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Embraced by Love – A Patient’s Perspective

Ray Curtis has called Evergreen home since 1973.

“When our family first moved up here, it was very different place,’ says Ray. “There were a lot of people living in cabins, hauling water and chopping wood, but there was a real a sense of community and camaraderie.”

Ray Curtis and his dog

Long-time Evergreen resident Ray Curtis with his dog.

Unlike a lot of people who move to Colorado, Ray didn’t come here for the mountains, he was far more interested in a therapeutic treasure tucked inside them. A psychological social worker by profession, Ray served as the director of Forest Heights Lodge for 35 years. He dedicated his life’s work and heart to helping boys struggling with emotional, behavioral, academic and social issues.

“I was drawn to the Lodge,” explains Ray. “Prior to Forest Heights, everything I had learned as a child care worker didn’t make sense to me. If something didn’t work, why would you do it again and do twice as much of it? For all of us, it’s important to love and be loved. Relationships are the catalyst. It’s not just what you are doing, but the person that makes it work.”

Ray’s loving approach made a difference in the lives of countless boys – both those who sought treatment at Forest Heights Lodge and beyond. By the time he retired in 2003, Ray had spearheaded critical improvements in the treatment of at-risk youth that have since become standard across the country.

Ray has the unique gift of leaving everyone and everything he touches a little brighter and better off. That includes his team of care providers from Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice.

Ray Curtis with Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner Judy Conrad and Social Worker Wendy Snow

Ray Curtis with Mount Evans Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner Judy Conrad and Social Worker Wendy Snow

“The first thing that happens when you call Mount Evans,” says Ray, “is that a lot of really wonderful people start coming to visit.”

The first wonderful person to knock at Ray’s door was Rhiannon Sullivan, head of Mount Evans’ Mountain Journey program. It was 2015 and Ray had just been diagnosed with chronic emphysema, a terminal condition that held the potential for extended management. Rhiannon’s goal was to help Ray spend his remaining years as independently as possible. To help accomplish this, Rhiannon introduced him to Mount Evans Volunteer Julia Gordon.

“We’re in sync,” says Julia. “Ray is very committed to serving the people in this community. He’s a very special person.”

A retired physician’s assistant, Julia has been a Mount Evans volunteer for eight years, the last five of them helping Mountain Journey identify and satisfy clients’ wants and needs.

“I’ve worked with dozens of people over the years, and it’s a real gift to be part of their lives,” says Julia. “I get to know the patients and their families intimately. I get to know their needs, their challenges and vulnerabilities. My most important role is advocacy. To observe, and to pass along that information to the professional staff.”

In late 2018 a decidedly unwelcome visitor came calling at Ray’s century-old Wah Keeney Park home. It was pneumonia and he was not expected to survive. Ray transitioned to hospice and his physical care was placed in the capable hands of Kristen Bailey. An experienced hospice nurse, Kristen was charged with keeping close track of Ray’s medical situation and managing his worsening symptoms.

Mount Evans Nurse Practitioner Judy Conrad checks Ray's blood pressure

Mount Evans Nurse Practitioner Judy Conrad checks Ray’s blood pressure

“I’ve become friends with Ray and I really enjoy our conversations. We share recipes, gardening tips, books and plants. I feel that the emotional support we give to patients and families is one of

the most important things we do. Just sitting and listening to someone does more for well-being than you can imagine,” Kristen says. “It’s the most meaningful job I have had in my 25 years of being a nurse.”

Social Worker Wendy Snow helped Ray through the process of getting his affairs in order.

“Ray is a gift to the universe,” says Wendy. “He was courageous in facing his issues, he’s unapologetically transparent about his feelings and he cares profoundly for people. He has enriched my life and helped me see people through his eyes which is loving and accepting.”

“Every person I met through Mount Evans has a real compassion for their fellow human beings.” Ray explains, “Most people are afraid of dying or don’t want to be around the dying. These are people who are willing to be loving with the dying even though the price they pay is to lose that person. They spend years caring for people that go out of their lives.”

Ray is not one of those people. Ray pulled through his life-threatening bout of pneumonia and made the extremely rare transition from Hospice to Mount Evan’s Palliative Care Program which allows Ray to focus more on his life right now rather than his death.

Ray’s chocolate chip cookies are legendary.

“I’m looking forward to my garden again, to cooking new recipes and teaching Julia how to use the Instant Pot,” says Ray. “When I changed care programs, I told them I wasn’t willing to give up Julia. She’s been with me from the start.”

Ray is grateful for everything Mount Evans has done for him, and for the many ways his visitors will continue to help him, possibly for years to come. Having forged close bonds with so many dedicated members of the Mount Evans family, there’s no question that Ray possesses a broader perspective on home health care and hospice than most. And he knows that your first call to Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice will open a door to the caring company of healing hands and generous hearts.

“Each person who come brings a gift,” Ray smiles. “If I have a gift to give back, it’s to say that I’ve never met a single person from Mount Evans who didn’t make me feel loved and respected.”