‘We’re doing this for her’: Daughter’s death inspires family to provide comfort to others | Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — The video opens at a wedding reception. It shows a bride, a fairy tale vision in white, discretely walking through a crowd as the song “This Is Me” from the musical “The Greatest Showman” begins to play.
The bride is soon joined by her entire wedding party as they slip into an intricate dance routine that most of the women had learned just hours earlier. Her newly minted husband, who knew nothing about the performance beforehand, smiles in stunned silence and watches the flashmob performance in awe.
Near the end of the song, as Keala Settle sings, “This is who I’m meant to be,” the bride pulls off her blonde wig and reveals a smooth, bald head as friends and family cheer and applaud.
Three weeks later, the bride passed away from cancer. Katie Teets Bradshaw was just 28 years old.
Today, her heartbroken family and friends are soldiering on by focusing on a mission to keep her spirit alive forever. They’re creating the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House, a place where dying people can spend their final days surrounded by loved ones in a home-like setting rather than the clinical confines of a hospital.
It’s exactly what Katie would have wanted. The Sherando High School graduate was a nurse in the intensive care unit at Winchester Medical Center.
After being diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2019, Katie had to leave her job due to the risk of being exposed to a virus or bacteria that could jeopardize her chemotherapy treatments. She stayed home and focused on recovery for a year, then joined the staff at Shenandoah Oncology at 400 Campus Blvd. in Winchester so she could help others who, like her, were battling cancer.
“It takes a special person to do that,” Katie’s mom, Julie Teets, said on Friday morning during an interview at her Frederick County home. “She was incredible, she truly was.”
Katie was the oldest of Julie and Greg Teets’ three children. Her brothers, Brandon and Michael Teets, and Brandon’s fiancée, Tayla Mullins, joined Julie at the kitchen table Friday to reminisce about the woman that Julie called “a powerhouse.” Scampering at their feet were the family’s dogs, including two Shih Tzus that were Katie’s and the man who was her husband for just three all-too-short weeks, Stephen Bradshaw.
Julie’s home smelled of cinnamon, a residual effect from an all-day baking marathon on Thursday. Julie is renowned for her cinnamon rolls, and the family had just whipped up a few hundred of them to sell at an upcoming fundraiser for the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House.
Julie said her family moved to this rural house in July 2020, two months after Katie saw a small pond on the property and decided that was where she wanted to get married. While Julie and Greg Teets were happy to indulge their daughter’s desires, Julie assumed a wedding would be a long ways off because, at that time, Katie had recently lost her hair to chemotherapy and both breasts to a double mastectomy.
But the biggest barrier to a wedding, Julie said, was that Katie had no boyfriend.
Katie was undeterred. On May 29, exactly 364 days after she first saw her parent’s future home and announced her wedding plans, “She got married by the pond,” Julie said.
‘A fairy tale wedding’
When Katie and Stephen first started dating last year, Katie was in remission and optimistic that her cancer had run its course.
On Dec. 23, she went to a doctor because she was having abdominal pains. Katie assumed something was wrong with her gall bladder, but the diagnosis proved to be much worse.
“They found that she had cancer on her liver,” Julie said. “It had spread [from her breasts] and was now Stage 4.”
The doctors gave Katie three to 12 months to live.
Undaunted, Stephen proposed to her one week later, on New Year’s Eve. Brandon, perhaps inspired by Stephen and his big sister, proposed to Tayla the next day.
“It was a lot,” Julie said with a laugh.
Brandon and Tayla are biding their time before getting married, but Katie and Stephen moved quickly. In less than five months, they and their families organized a big, formal ceremony that, as Katie had predicted, was held next to the small pond on the Teets’ property.
“It was a fairy tale wedding,” Tayla said.
But the fairy tale ended just three weeks later, on June 25, when Katie died in Winchester Medical Center while surrounded by loved ones.
Stephen was not available for Friday’s interview, but his in-laws had nothing but praise for him.
“He and his family were sent by God,” Julie said of Stephen, who is working with the Teets family to launch the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House.
“He’s a helluva guy,” Brandon added.
From tragedy comes inspiration
When Katie’s life was just hours from ending, Julie needed some fresh air to collect her thoughts. Problem was, she knew it could take up to 20 minutes to go from Katie’s hospital room, down the elevator, through the lobby, into the parking lot at Winchester Medical Center and back to the room again. With her daughter just moments away from drawing her last breath, Julie couldn’t take the risk of leaving.
That was the genesis for the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House.
Brandon was the one who came up with the idea of the house as a way to continue his sister’s legacy of helping others.
“And then it just blew up,” he said. “The next day, Mom already had it set up through an attorney friend of ours.”
To date, more than $85,000 has been donated to the effort. Ultimately, Julie said, the nonprofit will need something in the neighborhood of $1 million to build and operate the facility.
“We have to have an endowment in order to run it,” she said, because the goal is to staff the facility with contracted employees from agencies that provide hospice and home-care services.
While the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House is still in its earliest phases, Katie’s family say they envision a single-story building with six to eight spacious, well-furnished rooms — each with its own door to the outside so people can get fresh air when needed — where terminally ill patients under medical supervision can spend their final hours or days in a warm, comforting setting surrounded by people they love.
“They’re not at home but it feels like home,” Julie said.
Optimally, the Comfort House would be located on or near the Winchester Medical Center campus on Amherst Street so patients being transferred from the hospital would only have to travel a short distance.
The Teets family has applied to make the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House a 501c3 charity so that future donations can be tax-deductible. Once the house is opened, the nonprofit will continue to oversee the facility with 23-year-old Brandon serving as its CEO.
“Doing this in Katie’s honor gives us something to strive for, it gives us passion,” Julie said. “We’re doing this for her, and she’s with us every day. She’s with us every single day.”
A surprise visit
When Brandon and Michael were asked what they miss most about their big sister, Michael summed it up in a single word: “Her.”
But perhaps there’s no need to miss Katie because, in many ways, she’s still here. For example, during Friday’s conversation in the Teets’ home, Brandon saw something online that gave him pause.
“That’s weird,” he said as he checked a recent social media post advertising an upcoming fundraiser for the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House.
Brandon said the post had been viewed 14,555 times. Oddly enough, when Katie died on June 25, it was at 5:55 a.m.
Julie said the number 555 serves as a reminder of Katie not only because of her time of death, but also because it’s known as an angel number. According to folklore, the three digits represent significant, life-altering events that were divinely inspired.
As Julie was explaining the significance of 555, Michael noticed that one of Katie’s Shih Tzus was playing with something on the other side of the room. When he walked over to see what it was, he found a black cap that Katie used to wear. The cap had been put away in another part of the house and no one could explain how the little dog got it.
Julie, Brandon, Micheal and Tayla just leaned back and smiled as they savored being in Katie’s presence once again.
To learn more about the Katie Teets Bradshaw Comfort House and a series of upcoming fundraisers to support the endeavor, visit katiescomforthouse.com. To watch the video of Katie at her wedding reception, go to facebook.com/katie.teets.3.