Ronald Komas • The Kathy Hospice at SynergyHealth St. Joseph’s Hospital

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:40 pm

Kathy Komas was a teacher, a painter, a volunteer, a writer, a mother, a grandmother and a woman who had a smile that melted her husband Ronald’s heart. Kathy had cancer three times before she passed away in 2002. She was 56 years old.

Her first cancer diagnosis was breast cancer. Kathy had a mastectomy of her left breast and was deemed cancer-free.

One year later, she felt a lump in her neck and shoulder and found out that the cancer had come back. Kathy underwent chemotherapy and radiation.
“If you knew Kathy, she did everything right. She had no faults. She ate healthy, she exercised and she was cancer-free for five years,” Komas recalls.

In those five years, Kathy volunteered for the American Cancer Society Reach to Recovery outreach program for people diagnosed with breast cancer. She volunteered for a local workforce literacy training program and went to every participant’s graduation.

“She was an advocate for persons in need of a lot of help,” Komas says.

In June of 2001, Kathy started to experience pains in her chest.

“I thought she was having a heart attack,” Komas says. “The cancer had returned to her sternum, her knee, hip, left lung and eventually her brain.”

Kathy was being treated at Community Memorial Hospital in Menomonee Falls and discovered that this time; the chemotherapy was having no effect on the cancer cells. She decided to forgo treatment. Doctors said her options were to receive at-home care or to move to a nursing home or hospice. She had less than six months to live.

Komas quickly found out that the answer was not at-home care, because nurses would not be present for 24 hours per day. The nursing homes Komas called could not take Kathy because of the severity of her cancer. A hospice was the next choice, but Komas had never been to one before and was afraid it would be a sterile, institutional setting.

The hospice options near their Richfield home were sparse.

Komas and his daughter, who lives in Milwaukee’s Bay View neighborhood, decided to look at one of the closest hospices, an Aurora hospice on 92nd Street and Capitol Drive that has since closed.

“I walked in, and to the left there was a kitchen and a woman was baking chocolate chip cookies. There were paintings, a dining room and it was a seven bed hospice,” Komas recalls. “Within 30 seconds, we both looked at each other and said this is where mom could be.”

Kathy was there for 12 weeks before she died.

“I can’t imagine what she must have gone through with cancer, but I can unequivocally say that she died in peace, comfort and pain free,” Komas says.

When SynergyHealth Inc. was proposing to build St. Joseph’s Hospital near his home a few months later, Komas approached the hospital system with the idea of building a hospice.

He had five conditions: that the hospice would not be attached to the hospital; it would be home-like; it would have between eight and 12 beds; it would accept anyone of any age; and it would not turn away people who could not afford the expense.

Komas raised the $1.5 million needed to build the Kathy Hospice, an eight-bed center down the road from St. Joseph’s Hospital. The Kathy Hospice is a nonprofit organization and is a separate entity of St. Joseph’s. Komas sits on the foundation board and serves as a volunteer at Kathy Hospice.

He is currently working on raising money for an endowment fund that will offer financial aid to patients who may not otherwise be able to afford a hospice.

Since opening in February, the hospice has served more than 100 patients and families and is already considering a small expansion, Komas says.

Kathy Hospice looks like a home both inside and out and has a sunroom, kitchen, dining room, living room, meditation room, garden, spa treatment room and a kids’ play room. The goal is
to accommodate the patients, the families and the caregivers to the utmost comfort, Komas says.

“I am a big believer that out of negatives, you have to get positives,” Komas says.

Gregory Banaszynski, chief executive officer of SynergyHealth, who nominated Komas for a Health Care Heroes Award, says, “Ron Komas is a real hero to the physicians, staff and patients of SynergyHealth and The Kathy Hospice. His generosity, compassion and commitment to The Kathy Hospice will benefit those in our community for generations to come.”

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