Hospice's extra services focus on enhancing living experience

Living life to fullest is chief goal

Faith Hospice of Irving, TX, has employed a variety of services from complementary therapies to life-enhancing programs for the benefit of patients and their families.

These range from aromatherapy, pet therapy, and music therapy to massage, acupuncture, and Reiki.

Another program, called the 11th Hour, involves trained volunteers who will sit with patients during their last hours, holding hands and creating a reassurance presence, as well as providing respite care for families.

"We're trying to raise the bar and offer as many things as we can for comfort care," says Carol Bourland, BS, manager of volunteer services.

Among the more creative programs are the Faithful Presence Program, in which patients are given a professional-quality audio CD of their family members' recollections about them, the Video Life Review, and the Faithful Wishes Program.

Bourland describes the Video Life Review and Faithful Wishes Programs:

• Video Life Review: All patients are offered the service of having the hospice make a videotape on which the patient and/or family members discuss the patient's life and experiences, Bourland says.

"We have a volunteer who has a video camera, and she loves to use it and will come with me to a patient and talk with them about where they were born and what their childhood was like," Bourland says. "They take off with their stories from there and, afterward, we do a little editing and present it to the patient and family."

For example, one 92-year-old patient, who had emigrated from Russia, had a lot of stories to tell about her experiences traveling during World War II in Europe, and she wanted to make certain her grandchildren could hear her tales, Bourland recalls.

"I would go and visit her, and she'd tell me these stories." So I told her, "You have these wonderful stories," Bourland says. "She said she wished her grandchildren would know what she's been through."

The woman was very excited when Bourland told her about the Video Life Review program and eagerly participated. In the two months before she died, the patient repeatedly watched her own videotape, Bourland says.

"She loved having it in her room," she adds. "She needed this for closure before she died."

The Life Review program's purpose is to give hospice patients an opportunity to talk about the challenges they've had in their lives and to impart the wisdom they've gained from both their low points and their high points, says Don Weaver, PhD, a psychologist and consultant to Faith Hospice.

They tell their next generation, both children and grandchildren, what they think is important and the values that have governed their lives, Weaver adds.

• Faithful Wishes: Faith Hospice patients are told they may make a wish that the hospice will help them to realize, Bourland says.

"If there's something in particular that they would enjoy doing in the time they have left, we will help them to do it," she says. "This program emphasizes living to the last moment."

In the past 1.5 years, the hospice has granted 14 wishes, and not one of these has cost the hospice money, Bourland notes.

"We had a ramp built up to a woman's front door so she could have wheelchair accessibility," Bourland says. "Another patient loved his Harley-Davidson motorcycles and his wish was to play golf at the Byron Nelson Championship at the Four Seasons Golf Course in Las Colinas and then to go on a group Harley ride."

The hospice found two Harley bikers who agreed to pick up the man at his house and take him to a Harley club, and the man died two weeks after the event, Bourland recalls.

Another patient, who had dementia, remembered riding carousels in her youth, and she wanted to ride one again.

A double amputee, the woman was taken with her daughter and grandson to a carousel at a local mall, where she sat on the carousel bench for a long ride, Bourland says.

"She had the biggest smile on her face," Bourland says.

Another Faithful Wish recipient had been a former pilot who wished to fly in a plane one last time, although he had not flown for 40 years, Bourland says.

"I know someone who owns a private plane, and he donated the plane and gas, so we had the patient fly with him, and he actually took over the controls," Bourland says.

The patient's daughter accompanied him on his last flight.

One hospice patient's wish was to meet a famous sports figure, so the hospice arranged for Tom Rafferty, a former Dallas Cowboys center, to spend an afternoon with the patient and his family. Rafferty left behind an autographed photograph that the patient continued to cherish.

Other wishes have been as simple as wanting to go swimming despite reliance on an oxygen tank and wanting to attend a professional football game.

Bourland puts photos of patients receiving their Faithful Wishes on a wall at the hospice, and these have captions underneath them so other people can see what the program has produced.

"We want people to know that hospice is not necessarily a death sentence," Bourland says. "It's what you can do with the time you have left, and it's about living life to the fullest."