By Ellen Zoe Golden Photos courtesy of Eduardo Villa
Years ago, Kim Thabault made her way to Tamarindo. She was born in Burlington, Vermont, moved to Virginia Beach, Virginia to attend elementary and high school, before returning to her home state to attend University of Vermont.
After college, she moved to Tamarindo, did massages and met accountant and hotel manager Eduardo Villa, married him, and acquired a house full of pets. Kim’s love of animals led to studying Veterinarian Medicine in San Jose, and when she moved back to this area, began a practice that focused on large animals, with special attention to horses. She and Edo lived in Playa Negra surrounded by their horses. On November 15, 2017, Thabault learned she had brain cancer.
The treatments both here and in the United States, did not deter her from her veterinarian practice, and with a deep love for her husband, friends, and animals, she never wavered. On June 21, 2019, she died surrounded by family and friends, leaving all of us wih her beautiful memory, one that includes her ever-present smile.
What follows are tributes to Kim Thabault: I met Kim in Tamarindo 20 years ago. She was already living in town when I arrived, but was in Santa Fe, New Mexico going to massage school. I had met her sister, Kate, so when Kim returned we became friends. We rented a house in Langosta along with another friend—he and I shared a room and she was in the other one. It all started there. I guess I knew she was the one pretty much right away.
I remember thinking how great a person she was—intelligent, funny, great to be around, and pretty darn good looking, too. We started dating, casually to my eyes at the beginning. She went back to Vermont for a bit, and I missed being with her even for that short trip. Then I went alone to Argentina, and after two days, I called her and asked her to get on a plane. That did it. The time we spent together, the things we did together, the more I wanted to keep doing it. Kim brought love, joy, happiness, friendship into my life.
And lots of animals. She absolutely adored them. She really cared for them, ours and others. She did so many volunteer vet trips to help poor people. She worked countless hours around Guanacaste for pennies.
She loved her friends and family; she had a very large family that created a deep connection. On a trip to a small town outside Madrid, where my grandparents came from, we met some distant family and she immediately connected. Kim always wanted to be with friends, always had fun. I was always asking her to leave a party and she just wanted to keep talking. Kim got a brain tumor, cancer called Glioblastoma.
She was very sad at the beginning. After the surgery, the tumor was sent to pathology and the worst news arrived. She was very down, but it did not last. She got back on the horse right away and started researching like crazy, looking for alternative options, clinical trials. From then on she was very positive, always fighting. She kept working as much as she could while going through the treatments.
She loved her job, working and helping horses. At one point, she started having seizures and the doctors asked her not to drive, so she hired a driver and kept working. Kim left early in the morning and did not come back until late afternoon. Nothing would stop her from doing what she loved. And she loved horses.
After pathology confirmed it was a Glioblastoma, Kim went through radiology and Temodal (a type of Chemotherapy). She researched alternatives to fight brain cancer and we ended up going to Duke University Hospital in North Carolina for a clinical trial consisting of two injections a month to boost her immune system.
This was April 2018, and all year the MRI was good. She also switched to a Ketogenic diet to fight the tumor. Unfortunately, in late December, a white dot appeared and it got larger by the end of January, and it was clear the tumor was back. She was put out of that clinical trial, and did some more research, but stayed at Duke for another trial. It was a three-weeka-month treatment consisting of a dose of MRZ (another Chemotherapy) and Vastin.
Unfortunately, it did not work and she was out of the trial May 2019. She got home on June 1 and lived her last days with the people and animals she loved. Kim was still calm and smiling the last days. She did not seem to be in pain, just gradually shutting down.
Kim passed away at 2 a.m. on June 21. The memorial was very sad and very nice at the same time. Very emotional. Thank you Don and Christi for hosting it at Lola’s and thanks everybody for helping remember Kim. It was a beautiful afternoon and sunset at Playa Avellanas.
A lot of people attended. Her sister Kate spoke. Her dad Paul and his wife Nancy read a beautiful poem written by Susan Money.
Friends and colleagues spoke as well. There was a billboard with a lot of beautiful photos and words from other friends. Kim will be missed enormously by the community. She loved everybody and everybody loved her. The work she was doing for the horse community will be greatly missed. With love, Eduardo Villa, husband ***
I was fortunate to spend some beautiful and precious time with Kim on her last day. I held her hand, and then she changed grips to encompass both of my hands with hers. She held on tight for the entire visit. She would give me squeezes and blinks while we were talking when she wanted to show her emotion. Her eyes would be closed or just a bit open, and then sometimes wide open and making eye contact, as clear as can be, and smiling. But she was tired.
Nancy was there with us, and we both told Kim that she fought so hard and was so strong and courageous. If she’s ready to stop fighting and relax, she should. I told her that we all love her, and we want her to know that she will always be in our hearts and live forever in our memories. Whenever she feels like letting go, we will take care of everything here. She would smile and blink, and looked a little sad, but she understood everything. Nancy and I chatted with her, and we told a couple of our favorite stories (Kim making us hitchhike back from Liberia, Amanda [Gardner] and all of us at the topes and fiestas).
Kim didn’t talk but she interacted by squeezing my hand and grinning or smiling at the funny parts. She was slipping in and out of consciousness and getting tired. She was thirsty and took a couple of sips of water. It was the only time she would loosen her grip. When I handed her the water I was able to free both hands, and I gave her a big hug and kiss. I told her I would be back, and surprisingly, in a muffled and tired voice she said,
“OK.” It caught me off guard to hear her speak, but I was thrilled for this small treasure. I asked her if she would like some rest, and she answered again and said, “Yeah.” She was very peaceful and not in pain, which is all we could hope for at this point. What left a lasting impression, that I will cherish for the rest of my days, is how her hands were so tight on mine. She was telling me she was still strong but was done with this body and this fight. Kim wasn’t giving up, just letting go. Kim will always fill our hearts with love and joy, Christi Bettinsoli, Donatus van Akkeren, Eden, Nikki ***
Kim was our vet. Kim was our friend. How do we say goodbye to Kim? Kim was the glue that connected our very diverse and unique sisterhood of equestrians in Guanacaste. She was at the top of our speed dial list and seemed to be everywhere at once. This did not change when she became ill. The health of our horses was her number one priority and she was our guru. She studied constantly to stay abreast of all the latest treatment methods and she had an uncanny spiritual knowledge of which holistic technique would work on a particular horse. She was inspiring to watch. Tough as nails, gentle as silk, always witty and flashing the “Kim smile,” she was our trusted life line, constant support, and our savior on so many occasions. I know I speak for all of “the horse girls” when I say, “Thank you Kim, you have meant the world to us, touched each of our hearts, and we miss you every day.” In loving memory, Jeanne Cordes.