The Marion, Illinois VA Medical Center echoed with the rumble of motorcycles and fire and police sirens as more than 200 bikers and supporters came out to go on one last bike ride with Marine Veteran Walter “Vernell” Holderfield. Three lanes of bikers from across Southern Illinois were led by Holderfield as he rode on the back of a Harley-Davidson trike, driven by Navy Veteran Mike Harris. “Riding used to be my therapy,” Holderfield said.
It’s been about ten years since Holderfield was on a motorcycle because he has COPD and does not have the strength to ride alone. Today, Holderfield got to ride one last time as he joked about this being an early birthday gift. He turns 64 in June, but realizes with his diagnosis he may not live that long.
Six months ago, Holderfield was battling depression and felt useless in his condition. He was on the brink of giving up, when he decided to reach out for help.
“There’s a reason for me to still be alive and I think this must be it. I hope that this experience will be shared and that it will inspire other Veterans to reach out and get help if they need it,” Holderfield said.
Over 200 bikers and supporters came out to ride with Holderfield to show him that he is not alone.
Six months ago, Holderfield was battling depression and felt useless in his condition. He was on the brink of giving up, when he decided to reach out for help. He was alone in his depression, but today he lives and talks with other Veterans and what he considers his Marion VA family.
In addition to being a father and husband, Holderfield was a member of a rock band and spent countless hours on the road, riding his motorcycle. He recalls back to 1991 when he purchased a motorcycle and a van around the same time. Within six years, the motorcycle had over 70,000 miles on it, while the van only had 10,000 miles – it’s no wonder that Holderfield longed for one last ride.
How did our nurses and Community Living Center Staff make this happen?
These acts of kindness are a daily occurrence in VA health care; however, this incident stands out because of Holderfield’s enthusiasm and willingness to share his experience with others who may need help, but might be on the fence about asking for it.
Holderfield would joke with one of his nurses, Monica Paisley, about riding on a motorcycle and how much he misses it. After a couple weeks of bantering back and forth, Paisley decided to make it happen for him. She reached out to his family and physician to make sure it was doable and the answer from both was a resounding “YES!”
Another gift that Holderfield received was a handmade leather key chain. Jessica Watkins, RN, made numerous calls to various bike shops and had no luck in finding what Holderfield wanted. Jessica then did what our nurses do best, she went above and beyond for our Veteran and she personally crafted one for Holderfield. She took a leather hair clip with fringe and modified it to make that perfect biker’s key chain.
Holderfield loves that key chain so much that he has requested to be buried with it. “I have always gotten my healthcare here at the Marion VA, I couldn’t ask for anything better” said Holderfield with pride.
Both nurses, Monica Paisley and Jessica Watkins, rode side by side with Holderfield as his VA angels. Holderfield wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Editor’s Note: Vernell Holderfield’s wish wasn’t the only one granted by Marion VA last Friday. In preparing this blog post, we learned from Marion VA Medical Center public affairs specialist Beth Lamb that the bikers were asked to gather at the local VFW after taking a loop with Vernell. She said they learned there was a woman who lives near the VA facility who loves motorcycles and is also terminally ill. At Marion VA’s request, the riders drove by her house en route to the VFW so she could hear the bikes rumble by. “We granted two wishes that day,” Lamb shared.
About the author: Williams Martinez is a public affairs specialist with the Marion, Illinois VA Medical Center. As a Veteran he loves being able to share the stories of fellow Servicemembers and honor military traditions.