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Families able to grant loved one's wishes through hospice

By Justin Boron

Katie Lou Gilbert never wanted to leave home. So even on her death bed, her family promised to keep her there.

Told by doctors that treatment wouldn't help her ailing 92-year old mother-in-law, Phyllis Gilbert decided she wasn't going to let the woman who filled the void of her own dead parents suffer through her cancer the rest of her life in a hospital bed.

"She had been with us 25 years, and I could not see taking her somewhere and leaving her," said Phyllis, 65, who lost both of her parents by 14.

So Gilbert left her life surrounded by her family.

"We camped out," Dianne Brown, 57, Gilbert's daughter.

What made that possible was hospice, a form of care that medical personnel at Sacred Journey Hospice say too few people are aware of.

Robin Stanton, one of Sacred Journey's founders, wants people to know that the terminally ill do not have to wither away in a hospital.

"They don't have to be actively dying," she said. "They can live at home and live a good life."

The hospice care service in McDonough was founded by five women, who after working in hospitals, were determined they could do something more for the people they watched dying painfully of cancer.

Stanton along with Debra Parks, Tammy Jester, Lauretta Nelson, and Gwendolyn Parks started the hospice service in 2002.

Frequently, like in the Gilberts case, there is nothing more that can be done medically to save the sick from their affliction.

Stanton said hospice can alleviate some of the pain while patients live at home comfortably. In addition to home care, Sacred Journey offers a chaplain and a social worker to lend as much comfort as possible to one of life's most difficult processes.

Unfortunately, Stanton feels awareness of what services are offered and who qualifies isn't where it should be. For that reason, Sacred Journey hopes to raise awareness on Oct. 8, which is World Hospice and Palliative Care Day.

Many times, the group gets referrals through doctors and hospitals.

But in worse cases, some who are terminally ill are alone at home and unaware that they need help.

"How to get them is a good question?" Jester said. "Word of mouth is our biggest way of people finding out about us."

Anita Hossfeld, the president of Portsbridge Hospice based in Riverdale, said not enough people that do qualify for hospice know that they do.

"The myth is that it is only for cancer and AIDS patients," she said.

People with pulmonary disease, heart failure, respiratory disease, dementia, neurological disorders, and liver disease also can qualify if they have a prognosis of less than six months.

Also, the decision for hospice care isn't always that easy.

"It was hard because we all loved her so much, and we didn't want to give her up," Phyllis Gilbert said.

But Gilbert realized hospice can be a way to extend the good parts of someone's life.

"I think it's very important," she said. "If it had not been for the people here then we could not have kept here home, and we could not have given her the support that we did."