After a family's heartbreaking loss, a special gift for caregivers

July 3, 2024 Swedish Communications

[4 min read]

In this article: 

  • Debra Benson passed away at Swedish Issaquah after years-long treatments for cancer took a toll on her heart and lungs. 
  • Over the course of Debra's care and treatment, the Benson family developed a special relationship with her Issaquah nurses.
  • After Debra's death, her husband John made special gift to the Swedish Foundation honoring Debra's nurses for the dedication and love they showed his family during Debra's three-year battle with cancer. 

In May of 2024, a handful of the intensive care unit (ICU)/telemetry nurses at Swedish Issaquah surprised John Benson with a book filled with motivational words, personal notes, and photos of his wife, Debra, who passed away a few months prior after a long illness.

“It was a way to offer our thanks and support. We want the family to reflect on the time Debra was here and think of it fondly,” says Bethany Walden-Colclough, nursing manager at Swedish Issaquah.

As it turns out, Benson had a surprise of his own. He donated $10,000 to the Swedish Foundation, including a gift of $5,000 to support nurses at Swedish Issaquah, to honor his late wife.

“I was always in awe of how they did it day in and day out, 12-hour shifts and never really getting a break,” Benson says of Debra’s nurses, who took care of her off and on over a three-year period. “I was amazed they could do all that and still provide the care they did. Those people were what drove me to making this donation. This was a difficult time in our lives … and it meant a whole lot to us that we had them in our lives.”

A memory and a treasure: After John Benson's wife Debra passed away at Swedish Issaquah, her nurses surprised him with a special book they made to honor Debra's memory.  Above: John Benson (at left, holding his grandaughter) with family members and caregivers at Swedish Issaquah. In gratitude for the exceptional care his wife recieved, Benson made a generous gift to the Swedish Foundation and Debra's Swedish Issaquah nurses. 

Walden-Colclough says the news of Benson’s generous donation prompted an overwhelming emotional response from the staff. But, she notes, this type of care is all part of the job.

“It’s what we do because that’s what we’re called to do,” says Walden-Colclough. “It’s a greater calling. It’s more than a job to us. When you spend that much time with patients, you get to know them. We know their children, their grandchild. That sticks with you.”

Debra Benson, according to her husband, had been “seeing doctors at Swedish for a long time.” In 1987, she was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which led her to mantle radiation therapy.

Over the years, she had multiple relapses of Hodgkin’s or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and had traditional chemotherapy. This took a toll on her lungs and heart valves.

“I think what caregivers do every day is not just the medical aspect of care. It is the care of the whole person. But at the end of the day, we’re not just caring for Debra, but we’re also caring for John and their loved ones.”  Bethany Walden-Colclough, Swedish Issaquah nursing manager

In July of 2021, Debra had sudden onset respiratory failure and later developed diastolic heart failure. She eventually spent six weeks at Swedish Issaquah. Over the next two years, she would have occasional acute episodes where she was admitted to the ICU.

With each stay at Swedish Issaquah, the Benson’s relationship with their nurses grew.

“They really knew Debra’s case. We really loved those guys who paid attention to us. It really showed in the way they took care of us. Those were special people. You could tell they were doing what their calling was,” Benson says.

It wasn’t just the care for Debra that the Swedish Issaquah staff provided — it was the kind of detail that goes above and beyond the job description.

“I think what caregivers do every day is not just the medical aspect of care. It is the care of the whole person. But at the end of the day, we’re not just caring for Debra, but we’re also caring for John and their loved ones,” says Walden-Colclough.

One day last fall, Debra didn’t have the energy to get out of bed. She was admitted again to Swedish Issaquah, where she remained until her death on March 10. She was surrounded by family at the end, her children holding her hand. Debra was 66.

“The nurses were tremendous. I’ll never forget them,” Benson says. “That’s why I felt I had to do something. I needed to do something to honor Deb. Those nurses deserved it.” 

Walden-Colclough couldn’t be prouder of her team and the care they provided Debra.

“This donation is an exceptional acknowledgement of the care they delivered," the nursing manager says. To hear that from other people is probably something that is going to stick with them for the rest of their careers.”

One inscription in the book Benson received from the staff reads: “When someone you love becomes a memory, that memory becomes a treasure. It was an honor to care for Deb.”

Benson will forever cherish that book, and plans to eventually gift it to his granddaughter, Poppy, who turned two in May.

“She can see the care we gave her grandmother,” Walden-Colclough says. 

 Learn more and find a physician or advanced care practitioner (ACP)

The multidisciplinary team at the Swedish Cancer Institute (SCI) offers inclusive care that provides advanced treatment and compassionate support to meet your needs during a challenging time.To talk to someone at SCI or make an appointment, call 1-855-XCANCER (1-855-922-6237)

The team of specialists at the Swedish Heart & Vascular Institute has access to the latest treatments and technology and the expertise to know how to use it safely and effectively. Call 206-320-4100 to learn more about the vascular care we offer.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you.

Information for patients and visitors

About the Swedish Foundation 

Your generous gift helps support a healthy tomorrow for everyone in every communty we serve.  Learn about more ways to give to the Swedish Foundation or make a direct donation online at You can also contact the Foundation at 206-368-2738 or email Thank you for helping us shape the future of healthcare. We can’t do it without you.

About Providence Swedish

Providence Swedish has served the Puget Sound region since the first Providence hospital opened in Seattle in 1877 and the first Swedish hospital opened in 1910. The two organizations affiliated in 2012 and today comprise the largest health care delivery system in Western Washington, with 22,000 caregivers, eight hospitals and 244 clinics. A not-for-profit family of organizations, Providence Swedish provides more than $406 million in community benefit in the Puget Sound Region each year. The health system offers a comprehensive range of services and specialty and subspecialty care in a number of clinical areas, including cancer, cardiovascular health, neurosciences, orthopedics, digestive health and women’s and children’s care. 


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