EveryStep Hospice Helps Fulfill Veteran's Wish to Fly Again

Fifty-four-year-old Bruce Fugate grew up in Bellevue, Nebraska with Iowa just across the border and Offutt Air Force Base just around the corner. “Those B-52 bombers were flying overhead all day long,” says Bruce. “Ever since I was small boy, those big B-52s came lumbering over and I thought, ‘I’ve got to be a part of that.’”

Bruce dreamed even bigger than that. “I wanted to be an astronaut. That was the overarching goal,” Bruce remembers. He knew the first step toward outer space was learning how to fly a plane. “I needed to learn how to fly, so I got an instructor on a grass runway and spent all my money from various jobs — I had a variety of jobs — paying for flying lessons. When I got done earning [enough] from a job, I’d call my flight instructor and say, ‘let’s go up again!’”

Bruce joined the Air Force and served from May of 1987 to November of 1991. During the Gulf War, he was stationed in Spain where he worked as a jet engine mechanic, and took advantage of opportunities to continue learning how to fly an airplane, as well as a helicopter, whenever he could. After his discharge, Bruce continued to serve for many years in the Air Force Reserve.

Returning to the U.S. in 1991, Bruce moved to Iowa to live with his father, but undiagnosed and untreated mental health conditions led to an estrangement with his father and family. He was homeless for two years. The Veterans Administration stepped into Bruce’s life at a critical moment. “The VA helped me quit drinking and I have nothing but good things to say about them,” says Bruce. The VA provided doctors that diagnosed his mental health condition and provided the correct medication.

In March 2022, when Bruce was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, the VA also provided Bruce with a place to live through the Certified Medical Foster Home program and EveryStep Hospice’s Metro team began providing him care. That’s when EveryStep Hospice social worker Dana McCarthy learned of his wish to fly again.

“I contacted the Ankeny Regional Airport and they said to pick a time and date, so that’s what we did,” says Dana. Bruce was thrilled with the plan and says he had trouble sleeping the night before the flight. “I was thinking about going on another flight lesson,” said Bruce. “Before I die, I get to go on another lesson!”

Just before the flight, Bruce said he hoped he would be able to fly the plane himself for a bit. “I want to see if I can still do what I used to be able to do — although I doubt he’s going to let me stick the landing,” laughed Bruce.

Bruce did get to control the plane for about 20 minutes of the flight, which included an aerial tour of Central Iowa landmarks like Saylorville Lake, the state capitol building and Principal Park. Bruce says it was everything he had hoped for. “It was great! EveryStep’s been great! They’ve been there every step of the way for me.”

Dana says Bruce’s wish was a pleasure to coordinate. “If our patients have a bucket list, we do our best to make them happen. If it’s something they’re really passionate about and maybe don’t have the finances or energy to make the arrangements, we do work hard to make them happen,” says Dana. “As you can see from Bruce today — that smile and that excitement — that really says it all. That just warms your heart to be able to help somebody out like that.”

EveryStep Hospice helps those living with a serious illness make the best out of every day. Most hospice care is provided through in-home hospice services; however, when a patient needs around-the-clock hospice care to manage their pain and symptoms, EveryStep’s hospice houses are available.

Whether it's helping to pay for utilities because finances are tight or recreating a favorite home-cooked meal, EveryStep Hospice helps patients find quality of life on their terms. Sometimes this means fulfilling wishes and creating lasting memories for patients and their families. Generous donors fund wishes through gifts to EveryStep Foundation.

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946. Or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at https://www.everystep.org/find-care. EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.