If there's one thing Reverend Rita Staul knows about, it is love. Love of people. Love of the community. Love of family.
Reverend Staul is the pastor of Gloucester's Salem and Olive Branch United Methodist Churches and the Program Coordinator of Invert Ministries at Mekos Skatepark in Newport News. Love, service and giving back to the community are ingrained in her family. Her son, Reverend Brent Staul is Associate Pastor of Tabernacle United Methodist Church in Poquoson, and President of Invert Ministries. Her daughter, Wendy Wyatt, is the Instructional Supervisor of Virtual Learning at Gloucester High School.
The Rev. Rita Staul and her late husband, Robert.
"We're Italian, if that tells you anything," Rita said. She sees and feels the kindness and love of people deeply. Which is why she's preaching from the rooftops to anyone who can hear about her love of Riverside Walter Reed Hospital, the larger Riverside Health System and the kind medical teams that cared for her husband over the last five years of his life, and in particular, his final six days. "The Riverside Walter Reed team didn't just treat us like family," Rita said. "They treated us like the royal family and I want everyone to know it."
Rita's story with Riverside started with her husband, Robert, in 2011. "It was October 4. He couldn't breathe so we called 911. The Gloucester Volunteer Rescue Squad came to pick him up and we learned later that he was having a heart attack." Robert was stabilized at Riverside Walter Reed and transferred to Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News where days later he had open heart surgery. "From the very beginning he had complications. We were in the ICU for 15 days. The care was just incredible there, but the care didn't stop there. It continued for almost five years."
Riverside's team across the entire health system would care for Robert, never accepting that it was only his cardiac condition that was causing his health to continue to decline. Physicians ordered test after test, ultimately discovering that he suffered from Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia, a type of Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
Robert, with Rita at his side, began a series of treatments with the Middle Peninsula Cancer Center. "They were just so beyond kind and tried to help us so much," Rita said. Robert went on to develop breast cancer and continued to suffer with a tough recovery from surgeries related to cancer and blood transfusions. "He had sort of an odd sense of humor, but the nurses always laughed with him. When my granddaughter got married this past summer, they knew he wanted to be there." And he was. But after the July wedding, he began to fade fast.
By October he had fallen, broken his collarbone and pulled his shoulder out of place. He was in pain, but "there wasn't much we could do but make him comfortable." In November, Robert again started to feel like he couldn't breathe. Much like the first 911 call in 2011, the rescue squad brought Robert and Rita to Riverside Walter Reed.
"I know the doctor told me then that he was probably going to die in a day or two. That we could keep him the hospital and get him fluids or take him home. But I guess I always thought he would still come home." After the medical team administered medication to make Robert comfortable, Rita said, "I watched as he closed his eyes and then never opened them again. We were married for 53 years. We dated for five years before that. We had truly been together for our entire life."
For the next six days, Rita and Robert's entire Italian family came through Riverside Walter Reed Hospital. They sat with Robert. They comforted each other. They got to know and love the Riverside team who "treated us like family. They cleared out a double room so we could be alone with him. They brought us water and cookies. They made room for our family."
"My story, our story, is that Riverside was there. Not just in those final six days. But in the final years. Nobody ever gave up on him. The doctors…The nurses...They tried to help us. They just hung in there with me and with us as if they had been part of our lives the entire time. I owe them more than just a thank you."
Robert Staul died on November 25, 2015. He served with great honor in the military for 25 years and left behind a loving family of six grandchildren and two children. "I feel so grateful that God put the people of Riverside in our life that made his last days as full of love as they could be."
Published: February 2, 2016