Lionel Richie saved my sister’s life. At least, that’s what our family believes.
My sister Sharyn Ritchie was in a coma at Rochester General Hospital just days before Lionel Richie’s concert at CMAC last month in Canandaigua. I grabbed a red-eye flight from Los Angeles to be at her bedside, fearing that she was near death.
I joined family members in a vigil in the intensive care unit. I am the youngest of five siblings, and we have a lot of nieces and nephews scattered around the Rochester region. The only thing we could think of to get Sharyn to fight hard for her life was to play Lionel Richie songs, over and over.
I kept telling my oldest sister, “You have a concert to get to.” At one point her doctor replied, “That is very ambitious.”
I remember thinking to myself, “He does not know Sharyn’s spirit and determination.”
I heard my niece, Kim, explaining to the nursing staff, “My mom always had Lionel Richie playing throughout the house. I grew up listening to his music.”
Ironically, we have always joked about my sister’s last name. It is Ritchie. If not for the extra “t,” she would have the exact same last name as her favorite singer, Lionel Richie.
Our sister Sheryl, Sharyn’s twin, also a big Richie fan, purchased tickets for the July 23 concert months earlier. Seeing Lionel Richie in concert was the only thing we remember Sharyn wanting to do for herself. She was so excited about it. Sharyn’s had a tough few years, so it was important to Sheryl to accompany her twin to the concert.
Sharyn’s been at Hill Haven Nursing Home for a year and a half, after spending seven months before that in RGH following a severe stroke.
Then in early July, Sharyn contracted pneumonia and went into septic shock, which went undetected before slipping into unresponsiveness on July 7.
One week goes by and we are still at her bedside in ICU. The breathing tube keeping Sharyn alive had to be reinserted just hours after being removed.
In a complete act of desperation, I blurted out a fib, “You’re going to meet Lionel Richie. You have to get better!”
The next day, as the music continued playing in ICU, Sharyn regained consciousness. With a whispering voice, she sang “Say You, Say Me.” “I’m going to see Lionel even if it’s on my deathbed,” Sharyn said to the doctors. “I’ve loved him for years. I am not missing this opportunity.”
I could not believe what I was hearing. She was very weak, but I was thrilled Sharyn was talking and motivated! But now what? Would she even be released from the hospital? And, she thinks she’s going to also meet Lionel Richie! I was in a near panic about disappointing my sister, who kept improving.
That’s when longtime local Rochester friends of mine stepped in with the best medicine in the world. They reached out to Lionel Richie’s camp, and what resulted was nothing short of a miracle.
It took a team to get Sharyn ready and into a wheelchair for the concert, including a nurse arriving an hour before her shift just to do Sharyn’s makeup. And off we went to the Lionel Richie concert, with an invitation to meet him backstage.
Lionel welcomed Sharyn with a big hug and kiss on each check. “I couldn't believe it when I saw him walking across the room right to me,” said Sharyn on the drive home. “I almost burst out crying. He is gorgeous.”
He was so gracious, he didn’t rush us even though a late flight caused him to run late for his show. The whole night was just perfect. Sounding like teenagers instead of grandmothers, Sharyn and Sheryl professed their love for Lionel over and over.
“How can we ever thank him?” asked Sheryl, reciting lyrics from a Lionel Richie song: “Let us start by saying, we love you.” The car erupts into a beautiful off-key rendition of “Hello.”
Our entire family is beyond grateful to Lionel Richie and all the other people behind the scenes that made this happen. And we are so proud of Sharyn.
Sharyn continues to battle some serious health issues at Hill Haven, but for her, meeting Lionel Richie before his concert “was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Sharyn tells visitors who are anxious to hear the details, “A dream come true. I’ll never forget it.”