Joe Pelligrino was a World War II Army veteran who wanted nothing more than to see his grandson graduate from Parris Island. Never mind he was battling stage 4 colon cancer.
To make the trip more comfortable for the 85-year-old Michigan resident, the family rented a motor home and drove the 900 miles to the Marine Corps Recruit Depot on Parris Island. But the evening before the ceremony, Pellegrino took a turn for the worse and had to be taken by ambulance to Beaufort Memorial Hospital.
A day-shift nurse, Kim Merritt wasn’t scheduled to work July 8, the night Joe was brought to Beaufort Memorial. But the unit was short-staffed, so she was called in at the last minute to cover the 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. shift.
During her shift, Kim learned of Joe’s heartache over not being able to attend his grandson’s graduation. Recognizing the old man was too weak to walk across a field, let alone climb bleachers, Kim knew her only shot was to get him VIP seating. She called her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Merritt, commander of the Headquarters and Service Battalion at Parris Island.
“I couldn’t get my husband on the phone, so I started calling everyone I knew on Parris Island,” Kim said. “I was finally able to reach the master sergeant who works with my husband. He went out to the field, and in the middle of the formation, slipped him a note to call me.”
Several phone calls later, the VIP seating was secured. It was then up to Kim to make it happen on her end. The first thing she had to do was get supervising physician Dr. Stacey Johnston to release Pellegrino for a few hours. Johnston agreed to the three-hour furlough, so long as Kim, a trained critical care nurse, accompanied the patient.
“Mr. Pellegrino was embarrassed to go to the ceremony in a hospital gown, so we rounded up some scrubs and got him dressed,” Kim said. “We arranged for his family to meet us at the parade deck with his American Legion jacket and Army cover (hat).”
Kim and charge nurse Pat Cooke wheeled the patient to Kim’s SUV and together they lifted him out of the wheelchair and put him in the car. Volunteers manning the front desk brought them several bottles of cold water, knowing it would be blisteringly hot on the parade grounds and Pellegrino would need to stay hydrated.
It was 8:45 a.m. The graduation started at 9.
“Once the ceremony starts, you can’t get into the VIP seating, so I had to fly to make it in time,” Kim said.
With just minutes to spare, Kim and her patient arrived at Parris Island. The lieutenant colonel waiting for them lifted Pellegrino out of the car and placed him in the wheelchair.
“Dad was a Private First Class during World War II, so he saluted the commanding officer,” Maggie Pellegrino, Joe’s daughter-in-law said. “But Lt. Col. Merritt told him, ‘No sir, I should be saluting you’.”
Mr. Pellegrino was seated in the front row of the VIP reviewing area alongside the brigadier general—the highest ranking officer on the base. His dutiful nurse stood behind him, umbrella in hand, water bottles at the ready.
“It was such a huge deal for him to see his grandson graduate and to have the Marines salute him as they passed the reviewing stand,” Maggie said. “It was a great send-off.”
Joe Pellegrino passed away seven weeks later in Michigan. His family, grateful for what the nurses had done for the veteran, sent them checks, which they donated in his honor to the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the Wound Warriors organization.;
“We knew we had done a good thing that day,” Kim said. “But I can’t imagine anyone in the same situation, not doing the same.”
Kim was nominated for the hospital’s DAISY Award for Registered Nurses by Maggie, Joe’s daughter-in-law.
The DAISY Award is a national honor bestowed to nurses who go far beyond the call of duty. The award, presented in collaboration with the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) and made possible through the BMH Foundation, was presented as a surprise in front of Kim’s husband, daughter and co-workers. Maggie and other members of Joe’s family were there, as well. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Kim received her award.;