MANKATO — Kathy Haag’s 2019 was marked by tragedy.
The Mankato woman lost both her husband and grandson to illnesses months apart, with both spending their final days in hospice. The care they and their family received, she said, won’t soon be forgotten.
She made sure of it Friday by delivering $5,738 in donations to Mayo Clinic Health System’s hospice program.
“When they came in it’s just a calming feeling, an overall calm,” she said of hospice care. “That’s the word I usually use. It was just a relief and calm to know I had somebody there.”
Her husband, Ed, died in March 2019 at age 58 after being diagnosed with stage-four lung cancer in 2018. His diagnosis was a shock to his family.
His cough was the only indication something was wrong, so they figured it was bronchitis. A biopsy revealed a graver situation, leading to a flurry of treatments.
As it became increasingly clear the treatments wouldn’t save him, his family met with Mayo Clinic Health System’s hospice team. People associate hospice with the end, Kathy said, but for her and Ed it was more about providing him with comfort and the family with support as they processed his final weeks.
Hospice again provided solace when their grandson, Keegan Andreasen of New Ulm, grew progressively ill months later. Keegan, 9, had a rare, seizure-causing neurological disorder known as CDKL5 since he was an infant.
Once the disease became untenable over the late summer, the family again turned to hospice in the final weeks before his death in September. Losing a child was the most difficult experience imaginable, said Keegan’s mother and Ed’s daughter, Cala Haag, but the hospice team offered support every step of the way.
“I was crumbling, but they were holding me up,” she said.
No matter the time of day, everyone on the care team from volunteers to nurses to the hospice director at the time, Dr. Greg Kutcher, responded to the family’s needs — Kutcher is now in semi-retirement as the associate director. Through Keegan’s lifetime of medical appointments, Cala said the family never felt closer to his care team than when he was in hospice.
Friday’s donation was raised during the 20th annual Wilde Cup pool tournament, a competition Ed consistently played in since the beginning. Ed was the 2019 tournament’s honoree, continuing a tradition of dedicating the competition in someone’s memory each year.
At the tournament, Kathy ran into an overwhelming number of Ed’s old friends. Even those who hadn’t played with him for years came to pay their respects.
“In Mankato I doubt there was a player who didn’t know Ed,” said Jeff Maurer, one of the tournament’s original organizers.
The pool tournament is organized by a tight-knit group who supports their own, Kathy said. She joked about taking up pool because she got sick of just watching Ed play. At one point, the two had a pool table in their living room instead of furniture.
The tournament’s big turnout — the biggest in its history at more than 130 participants — made for a substantial donation. The $5,738 included $2,500 from the Modern Woodmen of America. The organizers also raffled guns donated by Lacina Siding and Windows.
Kathy was tasked with choosing the donation’s recipient, an easy decision, she said.
“Mine was a given,” she said. “It was going to go to hospice.”
The generous gift is great recognition for the hospice team, said Dr. Jennifer Derrick, Mayo in Mankato’s hospice medical director.
“It’s absolutely rewarding just to feel the benefit that she received be paid back to the staff,” she said.
As someone who schedules appointments for Mayo in Mankato’s pain medicine department, Kathy said she hopes her donation highlights hospice care as an option for families.
“They’re just there to make it as comfortable as it could be,” she said. “I can’t thank them enough every day.”