Sunday, July 20, 2014 | 2 a.m.
The doctor delivered his diagnosis, and Deb Newton helped her husband prepare for the end.
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A talented musician with a recording studio at home, Joe Newton had suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s for years. He was 53 when doctors diagnosed him.
For six years, Deb spent most of her time taking care of Joe, the man she had fallen in love with almost three decades earlier. The 57-year-old floral designer switched to part-time work at the Bellagio so she could stay home with Joe.
The couple volunteered at a hospice center to have something to do outside the house. When Joe began attending adult day care, his peers — men and women in their 70s and 80s — thought he worked there. Joe was OK with that, Deb said; it helped him maintain his dignity.
Though it was difficult for Deb to watch Joe’s health deteriorate, she did what she could to stay positive, reminding him often how much he was loved. He died in her arms May 9, 2011.
“My heart blew wide open,” she recalled.
The experience taught Deb the importance of living — and dying — well.
Over the past two years, she has continued to volunteer, helping families and residents cope with loss at the Nathan Adelson Hospice. She works there one day a week, putting in eight to 10 hours every visit.
Last year, MGM Resorts International named her Volunteer of the Year for logging more than 300 hours of service.
The California native — who often slings the term “groovy” — has spent much of her own time and money trying to become a better volunteer. She learned reflexology and massage to relieve pain in her patients’ feet and hands. She studied Qigong, an ancient Chinese art that combines medicine and martial arts, to share positive energy with others.
Drawing on her experiences caring for Joe, Deb helped a woman facing a similar situation cope with the thought of having a life after losing her husband.
Deb also has witnessed more loss first hand. The most recent was an elderly woman. Deb whispered in her ear to let her know she was not alone. The woman passed quietly.
Deb felt she did what she could to make it easier.
“It’s important that you have that sense of serenity and peace,” Deb said. “I hope that’s a contribution I can make.”