Isabel Hendrixson had never met the elderly man at Christiana Hospital who was near death. But she knew it was important to be with him at the end, so she hurried to his bedside. She held his hand and read him poetry.
“I hope that when my time comes, someone is there for me if my family cannot be there,” she says.
Hendrixson is one of more than 20 vigil volunteers in a program that offers comfort and compassion to dying patients who do not have a loved one nearby. It’s called No One Dies Alone.
“We did a lot of research into best practices to come up with what we think is an excellent system to help patients who are near the end die with dignity,” says Lily Tanverdi, volunteer coordinator at Wilmington Hospital. The pilot program was introduced at Christiana Care in March 2009, based on a group founded by a nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center in Eugene, Ore. After a year of testing at several units at Christiana Hospital and Wilmington Hospital, No One Dies Alone has been launched systemwide.
Although precise statistics are not available, patients at Christiana Care die each year who do not have loved ones at their side, says Margarita Rodriguez-Duffy, MSW CAVS, manager of Christiana Care’s Volunteer & Student Administration.
“Perhaps they may not have family in the area or no family at all,” Rodriguez-Duffy says. “Volunteers are willing to serve as surrogate family members during this last journey.”
Years ago, when she was a volunteer in the Medical Intensive Care Unit, Sandy Krett sat with a dying patient. “His family could not bear to be with him when he died, so I volunteered,” she recalls. Now a vigil volunteer, she is grateful to see a system in place for patients who are alone.
Each volunteer carries a bag equipped with reading materials, recordings of soothing music and a journal. If the patient is dying from an infectious disease, the volunteers are outfitted with masks, gloves and protective clothing. During her vigil with a patient, volunteer Bonnie Haines read psalms from various religions and spoke to the man as if he were an old friend.
“He wasn’t conscious, but I talked with him as if he was,” she recalls. “I told him about my family and my grandchildren.”
Soon after, Haines sat with her 93- year-old father, who was in hospice care. “As my father died, Andrea Bocelli was singing in the background, which was quite beautiful,” she recalls. “Being with someone at the end is a real privilege.” Volunteers undergo training sessions before they begin their work.
To learn more, call 302-733-1284 or go to www.christianacare.org/volunteer.