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Cardiology Specialist & Patient Go Fishing in Alaska

Larry Samples, 62, of Philomath, died Nov. 4, 2020.

But before that day, he was “gone fishing.”

It began when a medical provider and his patient realized they were both fishermen.

Samples was at an appointment with Brian Oakes, FNP, at Samaritan Cardiology – Corvallis. He was diagnosed with congestive heart failure in 2017, a serious condition in which the heart doesn’t pump blood as efficiently as it should. Even with the best treatment and careful management of the disease, half of those with severe heart failure die within five years of diagnosis.

It can be scary for patients who face those odds and humbling for the clinicians who care for them.

When Samples visited Oakes their conversations often veered from the topic of medicine.

Samples would share fishing photos and brine recipes for smoked fish. He talked about the fishing trip he once took to Alaska. Oakes told Samples about his adventures in Petersburg, Alaska, where he previously worked, and how he still goes fishing there every summer. 

One day, Oakes was talking to Samples about preparing for the end of his life and checking things off his bucket list. 

“I always hoped that I could go back to Alaska,” Samples said.

“If you can get there, I will take you fishing,” Oakes replied.

Oakes and his wife, Breanna Oakes, RN, own a boat and were already planning their summer trip with friend Beau Frenzel, RN, who knew Samples from when he was a patient at Good Samaritan Regional Medical Center in Corvallis. Plus, Samples’ wife, Debby Gavegan, RN, would also make the trip. He would be surrounded by medical professionals, Oakes reasoned.

That, and there’s really only one response when a friend tells you that he wants to go fishing.

“We’re gonna make it happen,” Oakes said.

Even as they made plans, Samples suffered another setback and was hospitalized in the spring of 2020. When he returned home, he needed to use a walker and carry oxygen. He also began hospice care.

From a medical perspective, there wasn’t anything more that Oakes could do. But he could provide a once-in-a-lifetime experience to a fellow fisherman.

The desire to go fishing put a lot of light in Samples’ life during his last year.

When they arrived in Petersburg, it was perfect weather with calm seas. It took a lot just to get Samples in the boat. But once they were on the water, surrounded by snow-capped mountains in a pristine environment, everyone had fun.

“We were catching fish left and right,” Oakes recalled.

Samples had a hard time reeling in the fish, but he would fight them and pass the pole back and forth to others for assistance.

“He was giving it his all,” Oakes said.

When they returned from Alaska, Oakes would stop to visit Samples at his home in Philomath. They always ended up talking fishing.

Oakes felt a kinship with Samples, who worked as a logger and then a forklift driver at a lumber company. Oakes grew up in a timber family in Monroe surrounded by people who worked in rugged professions. He knew many people who suffered from heart disease. It’s what led him to pursue his specialty.

Samples is the first and — thus far — the only patient Oakes has taken fishing. When he returned to Petersburg last summer, Oakes brought some of his former patient’s ashes to spread at sea. He reflected on the prior summer and how some days they didn’t catch as many fish.

But that’s how it goes when you’re fishing. Sometimes, it’s not the fish you are after.