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Community Rallying to Help Amputee Who Found Long-Lost Love

Emily Progin, Content Manager / 800.642.8399

Release: Immediate


Fundraising Will Help Stephen Watts and His Sweetheart Fund a Critical Need

PORTLAND, Ore.—When Jeanne Gustavson set out to reconnect with her college sweetheart after more than 40 years apart, she never expected to find him in a nursing home. Their connection re-ignited at first sight, and Jeanne became both his wife and his caregiver. Today, two years after their love story resumed, Jeanne and Stephen are asking for help from the community to fund a critical need that will improve Stephen’s quality of life.

Jeanne and Stephen’s love story spans a multi-decade struggle with racism, family, homelessness, and medical challenges. Jeanne met Stephen at Loyola University in 1971. Because Jeanne was white and Stephen was black, her mother told the university staff to do everything in their power to keep the couple apart.Stephen and Jeanne dated in secret for seven years, but when Jeanne landed a job after nursing school, a significant commute and long shifts added to the burden she already felt as her love for Stephen continued to fracture her relationship with her mother. Jeanne told Stephen that she loved him, but that she would have to choose between him and her family for them to ever get a happy ending—a choice she didn’t feel she could make.

Crushed, Stephen went his own way, and so did Jeanne. 42 years would pass before their story found an unexpected sequel.

Jeanne’s mother passed away, and Jeanne retired and went through a divorce. She began searching for Stephen, but she could find no trace of him online. She kept searching for seven months before finally making contact with his niece.

Learning that Stephen was in a nursing home, Jeanne knew she had to act. She wondered whether Stephen had found love with someone else—and whether he could ever forgive her.

In June 2021, Jeanne arrived at the nursing home. Stephen recognized her, said her name, and began to cry. They realized without a doubt that they still loved each other.

While Jeanne was pursuing nursing, Stephen had secured a master’s degree in linguistics and taught at the university level in Germany. He was a paratrooper for three years in the French Foreign Legion. When he came home, he lived with his sister, then a friend, and worked as a translator.

When he lost his housing arrangement, Stephen ultimately became homeless, living on the streets of Chicago for three years. He signed himself into the nursing home. While there, he experienced two strokes, and his left leg was amputated following an infection.

But his story wasn’t over. In August 2021, Jeanne drove for 36 hours in a medical transport van to bring Stephen home with her—and their new life began.

Over the past two years, Jeanne says “Stephen has blossomed thanks to care and love.” While he can use a wheelchair, Jeanne’s home has a stairway that prevents him from being able to easily maneuver to her patio and beautiful backyard.

To give Stephen the best quality of life possible, the couple needs a wheelchair platform lift. The lift will break the last barrier preventing Stephen from establishing a more independent daily routine and allow him new access to his community and world.

That’s why Jeanne and Stephen turned to the trusted nonprofit Help Hope Live to start a fundraising campaign. Donations can be made at:

Unlike a GoFundMe campaign, donations to Help Hope Live are tax deductible to the extent allowed by law, and all funds raised will be managed by the nonprofit to cover verified medical and related expenses. Help Hope Live verifies medical and financial need for every patient.

Help Hope Live is a national nonprofit that specializes in engaging communities in secure, tax-deductible fundraising campaigns for people who need a transplant or are affected by a catastrophic injury or illness. Since 1983, campaigns organized by Help Hope Live have raised over $181 million to pay patient expenses. ###

Written by Emily Progin