A small, sweet thing happened Tuesday morning on the third floor of a medical office building where people go to die.
It involved a retiree named Don Colbert, a doctor-slash-baker named Michael Zimmerman, and a woman named Jan Haupt, who was visiting her terminally ill mother, Belva Quello, who is 98 years old and not doing well.
It started with Zimmerman. He’s a local gastroenterologist, a doctor who focuses on the digestive system.
Zimmerman, who has been in Las Vegas for 18 years, noticed what a lot of other doctors have noticed lately: an increase in patients diagnosed with an intolerance for gluten, a protein abundant in wheat. Such a diagnosis makes it difficult to find edible baked goods.
A friend of Zimmerman’s recently opened a bakery in Canada that sold gluten-free products. The bakery had done so well that Zimmerman decided to open one here. He called it the Beau Monde Bakery.
That was about two years ago. He continued practicing medicine. Time went on. He treated patients, and he sometimes diagnosed them with terrible problems. Terminal problems, sometimes.
Those terminal patients sometimes went to a hospice.
A hospice is different from a nursing home or a hospital. Its only purpose is to comfort people who are about to die.
Patients with a prognosis of about six months or less to live can enter a hospice or receive in-home care from hospice staff. The point is to make patients comfortable, explained Dr. Michael Karagiozis, the medical director at the Nathan Adelson Hospice’s northwest location.
Nathan Adelson Hospice opened 35 years ago after the death of its namesake, a hospital administrator. (Incidentally, Nathan Adelson is not related to Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire casino mogul.)
In any event, Zimmerman knew hospice patients often had little to look forward to.
He knew two people who recently went into hospice care. For one of them, who was not eating well, he baked a cake. The gift of the cake worked out so well, he said, it gave him an idea.
What if he could bake cakes for all hospice patients?
Baking an entire cake for every hospice patient is impractical, of course. But cake pops, which are kind of like mini cakes on the end of a lollipop stick, might work.
He got in touch with the people from Nathan Adelson. They loved the idea.
So on Tuesday morning, hospice volunteer Don Colbert drove to Zimmerman’s bakery, gathered up a couple handfuls of cake pops, and brought them to the hospice.
Colbert, who is retired and lives alone, is one of about 400 people who volunteer their time to visit the hospice and its patients. He has been doing it for seven years, he said, but he’s been volunteering for one thing or another for most of his life.
He handed cake pops to passing visitors in the hallway. He handed them to staffers. He approached room A-8, where Haupt had been sitting with her mother.
She said her mom nearly died five years ago, but she pulled through. Her mother has spent time in a nursing home, and she has also lived with Haupt.
This time, death seems inevitable. She checked into the hospice a week ago.
“It’s like night and day,” she said. “I wouldn’t be able to give her the care at home she gets here.”
Haupt took one of the cake pops from Colbert. She remarked on how the hospice will allow her mother to die with dignity, to die the way she wants to, with family by her side, but without heroic medical procedures.
The cake pops, as small as they are, are one example of that, of how the people at the hospice, the staff and the doctors and the volunteers, see her mother as a human being, not just a disease.
Contact reporter Richard Lake at email@example.com or 702-383-0307.