Hospice Nurse Helps Patient Reunite With Beloved Horse

4 Min Read Published August 9, 2023
Hospice Nurse Helps Patient Reunite With Beloved Horse

Image: Karina Courtmanche and her horse Bella back in the 1990s

Nurses are not only known for their expertise in the healthcare system. But they are also known for the unwavering commitment and compassion they provide to their patients. That is what Michelle Walker, a hospice nurse from Connecticut, demonstrated as she went above and beyond to grant one of her patient's dying wishes to reconnect her with her loving horse. 

On July 9th, 2023, Karina Courtmanche, a hospice patient from Mary Wade Home in New Haven, Connecticut, was transported to Bittersweet Farms to bond one last time with her longtime companion of 30 years, her horse Bella. 

Image: Michelle Walker, RN and Karina Courtmanche at Bittersweet Farms

Michelle Walker, an RN case manager for Connecticut Hospice, has been caring for Courtmanche and overhead about her final wish. "When Karina said she missed Bella, we knew it was a wish we'd like to make come true," Walker shared. The experience gave Walker more insight into Courtmanche's past and her deep affection for Bella. 

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According to a report, Courtmanche was born in Lavita and came to the United States in 1951 after World War II. Courtmanche also served as a nurse until her retirement. Close friends shared that she was briefly married in the 1970s and had no children. But her love of horses has always been endless. 

Lucille Alouah, who is a close friend, communicated with reports that Courtmanche originally had two horses. One of them gave birth to Bella. 

 "She adored her so much that she even had a baby shower for her. It was the first time I had to go to a hay and grain store for a shower gift," Alouah added

Image: Karina Courtmanche and Bella as a filly in 1995

Unfortunately, in recent years, friends of Courtmanche began to notice her becoming forgetful and struggling with completing simple tasks. Bob Sturwold, another close friend, recalled a concerning moment with Courtmanche.   

"She called me, wondering why her bills kept going up, and when I looked into it, I found out she wasn't paying her bills," he said.

After a fall last year, Sturwold and Alouah helped Courtmanche relocate to a senior care facility.

A Friendship Reunited One Last Time 

Walker discovered that the horse was still alive and located at Bittersweet Farms in Bethany, Connecticut, about 10 miles from the nursing facility. However, because of the horse's old age, the farm owners shared that Bella was unfit to travel in a trailer. Walker recalled asking Courtmanche:

 "'Would you like to see your horse, Bella?' and she said yes, that she would. That's when everyone decided, 'Let's make this happen for Karina.'"

With the help of Courtmanche's care team and close friends, they collaborated in granting her last request to reunite her with Bella. Furthermore, they were unsure of Courtmanche's remaining time, so they needed to act quickly

Karen Enders, the nursing director of Connecticut Hospice, assisted by reaching out to an AMR ambulance transportation company. The story moved the company and transported Courtmanche to Bittersweet Farms to spend an hour with Bella free of charge. 

Andrew Rennie, an executive of AMR, shared in a report:"We know the horse was very important to her, and that this was an important part of her transitioning through this final time of her life, so we're just really excited that we were able to come together with Mary Wade and CT Hospice to be able to make this happen." 

Image: AMR transport team arriving at Bittersweet Farms with Karina Courtmanche

On arrival, the ambulance pulled up next to the barn door to make it easier to move the stretcher inside. Reports indicate that it had been almost two years since the last time Courtmanche saw her horse. 

Image: Michelle Walker, RN and Karina Courtmanche feeding Bella carrots

During their time together, Courtmanche pet Bella through the stall windows, and with Walker's help, she fed her carrots as well. At that moment, Courtmanche lit up and acknowledged that it was Bella. According to Alouche, it also appeared that Bella may have remembered Courtmanche as she continued to smell her hands while being fed. 

The experience was emotional for Walker, as she expressed: "It was such a touching, beautiful thing, I cried most of the time I was there. We treat each and every one of our patients like they're our mothers, our fathers, our brothers, our sisters."

Image: RN Michelle Walker and Karina Courtmanche petting Bella at Bittersweet Farms.

Friends and caregivers will forever remember the short reunion that Courtmanche and Bella spent together. In addition, Sturwold is working on setting up a trust fund to continue Bella's care at Bittersweet Farms. 

Image: Arriving at Bittersweet Farms were hospice aide Sharmane Hawley, nurse case manager Michelle Walker, and Karina Courtmanche. 

"Karina's care is a heartwarming example of staff dedication to the complete care of the patient and their family and loved ones," shared Barbara Pearce, CEO of Connecticut Hospice. 

Gina Pardino
Gina Pardino
Nurse.org Contributor

Gina Pardino, BSN, RN, is a registered nurse in the Chicagoland area. She has clinical experience working in acute rehabilitation and dermatology. In addition, she is a published contributing author of two books. Gina is passionate about using her nursing knowledge and skills in writing to educate the public on health and wellness topics. Check out Gina's website freelyrnwritings.com

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