Marion VA Medical Center
Terminal Marine Goes on One Last Ride
The Marion VA echoed in motorcycle rumbles and fire and police sirens as over two hundred bikers and supporters came out to go on one last bike ride with Marine Veteran Walter “Vernell” Holderfield. Three lanes of bikers from across Southern Illinois were led by Vernell as he rode on the back of a Harley-Davidson trike, driven by Navy Veteran Mike Harriss. “Riding used to be my therapy,” shares Vernell.
It’s been about ten years since Vernell was on a motorcycle due to having COPD and not having enough strength to ride alone. Today, Vernell got to ride one last time as he joked about this being an early birthday gift. He turns 64 in June, but realizes with his diagnosis he may not live that long.
“There’s a reason for me to still be alive and I think this must be it. I hope that this experience will be shared and that it will inspire other Veterans to reach out and get help if they need it,”shares Vernell.
Six months ago, Vernell was battling depression and felt useless in his condition. He was on the brink of giving up, when he decided to reach out for help. He was alone in his depression, but today he lives and talks with other Veterans and what he considers his Marion VA family.
In addition to being a father and husband, Vernell was a member of a rock band and spent countless hours on the road, riding his motorcycle. He recalls back to 1991 when he purchased a motorcycle and a van around the same time. Within six years, the motorcycle had over 70,000 miles on it, while the van only had 10,000 miles – it’s no wonder that Vernell longed for one last ride.
How did our nurses and Community Living Center Staff make this happen?
These acts of kindness are a daily occurrence in VA health care; however, this incident stands out due to Vernell’s enthusiasm for sharing his experience to help others.
Vernell would joke with one of his nurses, Monica Paisley, about riding on a motorcycle and how much he misses it. After a couple weeks of bantering back and forth, Monica decided to make it happen for him. Monica reached out to his family and physician to make sure it was doable and the answers were both YES!
Another gift that Vernell received was a handmade leather keychain. Jessica Watkins, RN, made numerous calls to various bike shops and had no luck in finding what Vernell wanted. Jessica then did what our nurses do best, she went above and beyond for our Veteran and she personally crafted one for Vernell. She took a leather hair clip with fringe and modified it to make that perfect biker's keychain for him.
Vernell loves that keychain so much that he has been requested to be buried with it. “I have always gotten my healthcare here at the Marion VA, I couldn’t ask for anything better” says Vernell with pride.
Both nurses, Monica Paisley and Jessica Watkins rode side by side with Vernell as his VA angels… and Vernell wouldn’t have had it any otherway.
We thank you all for supporting this Veteran and coming together as a community. This is what National Salute to Veteran Patients week is all about!
You can find the photos for this event on our Flickr page by clicking here.