The death of a loved one can be painful, whether the loss was unexpected or anticipated. Oftentimes, seriously ill patients will transition during their stay in the hospital, and when families are seeking support, some turn to the medical staff for comfort.
Augusta University Health Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit Nurse Stephani Haug is one of the first faces of comfort families of palliative care patients will see as they are coping with the reality of death. Haug has learned various legacy building activities throughout her career and is now implementing them at AU Health as a way to help families during a fragile point of the loved one’s health care journey.
“Before coming to AU Health, I served at a hospital in the Pacific Northwest area where we instituted palliative and legacy building activities for adults who were near the end of life,” said Haug. “Although these patients did not qualify for hospice, I enjoyed giving extra support and care to the patient and family. It helped them endure the pain of the loss.”
When Haug joined AU Health’s Neuroscience ICU earlier this year, she felt compelled to put into practice what was done at her previous institution to provide even more comfort to those being treated in her unit.
Haug began using her own money to buy products such as lotion to massage the hands and feet of patients who were dying and blankets to cover the bodies of patients to keep their loved ones from seeing the medical equipment attached to their bodies. She would also give families the imprints of the patient’s hands and feet as well as their final EKG graph as keepsakes.
Haug says these small acts of kindness went a long way with the families. “It is very important for our families to know that we acknowledge their loss, and I want them to know they are not alone,” she said.
Haug’s efforts caught the attention of AU Health’s Patient-and Family-Centered Care Coordinator Katie Lawhead, who not only awarded Haug with a PFCC E3 Award for going above the call of duty in providing care, but found a way for the hospital to fund and expand Haug’s efforts.
This summer, Lawhead and Haug launched The Butterfly Cart, a code cart that Lawhead painted lavender and decorated with butterflies, the hospital’s symbol of the death of a patient.
The cart contains a variety of donated items, such as toiletries, snacks, grief support material and fuzzy socks, and families of patients receiving long-term palliative care or end-of-life care can choose what items they need during their stay. As of now, AU Health is offering two Butterfly Carts in the hospital, one for those being treated in the adult Neuro Intensive Care Unit and the other for the Shock Trauma Intensive Care Unit.
“Many of our families rushed to the hospital with their loved one and did not have a chance to grab things like toothbrushes, and the cart is there to provide families with those basic resources,” said Haug. “When families reach my unit, they are usually in a bad state emotionally, and we can at least give them some of the items they need.”
Lawhead shared similar sentiments.
“People can really feel when you care, and I feel this added touch will make such a difference during a very difficult time,” said Lawhead. “We started with one Butterfly Cart and now we have another one so we can expand our efforts of showing how much we care. We hope to continue offering more carts as we receive donations.”
A top giver to the Butterfly Cart is the family of Elayna Hatchell, a patient who received care in the Neuro ICU at AU Health. Hatchell has been a patient at AU Health since she was 15 years old and has overcome many health challenges, such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, sepsis and seizures. Thanks to the care Hatchell received at AU Health, she is now 24 years old and entering graduate school at the University of South Carolina Aiken.
In an act of gratitude, Hatchell’s mom Suzanne says her family’s decision to donate stems from her son Benjamin making AU Health the focus of his community service project for his school, Tall Pines STEM Academy. The family reached out to Lawhead for donation suggestions and she mentioned the Butterfly Cart. As a result, the Hatchell family raised over $500 in donations.
“You just don’t know how lucky you are until you have to walk the halls of the hospital, and it is a hurtful feeling to see other families face the reality of the death of their loved one,” said Suzanne Hatchell. “If you are blessed enough to donate, please do it and it will help so many of these families during a very difficult time in their lives.”
Donations are now being accepted for the Butterfly Cart and requested items include grief books for all ages, toiletries, items of faith, snacks, fuzzy socks and blankets. For more information, email the Center for Patients and Families or call 706-721-7322.