PEER TO PEER: Cheri DiLego

Cheri DiLego is one of the dedicated VA Clinicians who are taking part in the 2017 UnitedHealthcare Challenge Series rides.  Cheri works at the Huntington VA Medical Center and embodies the dedication Project Hero has for Healing Heroes.  She spoke on behalf of Project Hero VA Programs at the Vice President’s Residence at the Memorial Challenge kickoff and is planning to ride in the 2017 Great Lakes Challenge.  When we asked Cheri to write about the Huntington HUB Program, we thought she might provide descriptions of programs and quotes from Veterans and administrators, which would have made a fine piece.  What she provided instead has none of those things and for that reason is far more memorable and meaningful.
To me, Project Hero means connecting with my Veterans and helping me to provide Veteran center care.
Upon my first Project Hero Challenge (Memorial 2016), I felt a connection on the most basic human level. When I returned to work, a Veteran was actively dying in our WV VA hospital. I was exhausted after riding my bike all week but I found it in myself to reach out, volunteering time to comfort him at his bedside, realizing that person could have been Michael Manning, Aries Miclat, Javier Romo, Edwin Lamar Williams, Robert Kelvin Foster or any of my Project Hero Battle Buddies from the Challenge.
They will not die alone on my watch.  
I’ll admit I took a shorter shift that night because I was exhausted from riding and working all day during normal tour time and another staff member took my next all-night shift.  He received a warm handoff because we don’t walk away from any Veteran until they are with another human being. 
We will all take our last breath someday;I don’t want to be alone. We are not paid or compensated for our time during the Challenges.  It’s a selfless act, more meaningful to give straight up without expecting something in return.  When our Director presented each VA staff an Oak Leaf Award, it was not mandated.  He gave because he was moved by what we had done; and it’s nice to be recognized for that.
The VA staff here is amazing!  Thank you Jeanine Bledsoe for leading the program and thank you Christina Davis, Peter and the other staff who always make sure our Veterans are not alone when they need us the most. We all will take our last breath; I want to know I made a difference in someone’s life.
I went on the floor to a Vet dying alone, to let him know he is not alone and I thanked him for his service and let him know that he is loved.  For me, it’s an emptying of self and seeking to adapt to their needs. When God says he is with the broken-hearted, it’s for believers and non-believers. 
Sometimes after war, our Vets can’t maintain relationships and don’t know if family is on the way.  In my case, I would hope someone would hold the hand of my loved one and it comforts families to know they are not alone. And because I know my Battle Buddies, I pay the love forward.


Project Hero Partners — Who make it all possible