Nurse Helps War Vet Live Last Wish

Kim Merrittt, RN, a staff nurse in the progressive care unit at Beaufort (SC) Memorial Hospital, has received a Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses, a national tribute reserved for nurses who go “above and beyond” the call of duty.

Merritt earned the award for helping fulfill the wish of a hospitalized World War II veteran determined to attend his grandson’s graduation from Parris Island.

Even though he was battling stage IV colon cancer, Joe Pellegrino traveled with his family from Michigan last summer to see his grandson Nick become a Marine. But on the night before the ceremony, the 85-year-old became ill and had to be taken to Beaufort Memorial.

“When he came in, he was so full of fluid he couldn’t take a breath,” Merritt recalled. “But he told us if he had to crawl on his hands and knees, he was going to see his grandson graduate.”

Moved by his story, Merritt called her husband, Lieutenant Colonel Paul Merritt, who was then commander of the Headquarters and Service Battalion at the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. He arranged to have Merritt seated in the VIP reviewing area.

“We had gotten him stabilized, but he was still guarded,” Merritt said. “There was no way he could have walked across the field to sit with the other spectators. Once I knew I could get him in the VIP section, we went into overdrive.”

FULFILLING DREAMS: Kim Merritt, RN, (far right), receives the Daisy Award from Maggie Pellegrino, (center), daughter-in-law of Merritt’s patient, Joseph Henry Pellegrino Sr. Granddaughter Jessica Corbin (far left) adds her congratulations. (courtesy Beaufort Memorial Hospital)

Pellegrino would need a pass to be released from the hospital for a few hours. After checking his condition, supervising physician Stacey Hammond Johnston, MD, agreed to the temporary furlough so long as Merritt, a critical care nurse, accompanied the ailing patient.

“Not only was Mr. Pellegrino a World War II veteran, he was the recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star,” Merritt said. “All he wanted to do was see his grandson graduate. I was going to do everything I could to make that happen.”

With the help of fellow staff members, Merritt prepared Pellegrino for the outing, dressing him in scrubs, securing his Foley catheter under his hospital gown and taping down the IV access in his arm.

Pat Cooke, BSN, RN, PCCN, charge nurse on duty, helped Merritt assist Pellegrino from his wheelchair and into her car. Merritt had just 15 minutes to make it to Parris Island in time for the start of the ceremony.

“I drove through the front gate, straight to the parade deck and made a big U-turn on Parris Island Avenue,” Merritt said. “It was like a scene from out of a movie. My husband, who was waiting for us, helped him get up out of the car and got him in the wheelchair.”

Pellegrino wore his World War II Army hat and his American Legion jacket bearing his prestigious medals, and was wheeled to the front row of the reviewing area where Parris Island’s top-ranking officers and dignitaries were seated. Merritt stood behind him holding an umbrella to shade him from the sun.

“The drill instructors came up after the ceremony to salute him and thank him for his service,” Merritt said. “Tears were rolling down his face.”

Pellegrino spoke with his grandson for a few minutes, posed for pictures and was taken back to the hospital where he remained for 2 more days. Seven weeks after returning home, he passed away.

“You expect a nurse to be kind and compassionate, but what Kim did for my father-in-law was amazing,” said Maggie Pellegrino. “All he talked about after coming home was how he was treated like a king at Beaufort Memorial Hospital. He was so happy.”

About The Author