Megan Wymer’s story is one of love, hope, and resilience. It’s a tale about living with dignity and purpose and maybe rethinking our definition of “a life well-lived.” In many ways, it’s about the amazing resources that people discover only when they need them. In the case of Megan and her family, this includes several nonprofits few have heard of that are changing lives in truly awe-inspiring ways.
Megan was born in Boulder, Colorado, where her mother, Dorothy Kraus, stayed for a few years after graduating from the University of Colorado. Dorothy moved to Newport Beach when Megan was five. A typical Newport childhood began: Mariner’s Elementary, Ensign Middle School, then Newport Harbor High, with extracurricular activities that included AYSO, Junior Guards, and a spot on the NHHS track team. Megan traveled to Brazil during her junior year of high school and participated in the swim team there, returning as a powerful and expert swimmer. This was a gift to Megan but also to Dorothy, who got caught in a riptide off the Santa Ana jetty one day – only to be saved by her daughter! Megan stayed in touch with the family she lived with in Brazil, returning to see them several times and inviting them into her world and family. Lifetime bonds were formed between the two families, centered around Megan’s bright personality, charisma, and love of life.
After high school, Megan returned to Boulder to attend her mother’s alma mater. In 1992, during Megan’s senior year, a bicycle accident left her with a traumatic brain injury. She did not have a helmet on, and to this day, she reminds everyone she speaks to about the importance of wearing one. Her life and her mother’s took a dramatically different course.
Megan spent three months in an ICU in Boulder before being airlifted back to Southern California to start intensive in-patient therapy. She was not expected to live. But it turned out a new life was just beginning.
Megan moved into the first of several Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFEs) she would live in until her recent move into hospice care. An extremely outgoing and communicative person, Megan brought endless joy and happiness to the elderly residents she shared these homes with, delighting them with her fabulous smile, quick wit, and great joke-telling (in another life, Megan would have been a standup comedian).
Early on in her journey, Megan became active in the High Hopes Head Injury program, the country’s first nonprofit charitable brain-injury rehabilitation program. Founded in 1975, High Hopes is dedicated to giving people with traumatic brain injury a chance to live fuller and more active lives. Megan participated in that program for 23 years until fatigue from cancer forced her to stop a few years ago. She was the organization’s marketing guru, turning all its events into successes. That includes the major yearly fundraiser held at the Hyatt Regency Newport, where Eric Marienthal, a Newport resident and well-known contemporary saxophonist, brings other musician friends along to perform a memorable jazz concert.
Making sure others with traumatic head injuries had access to the same resources as she has always been one of Megan’s great passions. That’s just the kind of person she is.
In 2016, Megan was diagnosed with breast cancer. After several months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, she was declared cancer-free. It was another story she shared with anyone who would listen! But then tests performed in November 2021 revealed that the cancer was back and had metastasized to her lungs and liver. Megan did not want to go through chemotherapy again and opted for an immunotherapy drug that did not stop the spread of the cancer cells.
In January 2023, Dorothy brought Megan to the Emergency Room at Hoag Hospital to have a persistent cough checked out. They learned it was time for hospice care.
Hoag’s Hospice Care program is another invaluable resource allowing Megan to continue her life’s journey peacefully and with dignity. Her team comprises of a hospice physician, RNs, a social worker, a hospice chaplain, and others who check in with Megan regularly to make sure she is clinically, socially, and spiritually comfortable.
Someone from that hospice team told Dorothy about the Heavenly Home, the new end-of-life care home in Mission Viejo that opened its doors on February 8. Megan moved in that same day, becoming its first resident. Like Megan, the Heavenly Home’s executive director Michelle Wulfestieg is an inspiring example of resilience and compassion, one of second chances and helping others. Michelle is determined to offer comfort to the dying, no matter how much money they have, which allowed her to launch Heavenly Home, the first nonprofit of its kind in Orange County. It is a place where people can complete their lives with peace and dignity, spending their time creating meaningful memories with loved ones.
Since moving into the Heavenly Home, Megan has had a baptism ceremony led by the hospice chaplain. It was a joyous event attended by family and close friends in the home’s backyard. She has spent peaceful moments inside the spacious six-bedroom home, including in the “Tranquility Room” that Michelle and Dorothy chose as her bedroom. Megan says she loves the peaceful atmosphere, the people on her care team, and even the food! That’s Megan. She is always grateful for the people in her life and the care she receives.
Megan may have lived for years with some impairment, but she has had a good life. She is her mother’s pride and joy. She has formed close friendships and touched the lives of countless people. Her Brazilian family visited her while she was recovering from her head injury and made the trip again to see Megan after she went into hospice care. Theirs were among the many lives Megan touched deeply with her warmth, caring soul, and strength. These are some of the inner resources Megan was able to tap into on her journey. But she couldn’t have done it without the organizations that helped along the way. Her family is incredibly grateful to the Heavenly Home for being there for Megan on this last leg of her journey.