DAYTON, Ohio (WDTN) — When Mark McNeal, facilities specialist at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton, arrived for his shift on a hot Thursday morning this spring, he was given a seemingly impossible task: make it snow for one of the patients.
The family of the patient, Kim Horton, had asked the care team if they could help create this special moment.
The family had a snow machine, but they needed someone who could learn how to operate it and make it snow outside of Kim’s window in the Maple Wing of the Hospice House.
Undaunted by the challenge, McNeal researched the Internet to learn how to operate the snow machine. By the following day, he was ready to make it snow. He set up the machine outside her window and made it snow for more than 30 minutes, creating a winter wonderland on a warm, sunny day.
“I’ve done a lot of things at Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton. But I have never made it snow until now,” McNeal said. He has served patients and families for the past 10 years at the Hospice House.
“I was more than blessed to help Kim’s family with this request. I saw how much joy the snow brought them.”
Inside her room, Kim was surrounded by her mother, Teressa Morse, her two sisters, Kelly Maroney and Stacy Raleigh, and her brother-in-law, Chester Raleigh.
Kim’s mom and sisters wore their “I Love Kim” t-shirts. As the snow started to fall outside her window, Kim smiled, and a tear rolled down her face. Christmas songs played in the background as the snow continued to fall outside her room.
After it stopped snowing, McNeal brought Kim, her mom and her sisters roses to remember the special moment they shared with one another.
Kim’s mother explained that Kim has suffered from alternating hemiplegia, a rare neurological disorder that develops in childhood. The disorder is marked by recurrent episodes of paralysis on one or both sides of the body, multiple limbs, or a single limb. She first noticed the disorder when Kim was 6 months old.
“When she crawled, it was like a limb was paralyzed,” Teressa said. “It could last five minutes or longer. It could be one limb or a different limb.”
For three years, Teressa worked ceaselessly to find out what was wrong.
She went to Cincinnati Children’s and spoke with doctors and specialists. She researched medical journals to learn more. Eventually, she found a few articles that described Kim’s condition. She learned that the drug Flunarizine could be used to treat this condition. She worked with the neurologist to get a clinical study going so Kim could have access to the drug. She then met with the board of Cincinnati Children’s and called the drug manufacturer in Belgium.
She also met with Gov. Mike DeWine, who, at the time, served as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives. After sharing Kim’s story with him, the Flunarizine drug was made available to her daughter.
Kim also suffered from epilepsy. Despite these health challenges, Kim persevered. She attended special education classes in school and graduated from Fairborn High School.
“Kim is a unique individual. She has always lived at home,” Teressa said. “Kim is like a 3-year-old. We have had 39 years of Ho Ho Ho and Santa.”
In addition to her family, Kim loved the Christmas holiday, Santa, and everything related to snow. Books and music in her room reflected her love of the holiday.
Kim has also given Teressa strength and perseverance as she fought to help her.
“Kim is the one who has given me my voice,” Teressa, who served on the Greene County Board of Developmental Disabilities, said.
“As complicated as her life is, she has taught us to appreciate the simple things in life.”
During the past few years, Kim’s condition began to worsen. The alternating hemiplegia progressed into myoclonus, the twitching or jerking of a muscle or group of muscles. That progressed into a seizure. The only way to alleviate that was to induce Kim into a coma and intubate her. She experienced multiple visits to the hospital over the years.
When Kim was at home, Teressa had home health nurses who helped her with the constant care that Kim needed. But in the past year, Kim’s disease progressed, and her cognitive skills regressed. She used to enjoy going shopping with her family, getting her nails done, and playing games, but her medical condition took a toll on her.
In January 2022, Kim seized for 20 hours. After that hospitalization, she stopped walking and became completely dependent on her wheelchair. She also was experiencing shoulder pain. In early May, she had another seizure. When she went to the hospital, the family sensed that this hospitalization was different.
The discussions with the hospital staff led to Kim’s family making the decision to admit Kim into hospice care. “We decided we did not want Kim in pain any longer,” Teressa said. “On May 12, Kim was transferred to the Hospice House.”
Kim’s sister, Kelly, praised Kim’s care team at the Hospice House. “The care team members are angels on Earth,” she said. “You can tell that the nurses care so much for Kim.”
The family appreciated the peaceful and calming atmosphere that the Hospice House provided when they visited. Kim’s nephew, Evan Raleigh, 10, spent time with her, reading her some of her favorite Christmas books. Another nephew, Colin Maroney, and niece, Madeline Maroney, also visited with Kim.
Kim also loved listening to a recording of Christmas books read by Steve Morse, Teressa’s husband who died a few years ago. Before he died, Steve and Teressa recorded him reading the books so Kim could hear his voice.
Kim passed away on May 29.
“I lost my sweet Kim on May 29, our little snowmaker,” Teressa said. “Kim taught me examples of how to live a life of happiness. She was a joy to all who knew her. Kindness is her legacy.”
More than 200 people attended Kim’s funeral, which had a Christmas theme. Kim’s family set up 14 Christmas trees, all with white lights. Some were small trees, while others were large trees. Her Christmas stocking was displayed along with 50 photos of Kim and a looping video with more than 300 photos. Christmas music played in the background during the gathering.
At her funeral, Kim’s sister, Kelly, talked about Kim’s love of Christmas.
“Kim made Christmas magic for us,” she said. “And so, today, as we celebrate everything about Kim, please know that I am sure she is up in Heaven right now, looking down on us, laughing and smiling, knowing that she’s making it snow for each of us one more time.”
At this time, the family used the snow machine again and made it snow at her funeral service.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested toys for children. They received more than 300 toys that will be donated to Dayton Children’s, A Kid Again and Hannah’s Treasure Chest.
The family also is donating the snow machine to Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton.
“After Kim’s birthday in August, we as a family have decided to donate this snow machine to Ohio’s Hospice of Dayton for their extraordinary care for Kim,” Teressa said.
“We’re hoping someone else loves snow just as much as she did.”