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Nurse Sandra Clarke still lives with the regret of breaking a promise to a terminally ill patient. The man asked Clarke to be by his side in his final hours. But, by the time she returned from her rounds, he had died. She then vowed to ensure that no one dies alone. Kim Riemland reports.     

 
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SCRIPT:

(Locator: Houston, Texas)

Rachel Ashley: “Hi Ms. Sarah, I’m Rachel.”

Rachel Ashley cannot imagine the thought of dying alone.

A volunteer at Houston’s Methodist Hospital, Ashley helps assure that no terminally ill patient has to suffer such a fate.

Rachel Ashley, No One Dies Alone Program Volunteer: “They know that I’m here. They know that they’re not alone, and ideally I can help ease them into dying.”

Denice Foose, a member of Chapelwood United Methodist, implemented the “No One Dies Alone” program in June 2007.

Denice Foose, No One Dies Alone Program Director: “It gets back to preserving their dignity up to the very last moment.”

The program also offers comfort to the families unable to make it to the hospital.

Denice Foose: “…just knowing that they’re not going to wake up in a sterile room and nobody’s going to be there or nobody’s going to hear their cry for help if they can’t reach the nurse’s button.”

The 135 trained volunteers often sing or share passages familiar to the patient’s faith…but mostly serve as a presence in the room.

Rachel Ashley: “I make a point to recognize who they are and acknowledge them. They’re not always responsive, but I always call them by name.”

Denice Foose: “One of the things we train them on is when you hold somebody’s hand who is non-responsive, it’s important to always place your hand under theirs to still give them that sense of control.”

The program also fulfills a spiritual need for those who wish to give back.

Rachel Ashley: “My best friend died about two and a half years ago and her family was not able to be there for her, so I got the honor and privilege of being there. That’s what I’d like for somebody to do for my friends or my family if I couldn’t be there.”

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Volunteers work in three hour shifts due to the emotional strain of such service, and sometimes serve only until family members arrive. Some participants are hospital staff members who would like to provide one-on-one comfort to dying patients, which they are not always able to do while on the job.

So far, volunteers have helped twelve patients ‘bridge’ the gap between life and death. For more information, contact Denice Foose at Methodist Hospital at 713-790-3311.

Posted: Feb. 4, 2009