VA therapist helps dying Veteran complete bucket list

The sky is the limit


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With help from VA Recreation Therapist Lili Sotolong, left, Veteran Kenneth Augustus was able to scratch skydiving from his bucket list.

Army Veteran Kenneth Augustus loved adventure.  He loved to rock climb, and scuba dive, and always had a longing for falling hundreds of feet per second from an airplane.

VA Salt Lake City Recreation Therapist Lili Sotolong knew skydiving was a lofty goal considering his condition, but she was determined to make that dream come true.

“I got a call out of the blue to come work with this Veteran,” Lili said.  “I was told he only had a few months to live but when I got there he was beyond positive, and so easy to work with.  He had made peace with what was happening to him and was really preparing himself for the inevitable; he just had some things he wanted to experience first.”

Lili made several calls and finally arranged the jump through two very generous community partners: Skydive Utah and the Elks Lodge.  It was go time!

“He got to jump with his brother and his son, and they wanted me to do it with them!  We had a group hug and were all fist-pumping in the plane prior to the jump.  It really was an extraordinary experience.”

On Veterans Day 2017 Kenny Augustus fulfilled his dying wish. Attached to a highly-experienced instructor and with a big smile on his face, he dove out of a prop plane at 13,500 feet.  Imagine a free fall at 120 miles per hour for 60 seconds.  Moments later, the jolt of a chute opening was followed by a peaceful glide to the ground.  Lili remembers Kenny’s smile and a big thumbs-up.

From one Extreme to the Next: Scuba Diving One Last Time (check)

Later that evening, Kenny went scuba diving with his son via virtual reality goggles at the Crater in Midvale, Utah. He was too sick to go in the water, but enjoyed the next best thing.  Using a drone especially equipped for the water, Kenny followed his son underwater and experienced everything his son was seeing.   Kenny was hoping for the real thing, but just being there surrounded by the love and support of his family was thrill enough.

A week later Kenny passed.

“I went to my supervisor and I just broke down” Lili said.  “I am touched and hurt all at the same time. I really got to know him and his family over a short time. I just never thought it would hurt this much.”

Lili agreed to tell this story because of this extraordinary Veteran she came to admire. His spirit and positivity in the face of such pain and uncertainty impacted her in ways she never imagined.

Author

Jill Atwood

Comments

  1. Susan Tucker    

    This was a very beautiful story. Lili is one of the many unsung heroes of the V.A. I want to say thank you to her for having the nerve to accompany Kenney in flight. That is what I call the extra mile. Kudos gal!!!! We tend to think about the physical limitations. These therapists help us learn to function through our disabilities…I know…

  2. Steve Peterson    

    Lili. What an awesome gift you gave that family. It was nice that you took his focus off his poor health for a few days and gave him the joy to share experiences with his family. Now you are very special. Lili, I have found that young people do not have the same perspective as older people about death. Older people don’t want those whom are left behind on this earth to feel bad when death occurs. My wife was in poor health and always told me to have a big party with food, booze, and dancing when she passed away, and that I should move on with my life. Well, we ended up having a quiet dinner after the funeral, and that was the best party we could muster up that day. But, we understood her unselfish message of love each other, and don’t dwell alone in sadness. I am a Vietnam veteran, and I married my wife before being in the army for 3 years. So we both served in our own ways. Now she is buried at a national cemetery. When my time comes to leave this earth, The opposite side of the headstone will include an engraving with my date of birth and death, army rank and details, and a few lines that my family can choose to include. I am at peace and in good health, and may live another 20 or 25 years. I don’t want to be a burden or my passing to cause my children, and grandchildren, and perhaps great grandchildren a lot of heartache. Bless you!

  3. Debbie Jones    

    Thank you li li from one recreation therapist to another. It is stories like yours that makes this profession so rewarding beyond words

  4. Raymond Spangle    

    There are an awful lot of outstanding people in the V.A. system–I have met them at the Butler, Pa. V.A. facility–The caring you all show should be told more often–Great story–More-Please-

  5. Bob M    

    Lili,

    That was AWESOME!

