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Patient Spotlight

Margaret Hohu comes full circle with Mount Evans

Margaret Hohu with Mount Evans physical therapist Susan Adamowski

Margaret Hohu with Mount Evans physical therapist Susan Adamowski

By Stephen Knapp

Some 35 years ago, Margaret Hohu shared what she knew with a small group of her Evergreen neighbors.

“They wanted me to talk about hospice,” shrugs Margaret, 91 years old and indomitable of mind, body and spirit. “I just gave them my two cents.”

Some 35 years later, Margaret’s two cents have been multiplied beyond her imagining, and her words have come back to her in deeds.

In December, 1941, Margaret was a carefree teenager growing up amid Hawaii’s untroubled splendor. Her father commanded a small military air base on the Big Island’s southern coast and, like every other girl her age, Margaret was more interested in Glenn Miller on the radio and Dorothy Lamour at the Bijou than in theoretical dangers lurking just beyond the western horizon.

On Dec. 7, her innocence went up in thunder and smoke.

“When Pearl Harbor was bombed there weren’t enough medical personnel stationed in Hawaii to handle what was going on,” Margaret recalls. “President Roosevelt started a program to train teenage girls to work in the field hospitals. That’s what we girls did. We worked in the field hospitals.”

By mid-1942, an influx of older, professionally trained staff from the mainland had put Margaret and her friends out of the hospital wards and into WARD, the newly organized Women’s Air Raid Defense program. Scoring well on the application test, Margaret did a tour as a WARD supervisor keeping track of Imperial Japan’s movements in the theater.

“We received readings and observations from all over the Pacific. It was our job to plot them on big maps that the bomber crews used to identify targets.”

Margaret Hohu in Hawaii during World War II

Margaret Hohu in Hawaii during World War II

Eventually that job, too, was filled by professional Army personnel, but two exciting years in uniform had left Margaret inspired to service. The U.S. Cadet Nurse Corps was formed in 1943, and Margaret was among its first eager recruits. Margaret trained as a nurse anaesthetist at Baylor Medical University in Dallas, then found her way to Denver where she honed her skills in hospitals up and down the Front Range.

“The work was very stressful, and I used to drive up to Evergreen on my days off to relax and be refreshed,” Margaret says. “After a while I thought ‘Why not just live in Evergreen?’”

She couldn’t think of a single good reason, and in the early 1960s purchased a comfortable mountain retreat among the pines of Camel Heights. Her practice flourished, and she found time to share her skills with those eager to learn at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley and in professional settings in Lakewood. And as Margaret continued to mature in her career, the increasing maturity of her patients presented challenges not adequately addressed by her field.

“My patients were getting older, and I wanted to learn how to handle them as they aged. There wasn’t much out there about that back then. Then I heard about a government conference on hospice that was going on in Phoenix. Hospice was still a pretty new idea in the 70s, but it seemed like a good place to start, so I went.”

Not long after Margaret returned to Colorado, a national hospice symposium was organized in Denver, and as one of precious few local medical professionals educated on the topic Margaret was tapped to address the group.

“I was no expert, but I’d learned a lot in Arizona and I shared what I knew.”

As it happened, another Evergreen resident sat in the audience. Carol Linke had for some time been exploring the possibility of bringing hospice to the mountain area, and she listened with keen interest as her neighbor sketched a picture of American end-of-life care as it was then understood.

“When the conference was over, Carol asked me to come to her house and talk to her friends,” Margaret remembers. “It was just a handful of people sitting in her living room. They were trying to start a hospice, and I told them everything I knew.”

In 1980, Carol and that handful of people turned what Margaret told them into Mount Evans Hospice. While Margaret remained available to advise them at need, her own thriving practice consumed the greater part of her time and she soon fell out of touch with the organization she’d been so helpful in launching.

Professionally, Margaret retired in 2000 at the age of 77. Her career as full-time volunteer started that same year as she began traveling the country as a Red Cross volunteer.

“In 2001 they sent me to New York for 911. It was pretty awful, and it was worse because the Red Cross wasn’t very well organized. They warned us about not breathing all the toxins in the air. When I asked them to distribute masks to the volunteers they said they didn’t have any. Can you believe the Red Cross didn’t have any masks? It really messed up my lungs. I was on oxygen for a long time after that.”

Down but not out, Margaret continued her Red Cross service until 2005 when she was ordered to take the next transport heading to New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. She explained to her supervisors that, as an 82-year-old woman with weakened lungs, she feared she wasn’t up to front-line duty and believed she could be of better use in a rear-echelon capacity. Her supervisors didn’t see it that way and insisted she report to the Gulf at once. Instead she handed in her resignation and, for the first time in more than 70 years, settled down to relax in earnest.

Margaret’s graceful retirement was interrupted last year by a stroke. After completing a stretch in rehab, she was moved to the Elk Run Assisted Living facility for further therapy. Immediately a patient procession of cheerful faces began appearing at her threshold, helpful hands determined to get Margaret back on her feet. Among the first to enlist in Margaret’s cause was physical therapist Susan Adamowski. Susan was delighted to find her 91-year-old patient fearless in the face of adversity.

“Margaret works hard and does everything I ask,” Susan says. “She’s really amazing.”

Then it was Margaret’s turn to be amazed. Surprised at the number and quality of therapists like Susan tasked to her recovery, she started wondering who’d sent them. Turns out many of them had been dispatched from a building just a few hundred feet south of Margaret’s comfortable Elk Run lodgings.

“I found out a lot of them are from hospice,” says Margaret, softly shaking her head in wonder.

“I couldn’t believe it.”

Margaret was dumbfounded to learn that her two cents had compounded over 35 years into Mount Evans Home Health Care & Hospice, a leader in its field spanning four counties and providing aid and comfort to thousands.

“I’d read a little bit about Mount Evans in the paper, and I always thought it was nice that they’d managed to get their hospice off the ground, but I had no idea how much it had grown, or how much it does. And I never thought I’d be using their services.”

If Margaret is grateful for the assistance Mount Evans gives her, she should save a word or two of thanks for herself. The encouragement and expertise she receives from Susan and her colleagues are simply the strong echoes of the knowledge and encouragement she gave her neighbors so many years ago.

“I helped them, and now they’re helping me,” Margaret observes. “It went completely around like a clock.”