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Hospice provides both support and helping hand

By Greg Gelpi

Terminally ill patients and their families have more than physical ailments, and services to care for them are expanding.

An addition to the Sacred Journey Hospice in McDonough will enable the hospice to house up to 12 patients. Sacred Journey currently has about a dozen patients, but they must care for them in their homes.

From medical checkups to household chores, Sacred Journey tends to the needs of its patients as well as the needs of the families of its patients, Sacred Journey's Patty Dickens said. The hospice provides comprehensive care to terminally ill patients. The care includes medical, spiritual and emotional care, and with completion of construction Sacred Journey will be able to house some of these patients.

"One thing is that Clayton County doesn't even know we're coming," Dickens said. "We're going to be their service area, too."

Sacred Journey Hospice provides out-patient care, but by year's end is projected to start providing in-patient care as well. The new facility in McDonough will have rooms for 12 patients, garden areas, a nurse's station and a chapel, Dickens said.

The daughter of two Sacred Journey patients credits the hospice with helping with tasks big and small.

Kathy Van Laer, a single mother of a 12-year-old son, balances motherhood, a part-time job and tending to the needs of her bed-ridden mother and father. She does so with the assistance of hospice, she said.

"It's physically demanding," Van Laer said. "Hospice is picking up all of the slack."

Her father became bed-ridden after several strokes, and her mother had her leg amputated after breaking it and experiencing complications, Van Laer said.

"It's been pretty inspiring that my mother has persevered all of this," she said.

Hospice volunteers visit her and her parents every weekday, providing care for her and her parents, as well as providing a short break for Van Laer.

"You just don't realize how much care is involved in taking care of a human being," she said, adding that many times she turns to go to the bathroom one of her parents asks for her help.

Hospice volunteers and nurses help her while helping her parents, Van Laer said. For instance, they bathe her mother and father and help with the laundry.

That comprehensive care helps everyone cope with the dying process, Dickens said.

"I think one thing about death is that everybody is afraid," Dickens said. "They don't know what's going to happen."

Hospice addresses the needs of the patients, doing anything to make their last days enjoyable, while also preparing the family for the death of their loved one, Dickens said.

"Whatever we've got to do, we do," Dickens said. "A lot of times people think of hospice as hopeless, but it's not that way. We give them quality of life."

She recalled buying plane tickets for a dying 26-year-old, who wanted nothing more than to see the ocean one last time before her death, Dickens said. Another patient lived more than a year longer than expected after hospice arranged for him to attend a wrestling event.

Tammy Jester, a nurse with Sacred Journey, worked in oncology for 10 years before beginning work with hospice.

Jester now tends to the needs of the whole person, she said. She is able to sit and listen, rather than rushing off to another patient.

"I don't always know what to say," she said. "I guess we just comfort each other."

Henry and Clayton counties are also served by hospices in Conyers, Griffin and Riverdale, Dickens said.