Karen Wheelock

Obituary of Karen Ann Bourgeois Wheelock

Karen Ann Bourgeois Wheelock died peacefully at her home in Colchester, VT on March 12, 2019, from multiple complications of Type 1 diabetes, at the age of 66.

She was born in St. Albans, VT on May 23, 1952, the first child and only daughter of the late Leo and Elaine (née Searles) Bourgeois. Karen grew up in Peru, NY, then attended and graduated from Trinity College in Burlington, VT in 1974.

In 1977, Karen married Gary Wheelock, and she and Gary celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary last October. Though they had no children, they delighted in the antics of their fur-babies over the years, a black and white "tuxedo" cat named Lucky; and two sisters, tiger cats named Sophie and Gracie. Karen also had a passion for teddy bears and stuffed animals, and her much-loved childhood friends Mr. Pooh and Mr. Phunt had special places of honor at home, fragile though they were. Most of all, her beloved white bear named Bud, a gift from Gary to Karen on their first wedding anniversary 4 decades ago, traveled everywhere. Pictures from those travels show, for instance, Karen and Bud in front of the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

When Karen was 9 years old, a broken leg she suffered in a skiing accident on Whiteface Mountain near Lake Placid set in motion the disease that was to be with her for the rest of her life. Type 1 diabetes in this case resulted from Karen's immune system fighting the consequences of the broken leg, and in turn the immune system destroyed her pancreas. For nearly 6 full decades, Karen required daily insulin injections by needle in order to stay alive.

In 2019, research into diabetes care and management is very sophisticated. In the 1960s, however, those were comparative dark ages for people who had diabetes. For a scared little 9-year old girl like Karen, coping with the disease for her and her parents was especially difficult. Fortunately, she found a way to learn about living with diabetes when she attended the Clara Barton Camp for Girls in North Oxford, MA in the mid-1960s. In a beautiful summer camp setting, she was surrounded by other young girls who also had diabetes, and a caring medical staff. Not only did she learn about how to take care of herself, but the camp made her feel 'normal', since all the other campers had diabetes too. Karen's summers at Clara Barton Camp were a genuine blessing in her life.

In the 1980s, Karen began to lose her eyesight, another complication of diabetes. It was at that time more than 3 decades ago that her doctor gave her the best advice she would ever receive: he told her and Gary that they should not wait until retirement to do the things they wanted to do in life.

So it was that Karen and Gary embarked on some great travel adventures, to Paris, London, Prague, Budapest, Munich, Stockholm, Normandy, Burgundy, Alsace, the French Riviera, and more. They saw the Rolling Stones all over the U.S. and Europe, and joined 80,000 fans to sing "Happy Birthday" to Mick Jagger at the Stade de France in Paris on the occasion of Mick's 55th birthday.

In 1998, Karen had the privilege of taking her father to France's D-Day beaches. Leo Bourgeois had been an infantryman in World War 2, and had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star. Though he didn't fight in Normandy, the trip served as a form of healing and closure for him. In 2010 and 2011, Karen's last trips abroad, she and Gary re-traced her father's infantry troop movements in the fall and winter of 1944-1945 in the Vosges mountains and Alsace region of eastern France.

Karen's life has been marked by her profound courage in the face of disease and pain, and her refusal to give in to the ravages of diabetes. She is survived by her husband Gary of Colchester, VT; her sister-in-law Marcia Wheelock Rajala and her husband Rick of Kennebunk, ME; two brothers, Tim Bourgeois of Winooski VT, and Chris Bourgeois of Saranac Lake, NY; sister-in-law Jane Bourgeois of Penn Yan, NY; and many nieces and nephews. Karen was predeceased by a beloved brother, Thomas "Tab" Bourgeois, in 2018.

Our family wishes to express our deepest gratitude to the caregivers who assisted Karen and Gary for nearly two years to help her stay in her own home, despite her profound health complications: Deb Hayes and Robin Sumner provided extraordinary care and kindness. In addition, we wish to thank Nancy Carlson, nurse case manager for the UVM Home Health & Hospice, for leading the medical team that helped make it possible for Karen to live at home until the very end.

Calling hours for Karen will be Sunday, March 24th, from 1:00 to 3:00PM, at Hamilton Funeral Home 294 Mannix Rd, Peru, NY. Memorial service and interment will be private, and held at a later date.

In memory of Karen, and in lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider sending a donation in Karen's name to The Barton Center for Diabetes Education, Inc., 30 Ennis Road, PO Box 356, North Oxford, MA 01537-0356. It was among Karen's final wishes that scared little girls in the future who get Type 1 diabetes receive the same help and hope that she was given so very long ago, and your gift to the Clara Barton Camp can help make that happen.