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In final days, South Hadley nurse gave lesson of a lifetime

  • Kelly Keane, of Holyoke Community College, talks about a new scholarship in honor of a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.

    Kelly Keane, of Holyoke Community College, talks about a new scholarship in honor of a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed. Purchase photo reprints »

  • <br/>Left, Kristie Boutin of Agawam and Cindy Santiago of Springfield Kelly Keane, during a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>


    Left, Kristie Boutin of Agawam and Cindy Santiago of Springfield Kelly Keane, during a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where a South Hadley women invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.


    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tara Kavanaugh, a nurse instructor at Holyoke Community College<br/>Left, answers Cindy Santiago of Springfield questions  after a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/><br/>

    Tara Kavanaugh, a nurse instructor at Holyoke Community College
    Left, answers Cindy Santiago of Springfield questions after a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where a South Hadley women invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.



    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tara Kavanaugh, a nurse instructor at Holyoke Community College<br/>teaches a lab on new born baby care.  One of the students,  Cindy Santiago of Springfield was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>

    Tara Kavanaugh, a nurse instructor at Holyoke Community College
    teaches a lab on new born baby care. One of the students, Cindy Santiago of Springfield was involved in a program where a South Hadley women invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.





    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Left, Kristie Boutin of Agawam and Cindy Santiago of Springfield Kelly Keane, during a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/><br/>

    Left, Kristie Boutin of Agawam and Cindy Santiago of Springfield Kelly Keane, during a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where a South Hadley women invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.



    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kelly Keane, MEd./counseling nursing success program at Holyoke Community College with Martha Keochareon, a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>

    Kelly Keane, MEd./counseling nursing success program at Holyoke Community College with Martha Keochareon, a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.


    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Holyoke Community College nursing students, left in green, Michelle Elliot, Cindy Santiago and Kelly Keane, program coordinator with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/>

    Holyoke Community College nursing students, left in green, Michelle Elliot, Cindy Santiago and Kelly Keane, program coordinator with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon, was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Holyoke Community College nursing students, left in green, Michelle Elliot, and Cindy Santiago  with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>

    Holyoke Community College nursing students, left in green, Michelle Elliot, and Cindy Santiago with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon, was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.


    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Back left, Kelly Keane, program coordinator at Holyoke Community College and nursing student, Michelle Elliot with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>

    Back left, Kelly Keane, program coordinator at Holyoke Community College and nursing student, Michelle Elliot with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon, was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.


    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Holyoke Community College nursing students, left Cindy Santiago, and    Michelle Elliot, with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>

    Holyoke Community College nursing students, left Cindy Santiago, and Michelle Elliot, with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon, was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.


    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Martha Keochareon a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed during her last days.  <br/><br/>

    Martha Keochareon a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed during her last days.

    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Kelly Keane, of Holyoke Community College, talks about a new scholarship in honor of a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.
  • <br/>Left, Kristie Boutin of Agawam and Cindy Santiago of Springfield Kelly Keane, during a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>
  • Tara Kavanaugh, a nurse instructor at Holyoke Community College<br/>Left, answers Cindy Santiago of Springfield questions  after a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/><br/>
  • Tara Kavanaugh, a nurse instructor at Holyoke Community College<br/>teaches a lab on new born baby care.  One of the students,  Cindy Santiago of Springfield was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/><br/><br/><br/>
  • Left, Kristie Boutin of Agawam and Cindy Santiago of Springfield Kelly Keane, during a nursing lab at Holyoke Community College on new born baby care. Santiago was involved in a program where  a South Hadley women  invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/><br/>
  • Kelly Keane, MEd./counseling nursing success program at Holyoke Community College with Martha Keochareon, a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>
  • Holyoke Community College nursing students, left in green, Michelle Elliot, Cindy Santiago and Kelly Keane, program coordinator with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/>
  • Holyoke Community College nursing students, left in green, Michelle Elliot, and Cindy Santiago  with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>
  • Back left, Kelly Keane, program coordinator at Holyoke Community College and nursing student, Michelle Elliot with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>
  • Holyoke Community College nursing students, left Cindy Santiago, and    Michelle Elliot, with patient Martha Keochareon. Keochareon,  was a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed.<br/><br/><br/>
  • Martha Keochareon a South Hadley women who invited HCC nursing students to visit and learn from her while she was on her death bed during her last days.  <br/><br/>

Born and raised in Holyoke, Keochareon attended the nursing program at the college when she was in her 40s. Keochareon, who was profiled in a New York Times story in January about her work with HCC, was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in 2006. She died Dec. 29.

