Fleming Family Photos

Expressing Gratitude by Honoring Caregivers

Julie Fleming lived big and loud and would do anything for anyone in need. 

She was the oldest child in an Armenian family with four younger brothers, whom she helped raise. She liked to cook delicious, elaborate meals and host boisterous gatherings. She was just about the biggest baseball fan you could ever meet. 

She married Mike Fleming in 1995, and their daughter, Lea, was born in 2010 after the couple’s long and painful journey with infertility. 

Julie loved deeply and unconditionally. A recreational therapist and mental health case worker, she worked for years at Good Samaritan Medical Center in Phoenix. When asked how she could do such tough work, her answer was always, “How could you not?” 

When she passed away suddenly at 52-years-old in December 2021 from complications related to a newly diagnosed cancer, Mike knew he wanted to do something to honor the staff at Mercy Gilbert Medical Center who had cared for not only Julie, but for him, their now 12-year-old daughter, and the family and friends who were there for Julie until the end. 

Mike is grateful to be in a position to give back to the hospital through philanthropy and encourages others who might be in a place to give time, talent, or treasure at any level. The Guardian Angel program gave him the perfect opportunity to give back while recognizing the staff who cared so compassionately for Julie.
“I’m thrilled about the fitness trail our gift will help build outside Mercy Gilbert. This was all Lea’s idea because she wanted a safe haven for other kids who might be visiting the hospital. Lea loves competing in ninja warrior competitions and obstacles courses, so the fitness trail was a natural fit. Lea and I are donating to bring light and joy and love to patients and other families, as well as to the hospital staff,” he said. “They might be having a beautiful day, welcoming a new member to the family; they might be at the ER to get patched up; or they might be having the worst day of their life. This is our way of saying, ‘Let's honor Julie and let’s honor Vic and the team.’ And the fact that we can do this in a way that supports physical health is an added bonus.”

Vic is a registered nurse at Mercy Gilbert who helped care for Julie and the whole family during the 13-night stay at Mercy Gilbert. Mike says it is his deep gratitude for the care that Vic and other staff provided for his family that helped him to heal and that led him to want to give something back to the hospital. 

“The caregivers – they really cared, in a way that goes beyond technical expertise or skill. Vic, Georgia, Rachael, Carol, Taylor, Nicki, and many others - there was never any question that they were there for us and walking our journey with us. And that created this experience that allows you to offload a small piece of your burden. You know you’re not alone,” Mike said. “They were caring for our entire family and that allowed us to sustain and endure, to feel loved and nurtured and supported. It gave us a little bit of light on what was a really hard and dark road.”

The caregivers Mike worked with throughout this experience helped him in ways he thinks are hard to fully comprehend. For example, when Vic would walk into the room, Mike could feel himself exhale a little bit knowing that he had someone there who wanted to listen and help. For that, he said, he will be forever grateful, and that gratitude is something that helps him to reframe his grief. 

“Grief is real, but grief is rarely in isolation. There is also love, joy, thankfulness – it’s all part of the same journey,” he said. 

Mike still feels grief, but gratitude allows him to look back and feel love. 

“Without the love and care of Vic and the team, I would think back only to the sadness and the anger - and those things are absolutely there. But there are also these added layers to our time at Mercy Gilbert that evoke memories of kindness, compassion, inclusion, and love. Vic and the caregiving team made that possible. They really were our guardian angels,” Mike said.


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