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The Otero Family

Memories at Villa Marie Claire

Holy Name Patient Stories - Jacqueline Otero

Jacqueline Otero – Jacqui to those who knew her – was a vibrant, artistic woman who made a lasting impression on everyone she met, including the staff at Villa Marie Claire.

Liam, Jacqui’s son, gushes about his mother. She was an accomplished writer and visual artist, a deep thinker, a dedicated partner, and a mother he knew he could open up to about anything.

In December 2022, Jacqui started having pain and discomfort in her abdomen. She wasn't too concerned, but her family was. Nearly a year later, she had a medical emergency that put her in the hospital – and that's when she knew something was wrong. A few weeks and many tests later, Jacqui was diagnosed with an aggressive form of neuroendocrine cancer, a type of cancer that forms in neuroendocrine cells. Neuroendocrine cells are found throughout the body, so this type of cancer can develop in different organs.

By the time Jacqui was diagnosed, the cancer had metastasized, spreading to her pancreas. After 17 days in the hospital, Jacqui’s care team evaluated her condition and determined further treatment wouldn’t be beneficial. Jacqui’s team was able to transfer her to Villa Marie Claire, the residential hospice of Holy Name Medical Center, the very next day.

Liam and Jacqui’s husband, Mike, were drawn to Villa Marie Claire’s building and the grounds and woods surrounding it. Jacqui loved nature, and they knew that the Villa could provide an environment that would be comforting to her.

“I hate calling it a hospice facility,” Liam said. “I know technically it is, but it really does feel like a stately manor home,” Liam said.

Jacqui “instantaneously fell in love” with the Villa, Liam recalled. Soon after she arrived she expressed that she felt calmer and more comfortable. The staff helped her sit up in bed, something that had been difficult and painful while she was in the hospital.

“She wanted to create really special memories at the Villa Marie Claire because she felt that it was a special place,” Liam explained.

One of those special memories was renewing her vows with Mike, who she had been married to for over 26 years. Nurse Yara Nakouzi worked hard to plan a wedding in less than a day. On October 31, Jacqui applied her own makeup and Yara leant her a purple fur coat to wear. Father Frank, a chaplain at the Villa, officiated a beautiful outdoor ceremony that was complete with animals visiting the Villa for weekly therapy with the residents. Jacqui’s maid of honor was a childhood friend she’d reached out to and reconnected with the very day of the ceremony. Another nurse at the Villa created new wedding rings for the couple made out of medical tubing to commemorate their renewed dedication to one another.

“That was the most beautiful thing that happened,” Liam said about the wedding, “And Villa Maria Claire enabled that. They really pushed for that to happen. It brought Dad and me immeasurable joy.”

The family finished the day with a lovely cake, made to Jacqui’s preferences and dietary needs, by the Villa’s chef.

In the days following the vow renewal, Jacqui lost her ability to communicate, and her health declined. In the early hours of November 9th, 2023, she passed away in her sleep.

During the 11 days that Jacqui spent at the Villa, Liam and Mike moved in as well. The nurses brought in fold-out beds so they could sleep in Jacqui’s room, and they ate most of their meals at Villa’s on-site restaurant. This allowed them to spend as much time with Jacqui as possible, and they found the nurses and counseling staff to be supportive throughout their experience. Since Jacqui’s passing, both Mike and Liam have received ongoing support from the staff at Villa Marie Claire. Both father and son have been processing their grief with bereavement counselor Patricia McLaughlin.

Everyone at the Villa was dedicated to Jacqui and her family. Mary Hastings, a night nurse and accomplished musician, decided to do something in Jacqui’s memory that she could share with the Otero family. Yara filmed Mary playing “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” one of Jacqui’s favorite songs, on the trumpet and shared it with Liam.

One of the many life lessons that Jacqui taught Liam was to show people their worth, and demonstrate their value to you. Liam is thankful that his mother was seen, known, and valued by those who cared for her at Villa Marie Claire.

To schedule a tour or for more information, please visit https://villamarieclaire.org or call 551-248-4800 or email vmcinfo@holyname.org.