    Whether it was an amazingly non-VA-like supervisor or God himself, you were hand picked for this mission. You did an awesome thing and should be commended. The VA or any school can NOT teach compassion, empathy, and a loving heart. That comes from a great upbringing and/or divine intervention.

    God Bless You.

    VA DIRECTORS – SEE THIS WOMAN??? Recruit and hire more like her!!! PS Good luck with that!

    BM
    Former AF Medic & Currently Case Manager to Vets @ a veterans sevice organization.

  6. Mirria Gonzalez    

    I love this story. Thank you for sharing.
    Such emotions. God be with his family and Lili.

  7. Greg Gilbo    

    Jill,
    Thank you for your commitment and follow through! I know Kenneth appreciated every moment of both events and the connection to his family with the VR.
    Greg

  8. Laura Jackson-Radford    

    This was a lovely story! If only our government valued our men and women retired/wounded/disabled/STILL WEARING the uniforms like Ms Lili…

  9. Thomas Ratley Jr.    

    Wonderful Story!!!

    I have a Mission Journey Story for My Make A Wish as a Stage 3 Colon Cancer Victim that I have been trying to Reach The President, Donald J. Trump to have some that knows or knows any friends or relatives that can pass on my number 909-225-7833 for the President to contact me by phone is my Make A Wish as a Cancer Patient!

    My Cancer Story By Thomas F. Ratley Jr. Vietnam Veteran Cancer Patient

    Hi my name is Thomas Franklin. Ratley Jr. and I am 69 year old Vietnam Veteran that served his country as a Marine from 1967 to 1971. During that time I was in Camp Jejeune in North Carolina from 1968 which I was exposed to Contaminated Water. As well when I was in Vietnam I was exposed to Agent Orange. In December 2015 I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Colon Cancer. April 2016 I was operated on to cut out the mass growth of the Cancer that was growing in my Colon. During which my the Surgeon did a biopsy to take out and test my closes Lymph Nodes to where the mass growth of the Cancer was in my colon which turned out 1 of 17 Lymph Nodes was contaminated with Cancer Cells. This put me in Stage 3 Cancer. From July 2016 to December 2016 I had 6 months of Chemotherapy. On November 30, 2017 I had another colonoscopy test which contained 6 pulps was cut and taken out of my colon during the test. A biopsy was done on the 6 pulps taken out of my colon. On December 15, 2017 Arrowhead Regional Medical Clinic notified me that the 6 pulps were benign and my blood test came out with good number too keeping me in remission. Unfortunately due to the fact I continued to have growth in my colon Arrowhead Regional Medical Clinic will continue to treat and tested me every 3 months until I have a clean colonoscopy test next year in November 2018.

    However, in February and March 2014 I notified the Veterans Administration of my exposures to Contaminated Water in 1968 and Agent Orange in Vietnam. As well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Hearing loss, Tinnitus, Floating Right Knee Cap, Parkinson Shakes, Colon Cancer due to my time with the service. I have continued to submit my Medical Claims for Awards with the Veterans Administration since 2014 and 2016. Unfortunately, we are still struggling and disputing my claims with the Veterans Administration. My Wife Tammy has been waiting and disputing her claims with Bipolar and High Anxieties with the Social Security Administration since 2015

    We have been hurt dramatically financially which is a big Financial Hardship for my Family of 3 plus a dog name Iris. Especial since diagnosed with Colon Cancer Stage 3 since 2015. Do to all this high stress right now my Wife Tammy Ratley second time catching Bell Palsy. I have continued to write the White House about mine and my Wife’s issues with both Agencies. Even though the White House did send letter out to both Agencies to assist us in our claims it still in continued in disputes.

    Since I am currently in remission and not terminal the Cancer Foundations do not have any funds available to support my Make My Wish As A Cancer Patient. This is why I have chosen to “Make My Wish As a Cancer Patient that I am able to talk to The President, Donald J. Trump for his support and help regarding my Medical Disabilities Service Related Claims as a Veteran and helping my wife with her Medical Claims with The Social Security Administration Office. The President ran on helping more support of Veterans and Medical disabilities for all Americans in the United States of America.

