Staying Healthy: Wish Project -- comfort for the dying

When therapies end, a wish can still come true

Romelia and her family -- including children, children-in-law, grandchildren and sister-in-law -- enjoy the mariachi band in front of Stanford-ValleyCare, which arranged the performance as part of its Wish Project. (Photo courtesy of Stanford-ValleyCare)

Sometimes a wish is all a patient has left.

Even with advances in medicine, death can become an impending reality, and Stanford Health Care-ValleyCare started the Wish Project last year to celebrate the patient's life and passions, while also easing the grief for others.

"The wishes are generally small and low-cost but can be extremely meaningful to the patient and their families and friends," said Betts Cravotto, lead volunteer with the Wish Project.

"Wishes can be as simple as providing a few pints of gourmet ice cream to the patient, getting permission for a pet to lay in the patient's lap during their final day of hospitalization, arranging for a special meal, framing the patient's heartbeat, creating a 'word cloud' framed piece, or playing the person's favorite movie or music."

Recently Cravotto met with Ronaldo to discuss the wish of his mother, Romelia, who had been given only a few weeks to live. (ValleyCare withheld the family's last name for privacy reasons.)

"After discussing various ideas with Betts," Ronaldo said, "I thought a mariachi band would be very special for my mom. She loves mariachi music."

Cravotto and Dr. Minh-Chi Tran of Stanford-ValleyCare had just a few hours to make the necessary arrangements to bring Romelia outside during such a fragile time and to find the mariachi band and arrange for its 45-minute performance.

The family -- and passersby -- enjoyed the music.

"Coming to terms with my mother's declining health has been difficult, but sitting here with my family on this beautiful day, listening to a live mariachi band, has brought joy to my mother and us," Romelia's daughter Nancy said.

"The mariachi band performance was our most visible and public wish so far," Cravotto said. "We are thankful to the family for allowing us to share the experience with other patients and members of our hospital community."

About 25% of patients in the United States die in acute care settings, places that hold no special meaning for the patients and their family members. Stanford-ValleyCare launched the Wish Project as a means of easing the grieving process for patients and families and to let staff members provide support to their patients when they're unable to offer medical care and interventions in the traditional sense.

"I remember when I went through this with my mother," Dr. Tran said. "Having someone you care about die in the hospital is such a painful and lonely experience.

"I did not like the idea of having so many patients of mine and their families share that same ordeal," she continued. "I started this project to try to bring some honor to these people and hopefully leave their loved ones with a positive memory at the end.

"We think these small acts will continue to foster our small, caring community. We are honored to bring this project to our patients and their loved ones."

Since the launch in June 2018 with a gift from ValleyCare Charitable Foundation and support from clinical team members and volunteers, the Wish Project has granted about 20 wishes to patients.

"As a community hospital, we've had a longstanding tradition of providing compassionate and personalized care to the residents of the Tri-Valley," foundation executive director Shaké Sulikyan said. "ValleyCare Charitable Foundation and its donors helped create this important program because we know that the dying process and memories of the experience can have long-lasting effects on the patient's loved ones as well as on the care team."

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Nominations due by Sept. 16 and Pleasanton Weekly are once again putting out a call for nominations and sponsorships for the annual Tri-Valley Heroes awards - our salute to the community members dedicated to bettering the Tri-Valley and the lives of its residents.

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