Tommy Shaw, a well-established businessman in Maine, recently passed away from COVID-19 after a long, successful career. His last will and testament set aside one million dollars for the Maine Medical Center on the condition that the burn center be renamed after Isla Estabrook, the nurse who saved his life some 30 years ago.
Shaw first met Estabrook in 1991 when he was 23 years old. He was severely burned in a diesel fire and ended up losing an ear with significant injuries on his hand and torso. The nurse still remembers his burns all these years later. “They were pretty bad, but I knew I could take care of him,” Estabrook said, who took a circuitous route to becoming a healthcare provider.
She didn’t decide to become a nurse until she was 42 as a wife and the mother of seven children. She graduated from nursing school in the 70s but getting a later start made it difficult for her to land a spot.
“At first, they would not accept her in the nursing program because she was too old,” Lynne Bushway, Estabrook’s daughter, told WMTW News. “Every day for a year at 5 o’clock, she would sit on the dean’s steps – ‘Hey I’m Isla, I want to be part of your nursing program’ and finally, after a year, they let her in.”
Estabrook landed a job at the burn unit in the Maine Medical Center where she eventually crossed paths with Shaw. He spent five months in the hospital under her care. They lost touch after he was discharged, but they never forgot about each other. Shaw went on to marry a woman named Susan.
“He talked about it often,” his wife said. “He really would go into quite detail talking about the nurse that saved his life. He just had a lot of admiration for her, and I think he didn’t want to let her down in the hospital and he just would do what she said.”
Shaw built his wealth in the construction industry, having co-founded Gorham Sand and Gravel with his brothers. But his life came to an abrupt end in January 2022 when he contracted COVID-19. The illness sent him back to the hospital, where he died at the age of 55.
His will leaves behind a million dollars for what will soon be called the Isla Estabrook Burn Center.
“It’s the Isla Estabrook wing. She saved his life and that’s who it should be and that’s what he wanted absolutely, no doubt. He wouldn’t want his name up there. He didn’t want recognition,” Susan Shaw explained.
At 88, Estabrook is now retired. The Shaw and Estabrook families recently came together to honor Tommy’s passing.
“I grew up hearing the stories about her and how she took care of him,” said Cori Shaw, Tommy’s daughter. “He always had a very special place in his heart for her, so when it came out that the money was being donated, I felt very proud – proud of my dad and proud of my family – because it’s where it should be. It’s going to where it should go.”
Bushway used the opportunity to celebrate her mother and all nurses. “To me, they are the hospital. I know the doctors have the big degrees and they know everything,” she said.