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Around The Fleet

Nine Months to Live

Creating a legacy of hope

In the span of nine months, one's life can have a drastic change - a pregnancy, finding out what orders you've been selected for, or maybe something financially happens to you that can alter your life.

In the span of nine months, one Sailor has experienced something that not only a young Sailor should never have to deal with, but no one ever really wants to deal with; the loss of a spouse.

Hospital Corpsman Valerie Stevenson lost her husband, Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Austin Stevenson, over a nine-month span. He was battling leukemia, a type of blood cancer.

"I've lost more than my husband. I've lost my best friend, my companion, my love," said Stevenson, as she looked at a picture of her husband she delicately held in her hands.

The picture she held in her hand showed the two in a loving embrace. It was almost as if the picture came to life with the way she stared at it. She flipped through each picture in her collection, living in each moment she had with her husband.

Stevenson added, "Losing my husband was something I would have never imagined, especially, so soon. It's just something you never think about."

Initially, Austin's diagnosis was unclear. He was first diagnosed with lymphoma.

"The doctors called us back the next day and said that it wasn't lymphoma, it was leukemia," Stevenson said. "They told us to get to the hospital right away because the situation is more serious than expected."

Initial treatment left Austin with a diagnosis as being leukemia-free. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, it returned catching the Stevenson's off guard.

Upon diagnosis in July 2013, the Stevenson's, both stationed at Capt. James A. Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC) North Chicago, Ill., reached out to Navy Wounded Warrior - Safe Harbor (NWW-SH) to come up with a plan.

Valerie said, "We were struggling financially because of his treatments. They were very expensive and the travel situation was draining us too. It felt like we had nowhere to turn."

The Stevenson's had to continually drive to Milwaukee for Austin's chemotherapy.

Luckily, with the Stevenson's stationed at Lovell FHCC, they had a direct path to help.

Lt. Michael Chalfant, NWW-SH Non-Medical Care Manager, Lovell FHCC Nurse Jolene Moore, NWW-SH Medical Case Manager and Master Chief Hospital Corpsman Patricia Herring, Casualty Assistant Calls Officer at Lovell FHCC, all played vital roles in the treatment and well-being of Austin and Valerie.

"NWW-SH really put things into perspective for us," said Stevenson. "They let us know what options we could and couldn't take."

Chalfant said, "NWW-SH is designed to take care of ill or injured Sailors and Coast Guardsmen non-medical needs. With Valerie and Austin being stationed here, notification and communication worked out really well. We got the command's personal casualty report and worked from there."

"Austin received an unexpected prognosis of one week," said Chalfant. "We had to rush to get everything taken care from his beneficiary list, to other arrangements."

Austin's last wish was to enjoy the beach in Daytona, Fla.

"There were some obstacles with his last wish because of certain medical liabilities," said Chalfant. "We couldn't do a medical evacuation because it wasn't considered a necessity of care."

NWW-SH began looking for a way to make Austin's last wish come true. They even turned to charitable organizations. Because of Austin's prognosis, there was a medical liability to prevent charities from helping.

"TriCare, under a provision, was able to fly Austin to Daytona Beach because it was a transfer from one care facility to another," said Chalfant.

Austin was transferred to a hospice. He spent his last moments the way he wanted to; enjoying the sun on the beach.

"Unfortunately Austin passed away only a few hours after his arrival, but he got to enjoy his last moments with his wife and family," said Chalfant.

"Austin was just so positive the whole time," said Stevenson. "He never faltered or showed fear."

Austin passed away April 30, 2014.

For most of us, we think of death as the end life. We often think once someone has died it is the end of their life. For one Sailor, the death of her husband has done quite the opposite.

"I hope Austin's story might be able to help people in need while they're going through some tough medical issues," said Stevenson. "NWW-SH can help and that's the message I want to get out there. Austin just wanted to help people in his situation. I want the same thing, so I hope this story reaches out to people so they know they have options."

For more information about NWW-SH, you can call 855-NAVY WWP (628-9997) or visit their website at www.safeharbor.navylive.dodlive.mil.