, ‘Hey, I’m here for you on another level if that’s what you need.’

“This really hit home for me. I spent a lot of time crying after the whole situation.”

By Wednesday morning, Christine was in her final hours and everyone knew it. It didn’t matter to Nate. He continued to wrap her legs with warm towels, and he brought Brooke lotion to rub on her mother’s feet.

“I loved that he never took care of her like she was going to die,” Brooke recalled. “Even though he knew that we were going to take her off life support, he treated her like she was just sick.”

“I approach every patient the same, I try to keep them as comfortable as I can,” said Nate. “And for them to find out what they did, that had to hit like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t even imagine.”

Along the way, Dr. Vincent Hinshaw made two extra trips to the unit to delicately discuss the severity of the diagnosis with family members who weren’t present for the initial conversation. Meanwhile, he kept Christine stable until more relatives could make it to the hospital to say goodbye.

All of which is why Brooke was moved to thank the people who provided so much support.

“I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t 100% mean it,” Brooke said. “And I know, with my sister being a nurse, they don’t get the recognition that they should. And everybody is quick to go to social media when somebody does something wrong, but they’re never quick to do something when someone does something great. I just appreciated them so much.”