Stewart's Journey of Hope

Hospice: Helderberg Hospice
Name of patient: Stewart Gordon
Written by: Helderberg Hospice
Diagnosis: Degenerative heart disease
Message: Palliative care is not only end of life care. It is the holistic care provided to anyone diagnosed with a chronic or life-threatening condition with the aim of improving their quality of life

Stewart Gordon was an inspiration to all who met him. He endured many struggles throughout his life, and despite these, remained positive, determined, and courageous.

As one of 6 children, Stewart was just 10 years old when his mother passed away. His youngest sibling was only 7 months old at the time. He contracted rheumatic fever as a child, and this caused permanent damage to his heart. His first heart attack occurred in 1981, only 2 years after he got married.

After fathering three daughters, the unthinkable happened in 1993 when he lost his eldest daughter, aged 16 years, in a fatal car accident. Stewart suffered another heart attack in 1995, which left him with 14% heart function.

After being declared disabled and unable to work, he continued to do part time security work at schools to support his family. However, he steadily became weaker, relying more and more on crutches, until he eventually became wheelchair bound.

In 2019 his heart had deteriorated to the extent that medically there was nothing more that Groote Schuur Hospital could do for him, and he was referred to Helderberg Hospice to receive care as a Palliative Care patient.

The intervention of Helderberg Hospice and the spiritual guidance Stewart received from his community Pastor, changed his life dramatically.

As he told us in May 2020: “The provision of correct medication and the loving support and care from Sr. Angelique Botha, Dr. Mark Hosking and other hospice staff members, is what ‘saved’ me. They immediately made me feel at home and part of the Helderberg Hospice family. I am very family focussed and I was supported in my wish to be at home. Today I can walk longer distances, and without any assistance! Life owes me nothing, but I firmly believe that I have a purpose. I hope to give hope and love to those around me with my story.”

Sr. Botha became like family to Stewart, and he would look forward to her regular visits. He would tell his sister Pat, with a broad smile on his face, about how well Sr. Botha treated him and how comfortable and reassured she made him feel.

For the family, who had lived daily in dread and fear of losing their ‘boeta’ after his discharge from Groote Schuur Hospital, the care and support that they received from the staff of Helderberg Hospice, in particular Sr. Botha and Heidi Hendricks (their Social Worker), gave them great comfort and a sense of peace, and most invaluable of all, the gift of two more years with their loved one. Even Stewart’s 6-year-old granddaughter looked forward to Sr. Botha’s visits and continued to ask for her even after her grandfather had passed away.

Constant communication with Stewart and his family members meant that they were kept up to date and always informed regarding his health. When he experienced debilitating pain, this was quickly resolved. Unpleasant symptoms that arose were sorted out immediately.

We journeyed together with Stewart and his family as they endured the physical and emotional tumult that comes with living with a life-threatening illness. Throughout, weekly meetings were held by Dr Mark Hosking and the rest of our interdisciplinary team for feedback, discussions, and co-ordination of Stewart’s care.

During one of the many regular home visits from Sr. Botha, Stewart shared with her his ultimate dream – to be able to ride on a Harley Davidson motorcycle. With the help of the amazing Iron Skulls Motorcycle Club (Cape Town Chapter), Helderberg Hospice set about making Stewart’s dream come true. Consent was given by his doctor, and the legalities were taken care of. Finally, in August 2020, the big day arrived!

On a beautiful morning in the Helderberg, the riders gathered. An excited Stewart settled into his seat, and off they rode – along the stunning coastline through Strand and Gordon’s Bay, then turning at the whale lookout point to make their way back along the coast to Somerset West again.

This was an experience a thrilled Stewart would enjoy re-living with everyone he knew. The sense of freedom and brotherhood, and the throb of the powerful motorbikes was something he would never forget. We made him an album of photographs from his ride, and he would show anyone and everyone his album and tell them of his wonderful adventure.

When Stewart’s life adventure came peacefully to an end on 12 March 2022, his family were at his side. As Helderberg Hospice had supported his family through his illness, so we supported them through their bereavement.

As his sister Pat said recently: “We as a family stand in awe of the work that Hospice has done in the life of our brother/father/grandfather! We knew that, should anything happen, we could always call on the Sister or Social worker for advice and assistance. We had that assurance and comfort knowing that they are only a phone call away”.

The memories of this lovely man will live on forever in the hearts of those who were fortunate to know and love him. Rest in Peace Stewart.