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September 8, 2022

Appleton Man Has Birthday Wish Fulfilled with Special Ride

ThedaCare’s Hopes & Dreams Program Provides Memories for Families

When James Knott asked his husband what he wanted for his birthday, the answer was unexpected. Gary Gustafson said he wanted to take a ride in a black Corvette convertible.  

“We have no idea why Gary said a black Corvette convertible,” explained James. “He later told us it was just something he always wanted to do. It floored me when he said that was what he wanted for his birthday. You just never know what he is going to say. That’s exactly who he is – always keeping me on my toes. We’ve been together 22 years, and his spontaneity has made our life exciting.” 

Like many spouses, James wanted to make Gary’s birthday wish come true, and this wish was extra special. Twelve years ago, Gary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. Their family has been on a journey since that time. And on March 16, 2021, care teams suggested Gary enter the Hospice program. They said Gary had about six more months to live.  

“After Gary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, we knew there would be no giving up,” said James. “We kept on living. We try to do as much as we can, and do not limit ourselves. I do not think I would have been able to make this wish come true on my own. Our social worker had an idea, and enlisted the help of the ThedaCare Hopes & Dreams Program.”  

With support from the ThedaCare Family of Foundations, the ThedaCare Hospice Foundation offers the Hopes & Dreams program. It was created to enrich the lives of patients in hospice care by creating lasting memories and granting final wishes.  

“Our Hospice Hopes & Dreams volunteer, Laura, set out to find an agency that would rent a black Corvette convertible for a short period of time,” explained Jane Shea, Hospice Volunteer Specialist for ThedaCare at Home. “All the rental companies were unable to do so, but we were advised to try Bergstrom Automotive. We were thrilled when Bergstrom said they would love to help with the wish.”  

After many covert conversations, the birthday wish plan was in full-swing, and Gary had no idea. Adding to the surprise, Mr. John Bergstrom would be personally driving his own 1967 black Corvette convertible, taking Gary on his special birthday ride.   

On August 25, Gary’s 64th birthday, his wish was granted.  

“When Gary saw the car, he had a huge smile on his face,” said James. “He couldn’t believe Mr. Bergstrom was there, and going to take him for a ride, fulfilling his birthday wish. We couldn’t believe he could take time out of his busy schedule to do something like this for Gary. We are incredibly grateful. In the photos from the day, you can just see the smiles on everyone’s face. It was priceless. And that is how we all felt. It was an absolutely perfect day.” 

Mr. Bergstrom also brought a brand-new corvette so that everyone could take photos. 

“We are so thankful for the Hopes & Dreams program and our Hospice care teams,” said James. “They are amazing. Not just fulfilling this wish, but day in and day out. Our Hospice team helps us care for Gary, and make him comfortable. They have become like family, and we appreciate everything they do for us.” 

“Special moments like Gary’s birthday surprise are what help make the program unique,” said Shea. “Having a loved one enter end-of-life care can be an emotional and stressful time for any family. The Hopes & Dreams program offers a way to both alleviate some of the stress and create an exceptional experience for families and their loved ones.”  

Looking back on the wonderful day, James offers advice for families who might have a loved one experiencing end-of-life care.  

“Treasure each day,” he said. “Don’t be consumed with the every day tasks. Dishes will always be there, laundry will always be there. Embrace the special moments. And be sure to smile and laugh with those you love.”  

To learn more about the ThedaCare Family of Foundations and the impact of donor support, or donate, please visit or email

Gary Gustafson celebrated his 64th birthday on August 25 with a surprise. Mr. John Bergstrom personally drove his 1967 black Corvette convertible, taking Gary on his special birthday ride. Family and friends helped celebrate the special day.  

About ThedaCare 

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 600,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 health care professionals. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care. 

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.