In November of last year, Keochareon called the college and left her offer in a voice message. In a voice made reedy by the tumors around her neck, Keochareon introduced herself as an alumna of the school.

“I have cancer, and I’m wondering if you’ll need somebody to do a case study of a hospice patient,” said Keochareon, who was receiving hospice care in her home. “Maybe some nurses just want to feel what a tumor feels like or all the problems that go along with hospice.”

Kelly Keane, the nursing education specialist who received the message, was immediately intrigued. She met with Keochareon and began to talk with professors and administrators about the possibility.

In order to work with Keochareon, students would need to miss the clinical rotations that are typically required in the nursing program, so Keane set out to find a student with prior medical experience. A professor recommended Michelle Elliot, 52, a first-year nursing student who is already a licensed practical nurse and is working toward becoming a registered nurse.

When Elliot met with Keane to discuss the project, her friend and fellow nursing student Cindy Santiago, 27, sat outside the office, eagerly hoping to be invited to join. In the end, both Elliot and Santiago worked with Keochareon.

This month, the college announced an effort to remember Keochareon with a scholarship for HCC nursing students. Her daughter, Barbara Dimauro, who is organizing the effort, said the scholarship is fitting because it is very much in the spirit of Keochareon’s generosity.

Dimauro said the relationship formed between her mother and the students was not only a learning opportunity for Santiago and Elliot, but also a chance for Keochareon to continue to feel useful.

“She was sick for so long,” said Dimauro. “To not be able to work, and you know, not always feel like you’re contributing something, I think was really difficult for her.”

What they learned

The students each visited Keochareon several times over November and December. Initially, their visits were focused on medical questions. Keochareon had Santiago and Elliot wear uniforms and badges in their early meetings, said Keane.

“She was acting like a teacher at first,” said Keane.

The students studied pancreatic cancer, and came prepared to ask Keochareon about her diagnoses and symptoms. They took her vitals and performed basic exams. In their later visits, however, they were less focused on asking medical questions and practicing their skills. Instead, Keane said they had to learn to slow down and listen to Keochareon.

“They studied pancreatic cancer and went in and compared and contrasted and tried to learn about the disease itself. But it was more about how to die with dignity, how to be with someone who is in pain — how to just sit and be with them in that space,” said Keane.

“Nursing has become very fast,” Keane said.

With Keochareon, they stopped that pace.

Santiago said she believes her work with Keochareon was valuable experience for her future as a nurse, because she was able to spend quality time with her and develop a relationship.

In fact, she is now considering going into hospice care when she graduates. “I like the fact that you get to spend more time with the patient one on one,” she said.

A lasting tribute

Dimauro aims to continue her mother’s legacy by endowing a scholarship fund in her honor at HCC. The scholarships will be awarded to one or more nursing students in their second year of study. Non-traditional students, Holyoke residents, and those who have volunteered for Baystate Hospice Care — which provided care for Keochareon in her final months — will be given priority.

Dimauro is raising money for the scholarship through donations and by hosting events. According to Keith McKittrick, the director of development at HCC, the fund must reach $15,000 in order for it to qualify as an endowed scholarhip, rather than a short-term fund that is depleted each year.

For Keane, working with Keochareon was a deeply personal experience. She said the gift Keochareon gave her was her friendship.

In December, HCC recognized Keochareon’s generosity by making her an honorary professor of nursing. According to Keane, the faculty unanimously supported the honor. Keane presented Keochareon with a certificate, saying — “it was unanimous, Martha.”

But the certificate misspelled Keochareon’s name —adding an “e” to the end.

Keane received another voice message from Keochareon alerting her to the mistake. “I hope you have a great day,” said Keochareon at the end of a message left 17 days before she died. “This is one of the best days of my life. Thank you.”

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