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Meet Krista and Bryan Caldwell: Hospice Nurse and NFL Player

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Imagine being a hospice nurse married to an NFL player… who is, himself, in hospice care. This is Krista Caldwell’s life – a very personal mix of marriage, career and a poignant medical journey. 

Three months after graduating from nursing school (in September 2012) Krista’s dear husband and best friend, Bryan, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Their story is one of strength, dignity and perseverance, and we are honored to share it.

BryanAndKristaCaldwellLARGERKrista’s Calling

“I graduated from nursing school relatively late in life, at age 42, with the intention of working for Houston Hospice,” says Krista. Her father had been on service in 2010, and she was inspired by this painful, albeit beautiful, experience. She volunteered for Houston Hospice prior to graduation, hoping to become familiar with hospice services. After working a year on med surge at her local hospital, she was hired by the Houston Hospice El Campo team as an admissions nurse.

Bryan Caldwell, NFL Player

“Bryan is phenomenal — a professional football player, rancher and surfer; this man embodies strength,” says Krista of her husband, who played for the Dallas Cowboys, the Houston Oilers, and the Philadelphia Eagles. The morning before his diagnosis at the ER, he mowed the yard with a collapsed lung! Bryan fought through chemo for six months, and when told that his cancer was unresponsive to treatment he continued fighting on his own terms – holistically and spiritually.

“When I was hired by Lisa Machen, RN, PCM in July of 2013, she was well aware of Bryan’s condition,” says Krista. “However, she knew my heart was in hospice and she believed, rightly so, that when his disease progression began causing issues, she and the Houston Hospice El Campo Team would be there for Bryan and me both.”

In December of 2013, Bryan’s cancer was progressing to the point that hospice care was needed, and both Dr. Barker and Lisa Machen came to the Caldwell’s home to assess and admit him onto service.

BryanCaldwellBlending Duty and Friendship

Krista notes that it is difficult to describe the blurred lines that can occur in these kinds of situations. Bryan’s case manager, Jackie Hooper, RN, is Krista’s friend, mentor, co-worker… and her husband’s hospice nurse. “Bryan is her patient, but he is my life,” says Krista. “I am able to be a calm patient advocate for all of our patients — but not for my husband.”

The phone calls and “voice of reason” given by Jackie through this process have been beyond words. Bryan is what they all would describe as a “difficult patient.” He may sleep 18 hours a day and then get up and decide to chop down a tree… or disappear to go fishing for hours without his phone. “Trying to keep him safe and manage his symptoms, while encouraging his autonomy, has been an arduous effort,” says Krista.

Jackie has developed a wonderful rapport with Bryan, educating and supporting his efforts to “be a man” to his fullest. As a case manager, she is a wonderful example of patient advocacy. Krista describes her as proactive, yet equanimous at her core.

A Supportive Team

“And then there is me, with a husband who’s a patient on hospice, still learning and finding my footing in my chosen field,” says Krista. She notes that Jackie, Lisa and the rest of the team have exemplified patience and support. By sharing hugs, a kind ear, and special notes and cards, they have managed to help her feel grounded and protected throughout this painful process.

The Journey

Knowing the “end result” of Bryan’s illness does not lessen the journey for the Caldwell couple. “I truly cannot fathom walking this road without the Houston Hospice El Campo Team. Their gratitude and love is humbling and inspiring,” says Krista. The nurses walk beside her, pulling ahead and pushing behind when needed. “I am inspired by them professionally and personally, and I am so very grateful.”

Hospice Care is About… Life

Houston Hospice is active throughout Fort Bend, Harris, Waller, Wharton, Montgomery, Matagorda, Austin, Colorado, Brazoria and Jackson Counties. The services offered are about life. Many may not realize that hospice care can help patients for months and months – not just at the very end.

The mission is to help families focus on creating precious memories while providing comfort care, respite care, counselors and chaplains. Care is provided in-home and in residential facilities.

Founded in 1980, Houston Hospice has evolved into the area’s oldest, largest, community-supported, independent hospice. Thanks to the support of corporate and private sponsors, the staff serves Texans from all socio-economic groups irrespective of a person’s ethnicity, beliefs or ability to pay.

Learn more at www.houstonhospice.org.

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