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‘Party Patrol’ provides patient’s 98th birthday bash

Ione McMillian may have been in hospice care, but her birthday celebration this year was all about a long, well-lived life.

On Feb. 2, almost 250 family and friends gathered at Fellowship Hall in St. Louis to celebrate McMillian’s 98th birthday. The family had tried to get everyone together three years earlier, but McMillian was too sick then.

McMillian has suffered with congestive heart failure for about 17 years. She began BJC Hospice care in December 2017.

For the next year, her condition was up and down. She was off and on oxygen, and moved in with her daughter, Darlene Ivy, Feb. 18, 2018. BJC Hospice staff helped Ivy learn all the things she needed to do to be able to care for her mother.

But the move was no burden for Ivy, who calls her mother her “best friend,” says BJC Hospice staff nurse Deborah Klinghammer.

Then, in April 2018, Ivy prepared to go to Texas for her granddaughter’s wedding. She wasn’t sure McMillian would be able to travel. But McMillian surprised everyone when her health began to improve. She was able to fly to Texas to take part in all of the events and photos, along with 75 family members.

Though still in hospice care and taking life one day at a time, McMillian still was up for a party and good time. Her family decided it might be time to try to celebrate her birthday again and had put in months of planning when the Friends of Wings Party Patrol offered to help.

The BJC Party Patrol went to work on planning her birthday and didn’t leave anything out. As part of BJC Hospice’s Joyful Celebrations program, Party Patrol volunteers plan memorable days for hospice families when they see a need.

For McMillian’s birthday, the Party Patrol provided a lemon cake shaped like a Bible with Psalm 23 written in icing (McMillian’s favorite). Donations rounded up by Party Patrol members included balloons, props, photography, trays of pasta, flowers, a “98”-shaped cake, and set up and decorations.

Getting McMillian to the event was a little challenging. The limo service had originally sent a standard limousine to pick her up, but she had trouble getting into it. The driver went back to the office, got a large Mercedes Benz and drove McMillian to the party in style.

A jazz band played throughout the celebration, and everyone enjoyed food, prayers, speeches, stories and memories.

McMillian even sang a solo and a duet with BJC Hospice music therapist Kathryn Coccia.

Ivy made gift bags for everyone with a few of her mom’s favorite sweets: candy bars, salt water taffy, suckers, Pixie Stix, hard candies and Hershey chocolate bars covered with thank-you wrappers.

It was a beautiful celebration of life, says Ivy. “I just want to thank everyone who made this birthday a happy one for my mom,” she says. “They were all so awesome, from her nurse, the volunteers, the individuals who donated party goods, and all the wonderful ideas the Party Patrol came up with. Our aide was such a blessing, teaching me how to care for my mom at my house. Everyone was awesome, all the way around.”

And the BJC Hospice personnel who worked with McMillian feel the same way about her and her family.

“This family is amazing to work with,” says Klinghammer. “They just love Ione so much. She’s treated like a princess by every member of this family.

“The hardest thing I have ever had to do was to tell the family she had a decline and might be leaving us shortly. Their faith and their love for one another is truly a gift, and I am very blessed to get to spend time with them,” she says.

For more information or to volunteer for
Wings/Lumina, contact Mary Lindsley, 314-953-1671 or [email protected]

Donors help get the party started

Members of the Wings Party Patrol went all out to pull together the birthday party of a lifetime for Ione McMillian and her family. That included getting donations that made the party especially memorable.

Donations and donors included:

  • Barbi Macon Photography
  • Catherine’s Cakery
  • Balloonville
  • JED Transportation
  • Jesse Tran Photography
  • Julie Peters (pasta trays, flower arrangements)
  • Annie Diehr (props)
  • Jodi Flesner, Jo Anne DuMont, Jamie McCoy and Bre Esmon (party set-up)
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