Field Notes

A love story for the new year

A love story for the new year
Michael Hutchens.

Everybody should have a Michael Hutchens in their life.

Who is he? A cop? Firefighter? Millionaire benefactor? Surgeon who donates his time? None of the above.

Hutchens is a former correction officer in Eastern Oregon who went on to work as a nurse’s assistant in Coos Bay before he was injured by a patient, forcing his early retirement.

So what makes him so special?

“He keeps me alive,” says Debi Feltner. “Every day he gives me hope, he makes me believe, he makes me smile. He is the greatest gift that anyone could hope for.”

Feltner is talking from her home in McMinnville, getting ready to ring in a new year that will once again be filled with cancer treatments and doctor appointments. It is a year that she is able to face because she has Michael in her life.

“Whenever I have doubts, whenever I think I can’t do this, he holds me and tells me that I can,” she says. “And I believe him.”

It was 40 years ago that they first met at his grandmother’s house. She was 14 and friend’s with Michael’s younger sister. He was 19.

“He seemed so much older than me,” she remembers. “Yet he was so wonderful even then.

But the age was a difference and they went their separate ways, not always in touch but never really being out of each other’s lives. They would see each other at gatherings. There were marriages – in her case kids, and grandkids – and divorce and death.

About four-and-a-half years ago, she had the urge to call his sister.

“I started asking about her brother and it turned out he was there and asking if she had heard from me,” says Debi. “So we started talking. He asked where I was living and showed up a little while later.

“We went out to dinner and talked and talked and finally expressed our true feelings for each other.”

And all was good.

“We were together,” she says. We were a couple and we were happy. And then, about a year-and-a-half later, I was in an accident and ended up in the hospital.”

She was there five days and says every day Michael was at her side, bringing her fresh fruit and offering her comfort.

“On my last day in the hospital, I was told I had cancer.”

Doctors explained to her that she had cancer in her back and bones and that she would need chemo, followed by 12 weeks of radiation. Debi says that after the shock was over, all she wanted to do was cry but Michael held her close and said he would be there every step of the way.

“Because in the accident, I had injured my back, it made the radiation so much more painful,” she says. “I was in and out of the hospital and I was really sick.

“During all this I told Michael he could back out of the relationship if he wanted. I did not want to be a burden to him.”

He stayed with her.

“Michael would not let me give up,” she says. “He always encourages me to keep fighting. He comes to my appointments, he talks to my doctors. Thanks to his training as a nurse’s assistant, he makes sure that I understand everything that’s going on.”

And Debi says that it’s not just her that he is helping.

“He makes me laugh,” she says. “And he’ll get the nurses to laugh and pretty soon he’ll have the whole clinic laughing.

“He loves making people smile and laugh.”

And with his help, she made it through.

“He was so proud of me,” she says. “I told him I could do it because of him. There were so many times he could have just walked away and he stayed with me.”

This past August they got bad news.

“The cancer had come back,” she says. “It spread to my spine, my ribs, my skull. And I had to start chemo again. And Michael has been with me every step of the way.”

She says that he spends so much of his time thinking of ways to make her life better – from arranging for a special parking space closer to her apartment to getting her new carpet, getting her apartment painted, staying with her.

“He treats me like I matter,” she says. “He cherishes me. With him in my life, I believe anything is possible. I believe in love and what love can do.”

Who is Michael Hutchens?

“He is my hero,” says Debi.