Blake Shelton becomes a ‘hospice hero’

By  Ricki Barker

Brenda Roberts shares a hug with Blake Shelton.

Brenda Roberts, 70, never dreamed she would be able to attend one of her favorite country music artist’s concerts, much less meet the man himself.

But thanks to the staff of Hospice Care Plus (HCP) and Madison Health and Rehabilitation Center (MHR), Roberts’ wish came true June 7.

After attending a Blake Shelton concert at the Country Music Hall of Fame CMA Theater in Nashville, Roberts was surprised to find herself face-to-face with the “Honeybee” hit maker in an impromptu meet and greet.

The meeting was a surprise for Roberts, who had no clue people from HCP and MHR had been working behind the scenes for weeks to make Roberts’ wish a reality.

“I had no idea,” Roberts, who has a tracheotomy and is unable to speak, communicated by mouthing words during an interview with The Register this week. “I was shocked to see him.”

Roberts expressed the immense joy she felt when she met the star who stands 6 foot, 5 inches tall. He immediately hugged her and kissed her on the cheek.

“He was so nice and down to earth,” Roberts said of Shelton. “He spoke to everyone and was very sweet. He kissed me on the cheek and rubbed my shoulders. I didn’t know how to react; I was so surprised and happy.”

Roberts’ daughter Dreema said her mother’s meeting with Shelton was everything she had imagined.

“Everyone was so kind and Blake Shelton was amazing,” she said. “He hugged her over and over. He held onto her and rubbed her shoulder. He held her hand. He kissed her on the cheek and let her do the same. She mouthed the words, ‘I love you. I have cancer.’ He told her he knew, and he just hugged her.”

Roberts journey began back in May when she and her daughter met with Hospice Care Plus nurse Dorsie Puckett to learn more about hospice care.

Roberts, a resident of MHR and a patient of HCP, which partner to provide her care, is battling cancer of the larynx.

“We were sitting there and she was upset and tearful,” Puckett said of her meeting with Roberts. “I could see she felt that choosing hospice meant giving up and just waiting for the end. I wanted her to turn her focus to hope and to living, so I told her about our bucket-list program and asked her if there was anything we could do for her, anything special that was important to her that she really wanted to do.

“That’s when Dreema mentioned that Brenda loves Blake Shelton. And Brenda, who has a tracheotomy and is unable to speak, whispered very softly to me, ‘Yes I do. I’m not a great country music fan, but I think he’s the most handsome man in the whole world, and it would make my life to get to see him.’”

Fueled by the desire to make Roberts’ wish come true, Puckett immediately worked with her team and the entire Hospice Care Plus staff to develop a care plan for Roberts with her wish in mind.

HCP has an informal bucket-list program that uses donated funds to help make patient’s important wishes and dreams come true. The program utilizes donations, volunteers and help from the community to help fulfill requests, said Brenna Wallhausser, director of public relations for Hospice Care Plus.

Wallhauser said Puckett’s team began researching scheduled performances of Shelton’s that were nearby and were soon enough for Roberts to attend while her health still supported travel.

The bucket-list program provided the funds and secured affordable tickets for Roberts, her daughter and her son-in-law to attend the intimate concert in Nashville. MHR shared a portion of the ticket cost with HCP, and the family agreed to share the cost of the hotel.

Puckett then worked quickly to gather the medical equipment Roberts would need for a long drive and two nights away from her facility, which included a portable suction machine, 12 e-tanks for portable oxygen, a wheelchair-mounted carrier for the e-tanks, an adequate supply of all her medications, and numerous routine medical supplies.

“Thanks goodness her daughter is a nurse,” Wallhauser said. “We knew she would be well taken care of in her hands in case there was an emergency.”

However, members of HCP’s bucket list team were not satisfied with just a concert for Roberts. They wanted to go the extra mile to make the day special for her.

“We really thought it would be wonderful if she got to meet him,” Wallhauser explained. “We started contacting everyone we could think of, Blake Shelton’s manager, fan club, PR people – anyone we could think of that could help us. We started a social media campaign on Twitter and Facebook asking for help.”

On the morning of the concert, hospice had yet to receive a reply to their requests for a meeting. However, a Facebook message gave them hope that an industry executive had promised to look into the matter.

When Roberts family texted HCP staff to say they made it and were inside the venue, everyone was happy that she was about to see her wished-for concert, but also a little disappointed. It was assumed that, if anything special was planned for Roberts, it would have been made clear to them when they presented their tickets.

“We thought that was it,” Wallhauser explained. “I was texting two people who had worked incredibly hard to make it happen and I was preparing them for the fact that it wasn’t going to happen, but also thanking them and reassuring them that Brenda would not know any disappointment. To our knowledge, she didn’t know we were trying for the meeting. We agreed not to tell her, because we didn’t want to risk a let-down. We wanted her to feel nothing but joy at seeing him live in concert.”

Ten minutes into the performance HCP received an email from Shelton’s management group asking to speak with the staff.

“They told us that it had gone through, and Brenda was going to get to meet Blake Shelton. We were thrilled,” Wallhauser said.

For the next few hours, Wallhauser said she and other HCP staff waited patiently for word from Dreema on how the meeting was going.

“She texted a photograph of her mother with Blake Shelton,” Wallhouser recalled. “When I saw it, I thought that it captured how special all of this was for Brenda. It was easy to see the joy on her face. Surprisingly, it also seemed to catch how special it was for Blake Shelton.”

Roberts said after the concert she was wheeled into a backstage area and was talking to her family when she felt a tap on the shoulder, behind her was Shelton.

Roberts said the singer spent some time joking and laughing with her and her family.

The 70-year-old recalled a funny moment between her and Shelton when the country music star spotted Roberts’ tattoo on her left shoulder that features the letter “b.”

“He asked me what it stood for, and I pointed at him and said it stands for Blake,” Roberts said of her joke with Shelton.

The 70-year-old said she will never forget the time she spent with the singer she considers “the handsomest man in the world” and is grateful for everyone’s efforts to make that magical moment happen.

Photos of her trip and meeting with Shelton now grace the walls of her room at MHR, and she delights in retelling her adventure with staff and visitors.

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