Three Wishes program makes dying process a little less painful

Having a loved one, or a patient, die in a hospital's intensive care unit is painful and stressful to families and caregivers.

UCLA's Westwood ICU is the first in the United States to initiate a pilot research program to make the dying process more personal and dignified for patients and families.

It is based on a similar program in Canada. The Three Wishes program made one man's end of life a little less painful for his wife.

Adam and Sandy Levitt loved the outdoors.

"He was always like if it's sunny out here, we have no excuse to be lazy, so we were always going for hikes, biking, walking down by the beach," Sandy told Ivanhoe.

They married in 2015. He'd suffered from an autoimmune condition for years. Last year, he got an infection and went into the ICU.

When it was clear Adam wasn't going home, an ICU team moved Adam and the equipment that was keeping him alive to the terrace.

"I handed Sandy a blanket and she crawled into bed with Adam and we disconnected him from the ventilator. He was able to peacefully pass," shared Thanh Neville, MD, MSHS, Assistant Professor of Medicine at UCLA.

Sandy continued, "Adam and I loved walking down to the beach and watching the sunsets together. So the fact that we could enjoy one last sunset together was ... meant a lot to me."

Sandy told Dr. Neville she still sleeps with that blanket because it's the last thing Adam touched.

The Three Wishes team has blankets, frames, pictures - all kinds of things to help patients and families with the end of their life.

"I feel privileged and honored that for the very first time that doctors and nurses are really able to do something very active in a patient's and family's darkest, darkest moment," explained Dr. Neville.

Dr. Neville is gauging the impact of Three Wishes on families like Sandy and ICU staff. Responses have been overwhelmingly positive.

Dr. Neville says they've filled wishes like creating a last date night, filling a patient room with memorabilia from Hawaii, and bringing in a harpist to play classical music. They've fulfilled more than 400 wishes for 100 patients at an average cost of 30 dollars. The project has already expanded to UCLA Santa Monica. Dr. Neville hopes other hospital systems all over the country adopt the program.

Contributors: Wendy Chioji, Roque Correa, Rusty Reed
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