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A TERMINALLY ILL PATIENT’S DREAM IS REALIZED THANKS TO THE DEDICATED EFFORTS OF A VOLUNTEER WITH HOSPICE OF THE COMFORTER, DOUG DILLON.
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS, Fla… Meet Hospice of the Comforter patient Tony Mancuso. He offers you the best smile he can, given his physical situation while at the Garnet Heart group home in Altamonte Springs, Fla. And meet Doug Dillon, a volunteer with Hospice of the Comforter of Central Florida, whose patient is Tony.
During one of Doug’s visit, he learned that Tony was a writer and before he got sick, published 1,200 copies of his first novel titled, The Lie Catcher, where he uses first names of family members and friends as the first names for characters in his book. The 230-page Christian mystery novel tells the story of Kevin Petty, an ex-FBI profiler, as he struggles to solve a bizarre case for a Central Florida police department.
Finally realizing he would never be able to market his books, Tony told Doug that he would at least like to give them away in hopes that some people might enjoy the story. Meet Doug Dillon, again, also a published author with multiple books, including An Explosion of Being, and a member of the Florida Writers Association (FWA), whose motto for the statewide group is, “Writers Helping Writers”…and this story tugged at his heartstrings.
Doug approached Rose van der Berg, director of volunteer services at Hospice of the Comforter, to see how they might help Tony’s dying wish come true.
Rose loved the idea and together they started distributing copies of the book to volunteers and churches. Included in the book was a letter from Tony explaining his situation and asking readers to consider dropping him a note at his group home and telling him what they thought of his work.
Here is an excerpt from Tony’s note: “Please accept this book, The Lie Catcher, as a gift from me to you. I wrote it a while back, hoping to get it out into the world through proper marketing but God had other plans for me. After suffering a debilitating stroke, I find myself living in a group home and under the care of Hospice of the Comforter. So, instead of selling my book, I decided to give it away to people who might find it of interest. It really makes me happy to know that you are taking a copy and I very much hope you enjoy it.”
Over the next few months, over 100 books were distributed and Tony received cards of appreciation from his readers that pleased him to no end.
But Doug was determined to see Tony’s dream come true, so he contacted Chrissy Jackson, president of FWA and asked if there was any way she could help Tony. Chrissy’s enthusiastically responded, “Of course, we can help!” She explained that they could distribute 600 of Tony’s books at the annual Florida Writers Conference in October at the Orlando Marriott Hotel in Lake Mary. Chrissy agreed to put the books into the goody bags for every participant. Rose and Hospice of the Comforter staff prepared 600 letters and books and delivered them to the conference.
To open the event, Chrissy presented the Tony Mancuso project to the 500 assembled writers from across Florida. She outlined the history of the project and made a heartfelt plea for all attendees to glance at Tony’s book and send him a card. She even set up a huge flip chart so people could write notes to Tony. Throughout the conference, people stopped Doug to tell him how much Tony’s story touched them.
Doug enlarged a photo of the himself and Chrissy holding Tony’s book and the signed sheets into a large poster…that and all the newsprint sheets were placed on Tony’s wall, and cards started coming in for him from the other writers. Even as weak as he was, his smile and eyes widened as he looks at what his book had done. “I can’t thank everyone enough for all they did,” he said.
On October 30, 2011, Doug got a call from Tony’s wife, Lynda Mancuso. She was at his bedside in tears. Tony had just died. Doug had shared a kindred spirit with this stranger that became his friend. But as Doug explains, “My experience in life tells me that a part of us continues on after death and I know Tony is okay. And as I think about it, I strongly suspect he held on until after the Florida Writers Conference.”
It is not often in the work of a Hospice of the Comforter volunteer that one can do something extraordinary for patients beyond befriending, but Doug was lucky enough to have that opportunity with Tony. Doug shared his belief about his volunteer experiences, “If you act on what you find, those smiles you get in return will warm your heart forever.”