One final ride
As more than two-dozen Harley Davidson motorcycles rumbled through the parking lot of Rogue Regional Medical Center on Friday afternoon, it was unlikely that any occupants of the nearby hospital or surrounding businesses could mistake the guttural engine sound coming from the lineup of bikers.
A battle cry of sorts, they rallied at the hospital shortly after noon to heed the dying wish of one of their own.
Placed on hospice due to complications from COVID-19, Medford resident Donovan “Brett” Short wasn’t one to go down without a fight.
An alcoholic in his younger years, dubbed “The Rooster,” after the famed Alice in Chains song, those who knew him say he cheated death dozens of times in his 55 years.
Facing liver failure five years ago, he got clean and changed his health, falling off a transplant list and able to spend years more with his family; hunting, fishing, shooting and enjoying the comradery of his fellow bikers.
Even after battling melanoma last year, he was optimistic and living his life. His daughter, Tara Short, treated him to a brand new Harley in January and surprised him with a wedding to her mother Jeannine Ballard, his partner of 35 years, last month.
Ultimately, it would be COVID-19 that proved the biker’s final nemesis.
“He literally cheated death over and over. Everyone would tell him he was crazy for all he had done and that he was gonna die one day and he’d just say, ‘Try me!’ He had been through so much and come through it all,” Tara Short said.
“Even having COVID, he was still perfectly himself a few days ago. I got COVID on the 30th and tested positive on the second. He tested positive for it on the 4th but here we were, him and I, having a conversation on the couch about how we were kicking COVID’s ass. I was really sick but he didn’t have any symptoms at all. I walked downstairs and he had a seizure.”
Admitted to the hospital, Short said her father’s caregivers determined recovery to be unlikely and called for comfort care. His last wish, Short said, “He said, ‘I want to be at home. Don’t let me die in a hospital.’ He didn’t want that,” she said.
Offered transport by a local provider, Short said her father had not done much talking since the seizure on Sunday. When she said aloud that he could be transported home, he woke up long enough to say, “I want to go home.”
Short posted on Facebook with a simple request for biker friends of her dad to accompany him for “one final ride.”
White City resident Russell Stewart helped spread the word and took off from work to ride to the hospital on his Harley.
“It’s pretty emotional. Brett’s a good guy. He’s like a dad to me and Tara is like my sister. He rides with us and it’s something he has a real passion for so we’re going to take him home in style,” Stewart said, waiting for the transport to begin.
“It was for him to hear the sound of all the bikes one more time. I’m sure it’s gonna put a smile on his face, guaranteed. He’d 100% be out here if someone else needed him. This is what we do for one of our own.”
Granddaughter Scarlett Short waited for the transport to start on Friday as bikers, one after another, pulled into the hospital parking lot. The 10-year-old and her mom rode in front of the transport van with fellow bikers falling in behind.
“We just wanted to ride home with him so he could hear all the bikes. He loves riding. Probably the first time I ever saw him cry was when my mom got him his new Harley,” said the girl.
“He’s the best. He’s the type of Grampa that goes hunting every other weekend and the one that has deer antlers hanging all over his house. I think getting to hear all the bikes will make him cry happy tears.”
As expected, Tara Short said, as he was being loaded onto the transport, with bikers revving as loud as they could, he opened his eyes and smiled.
“When we finally got home, we carried him in and he could still hear the bikes and he looked at me and said, “I could hear the bikes. I heard all the bikes!”
A final ride home, on his own terms.
“He’s the strongest and best man I’ve ever known and I’m glad we could be there for his last ride,” Short said.
“He was really happy to be home and really happy to get to hear the bikes one more time.”
Reach freelance writer Buffy Pollock at firstname.lastname@example.org