Loving Care Comes Full Circle

Hartford HealthCare has played a vital role in many of our lives, from the professionals who cared for us as infants to the first responders there for us when emergency strikes.

Sometimes those personal and professional relationships can be mutually interdependent, as was the case when Dr. Bill Henry—who had devoted his career to caring for children—on his final journey home received the same high standard of care from a former patient.

Born in the Bronx during the Great Depression, Bill Henry graduated from Columbia University and Albany Medical College, where he fell in love with Elaine Slivonik, a nurse at Albany Medical. They were married one week after Henry received his medical degree in 1963 and started his rotating internship at Hartford Hospital.

Although his work in Albany inadvertently exposed him to tuberculosis, he persevered, completed his pediatric residency at Massachusetts General Hospital, and served as a major in the U.S. Army in Vietnam. He joined the Hartford Hospital staff in 1969.

Described by contemporaries as a “gentle giant,” Henry engaged with the world around him in an exemplary fashion throughout his life.

As recalled by a fellow member of the “Old Guard,” Henry’s deep, soothing voice was an essential feature of their barbershop trio.

Modeling the Rotary ethos “Service above Self,” Bill advised all the students he mentored to “balance career responsibilities with those of your family and to get involved in your community.” In addition to his involvement with the Glastonbury Rotary Club, Henry served on the boards of many local organizations, such as the YMCA, the VNA, the Welles-Turner Memorial Library, and Hartford Hospital.

During his 42 years as a private practice pediatrician in Glastonbury, Henry nurtured strong long-term relationships with his patients and their families. Henry made it his custom to take a photo with each patient at their first office visit. To distract and entertain those young patients during subsequent visits, he started wearing a yellow smiley face button. Over decades, his lab coat became festooned with other buttons—many of which were gifts.

When the pandemic struck, Henry was already dealing with pre-existing health conditions—a vestige of his past tuberculosis and exposure to Agent Orange in Vietnam. In late March 2020, COVID-19 hit Henry hard, and he was admitted to the Bliss Wing. In early April, he made it home only to return to Hartford Hospital yet again weeks later.

Nearly six weeks after exhibiting his first symptoms, Henry decided it was time to return home to be with his family and transition to Hartford HealthCare at Home. That final ambulance ride home was an especially painful one for Henry, but accompanying him was a young EMT named Shane. Recognizing Henry’s name, Shane realized that this was the same doctor with the smiley face button who had long ago cared for him as a child.

Throughout that final journey home, Shane provided his former pediatrician the same compassionate, loving care that his deep-voiced doctor had once given to him and his parents. Arriving at Henry’s home, Shane procured a photo from their first office visit, and for a brief, poignant moment, the Henry family witnessed Dr. Henry’s pain subside. Unfortunately, Henry lost his battle with COVID-19 on May 8, 2020. But the enduring example Henry set for a life well-lived will remain as an enduring gift to all those he served and loved.

An Enduring Charitable Gift

In 2004, Bill and Elaine Henry decided to make a charitable gift to Hartford Hospital that would benefit them for the rest of their lives and ultimately the hospital. At that time, they chose to defer the starting date for the income payments from their Deferred Charitable Gift Annuity to receive a higher annuity rate beginning upon their retirement. In 2017, they made another supplementary gift in exchange for a Charitable Gift Annuity with an immediate annuity payment.

Now that Bill Henry has passed away, the charitable plans he made are still in place. His gifts—the continuing payments to Elaine for the rest of her life and the planned final distribution to Hartford Hospital—will continue for the benefit of all.