    As well as I am asking everyone on all social media to let me know if they are able to reach The President, Donald J. Trump or know of any friends or relatives that can reach the President for the President to contact me by phone. Plus I am doing a Cancer Fundraiser and asking can anyone please Help and Donate to my Cancer Fundraiser to Help us out under a Financial Hardship until I am able to reach the President of the United States about helping out with awarding our Medical Claims that is almost 4 years for me and going on 3 years for my Wife.

    Right now we are behind in rent and will lose our Apartment in Riverside, CA soon if we do not come up with $2,000.00 to bring us current. This will leave my Family of Three plus a Dog Homeless. My 2001 vehicle is breaking down and I can’t pass smog and my Tags have expired and I can’t renew my tags due to not passing smog because they can’t find the part that can fix the issues. My 2001 vehicle model is no longer manufactured by Isuzu. I know I take the risk every day that a police officer can pull me over and take my vehicle for expired tags. So I only use my vehicle for Doctors and Grocery trips only. These are the type of Financial Hardship we are experiencing that’s why I have ask for Help in a Temporary Cancer Fundraiser and in my Main Goal in Reaching, The President Donald J. Trump.

    God Bless anyone that can Help Us!!!!

    Now being in remission it is my mission to My Journey To Make A Wish For A Cancer Veteran Patient Come True For Me in My Life. Below is my Journey to my wish:

    My Journey to
    “Make A Wish For A Cancer Veteran Patient Come True”

    I currently have Crazy Praise Radio.com WCPR Radio sponsoring us on their Website, FaceBook and Twitter too and giving us Air Time of 900+ times to air our ad for the next 4 months about my Journey and Fundraiser to Reach Donald J. Trump.

    Plus a Online Media News called Locksnews.com listing me as needing assistance as a Cancer and Veteran Patient under Extreme Financial Hardship!

    God Bless anyone that can Help Us!!!!

    1. Timothy D. Miller    

      Veteran Ratley, thank you for sharing your story. I called and left a voice-mail for you. Please call me back or provide me with your email address. Thank you much! Tim Miller

  10. Thomas Holcomb    

    Lili can only be called an angel, and the V.A. needs many more like her. The V.A. might think Veterans miracle Network to serve all vets not just for P.R. to help their image.

  11. John Beam    

    Great job, Lili! Way to help out a brother.

  12. george beltzer    

    Lili, You have set the bar on how our veterans need to be treated by our government and all citizens of this great country THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.. When called upon they will give there life for us. We should do the same for them. Go above and beyond. Lili you have made my day.

  13. Clente Bevitori    

    Thank you so much Lili. It’s nice to see when people actually care. You chose the right field I think. God bless.
    Clente Bevitori
    U.S. Navy Retired.

  14. Tom    

    Thank you both! What a great inspirational story! None of us know how long we will get on this earth, but Lili and Kenny showed us how to live life full of passion, fun, and caring! I am moved to do more of that!

  15. RndHseLady    

    Awesome Lili! Thank you. We need more folks to step-up and help our “elderly veterans” finish achieving their “Bucket List”. I’m in on this one! 😉

  16. Tanglyn Bolton    

    Passion drove by Purpose, Kudos to Lilli and rest well Kenneth and Peace to those he leaves behind…

  17. susan kennedy    

    Lili you are truly a master piece of GOD’ s creation. You went above and beyond to fulfill Kenneth bucket list and give back to him what he gave for our nation. Thank you Kenny for your service and I know you must be with God looking down on Lili for her love and kindness. God Bless Susan army Vet and retired RN after 50 years Thank you

  18. Michael Carbone    

    I too am dying of NASH, non-alcoholic cirrhosis unless I get a liver transplant. I am very satisfied with my life and need nothing. I was inspired by this story. Each day is a blessing and I take every day with joy and hope. I had 2 careers in my time. 27 yrs in the Army and as an insurance adjuster for a major Insurance Company. I have 4 adult children and 11 grandchildren. What more can you ask ? God bless America.

