WICHITA, Kan. — As they died side by side Tuesday evening at St. Francis hospital, Loren and Florence Gerber's hearts beat as one.
When his blood pressure went up, hers did, too.
When his went down, so did hers.
The Gerbers had been married 62 years and had known each other since grade school. Florence Gerber liked to tell people that her husband's name fit inside her own.
The Harper, Kan., couple were critically injured in a car accident last week on their way home from Wichita. On Tuesday, their family made the decision to take them off life support.
The staff in the trauma/surgical ICU at Via Christi Regional Medical Center-St. Francis Campus had an idea:
Why not move them into the same room so they could be together in their final moments?
"That was the only thing to do," registered nurse Stefanie Shuler said. "There was really no question about it. If at all possible, we were going to make that happen."
Respiratory therapists helped to make it happen, Shuler said.
The Gerbers were taken off life support at the same time. The family placed their hands together — Loren's left hand grasping Florence's right hand.
"Their heart rates seemed to coincide with each other," Shuler said. "It was very precious."
The gesture to put them in the same room touched son Allen Gerber, a surgeon who used to practice in Wichita but now lives in Hot Springs, Ark.
He said with everything going on, he hadn't thought of it himself.
He and his sister, Marilyn Gerber, who lives in Wichita, said their parents would have wanted to die together.
Loren and Florence Gerber are also survived by another son, Larry, of Olathe.
Marilyn Gerber said her parents were so in love that her mother didn't go to lunch with her friends after quilt group on Wednesdays "because she didn't want to be away from him."
Mary Enstrom knew Allen Gerber from when he lived in Wichita and was an elder at Central Christian Church. She was in Sunday school earlier this week when Allen Gerber's wife, Jan, called her daughter and requested prayers.
The church activated its prayer chain — by e-mail and phone. One message Tuesday said:
The family believes they will both go to be with the Lord this evening. The SICU unit at St. Francis is moving both of them into one unit, so they can be together. It is a beautiful love story. Allen shared with us that his parents have loved each other since second grade and have been married 62 years.
Enstrom visited the family that night but left when the Gerbers were taken off life support.
"I just think that was so thoughtful, and it was so beautiful," she said of putting them in the same room. "The family just started crying because it was so touching to them.
"Jan said it was so amazing because it was like they were one."
Loren Gerber used to farm in Argonia before moving to Harper. He took correspondence courses and became an appliance repairman. He was still taking calls at age 86, Allen Gerber said.
He and his wife, who was 88, liked to garden together and travel in the trailer they pulled behind a pickup. They had been to all 50 states together.
Loren Gerber was a "fanatical videographer," Allen Gerber said.
"When video cameras first came out, I bought one, and he saw it one Christmas and said, 'I have to have one.' "
He videotaped church events, family gatherings, birthdays, always behind the camera. He recently learned how to convert videotapes to DVDs.
Florence Gerber enjoyed quilting and sewing.
Their funeral will be 2 p.m. Sunday at Pleasant Valley Mennonite Church in Harper. Visitation will be from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Prairie Rose Funeral Home in Harper.
The doctor listed their times of death as the same.
"It was just the perfect ending to a perfect love story," Allen Gerber said.