  19. Nathan E. Gates    

    My thanks to both Lili and Ken for sharing their service.
    Respectfully,
    Nathan

  20. Larry Peterson    

    Thank you Lili for your incredible efforts to give a dying brother the thrill of his lifetime. Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

    Larry Peterson
    Vietnam 1967

  21. Larry Peterson    

    Thank you Lili for you incredible efforts to give a dying brother the thrill of his lifetime. Wonderful story. Thanks for sharing.

    Larry Peterson
    Vietnam 1967

  22. Lisa Barber    

    You my Dear, are another Angel on earth ( just like my Mom who always made sure my Dad, a Vietnam Veteran, fulfilled his ever uttering ” it would be nice to do… ” during his painful last few year’s of life from his exposure to AO. Thank you so very much for helping a Beautiful Veteran fulfill his bucket list. I’m so very sorry for you & his family’s pain & loss. It doesn’t matter if you met him a week before or year’s before, it hurt’s because 2 soul’s met & your heart’s connected. Thank you for our freedom & God Bless you & all of our Veterans & Gold Star family’s
    ##IAMBECAUSEOFHIM

  23. Charles Cox    

    That was a great story. My logbook for my 1st jump says “WEAK exit#!

  24. Robert H. Zeh    

    Deeply moving story – thank you!
    Lili, believe you raised, both, the bar of courage and that of agape.
    In a word, “heroic!”

  25. karl sievers    

    to lili;
    your the best. you went out of your way to make a vet happy. i wish i could meet you and give you a hug and thank you. i’m sure kenny is looking down at you and smiling and watching over you. thanks for your compassion and understanding.

    karl sievers

    u.s. navy vet

  26. Thomas Swanson    

    God bless all of are veterans and there familys . My hope is that one day the United States Government will step up and provide all disabled veterans with Free Dental and provisions for the rest of there life . Our country was built with these fine people

  27. Carlton T. Gross    

    Rest in peace fine man. Thank you Lili!!

  28. Dana Pelletier    

    Thank you Lili…you are the person so many need at that stage of their life. Sorry for your loss though.

  29. Nick Del Prete    

    May GOD hold Kenny in peaceful eternity for serving our Country and his family. Hooah Brave Soldier.

  30. Dennis Jennings    

    Lili Sotolong is a true blessing from God. If ALL businesses & organizations will help dying & severely disabled veterans realize their own Bucket list it will give back what they’ve lost while fighting for our nation. Everyone, VA & civilian alike should be like Lili. All should thank God for her, drive to emulate her, and thank her for her compassion. Thanks Lili and please continue doing what you do. If i can be of any assistance just say the word. 100% Disabled Veteran, Dennis D. Jennings, MSgt USAF, Retired.

  31. DELTHA Alston    

    God be the Glory. I have been on the Monster site fillung out applications for a Nurse Student position for years. Praying that someone can reach out to me and walk me through the process on a Intern position. My specialty area is Pych. Am a R.N. Nursing student at Capscare Academy For Health Care Professionals.
    Thank You if you can help.

  32. BH    

    Death is not an easy future to accept and God Bless Kenny for his service and Lili for her dedication!

  33. Barbara Fleege    

    I enjoyed the story very much

  34. John Donovan    

    To VA Recreation Therapist, Lili Sotolong: Way to go, girl, you’re awesome!!

  35. Stephen T. Major    

    Outstanding! A great story.

    1. Dennis Laughlin    

      A remarkable story about a remarkable situation. Lili, the perfect “angel”, came into the life of this dying veteran, with such a wonderful outcome in fulfilling the veterans last wishes. Collectively, we are blessed and thankful for caring individuals like Lili. Very well done, Lili!!

      1. Robert E Laird,Jr    

        I feel that Lilli is an angel and just a wonderful down to earth person! She deserves to be honared for kindness ❤️❤️❤️

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