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Hospice Nurse Encourages People to "Enjoy the Dash" and Celebrate Life 

Perhaps the most beautiful sunrise Sheila LaPointe has ever seen was from her bed at UMass Memorial Medical Center’s intensive care unit.

She had been left in a coma after a van struck and dragged her 150 feet during a morning run. Her first memory after the trauma was smiling at her partner and saying “feel the warmth of the sun. It’s going to be a beautiful day.”

The life-changing accident made Sheila realize just how short life can be. She admits she may sound cliché when she tells people to “enjoy the dash,” the years between your date of birth and death. As a VNA Care hospice nurse, she helps terminally ill patients and their loved ones live as fully as possible during those precious last months together.

“It’s a matter of celebrating, and finding happiness and joy. I find so much inspiration in the stories families share with me,” said Sheila.

One of the patients in her care was an elderly man in the terminal stage of a stroke. He had moved his family from Vietnam to the United States years ago to give his four children a better future. Even when the patient was unresponsive, Sheila remained focused on his quality of life. Hearing is thought to be the last sense to remain during the dying process.

“I always tell families to share stories about their loved ones. Talk about what they did as a father or mother. Don’t be afraid to play their favorite music,” she said.

The son took Sheila’s advice and played religious music that his father would have found comforting. The man passed away peacefully with his family by his side.

Educating and supporting patients’ loved ones is an important part of Sheila’s role as a hospice nurse. She remembered one patient, a wife and mother of two daughters who had a long battle with cancer. During one visit, one of the patient’s adult daughters was in tears. Her mother was no longer taking her medications or eating, and the situation was incredibly distressing to the family.

Sheila explained how this meant her mother’s body was slowing down. While these conversations can be difficult, Sheila supported and guided the family so they could all help her be comfortable and peaceful.

Pain and symptom management are central to Sheila’s work. Another of her patients was a young man with cancer who also endured financial hardship. He experienced a pain crisis that could not be easily managed at home, so Sheila worked with her colleagues to have him moved to VNA Care’s Rose Monahan Hospice Home.

The hospice residence is a home-like place for people to receive end-of-life care, and the home’s general inpatient unit provides hospital-level care for individuals with complex needs. The hospice team at the Monahan Home were able to get the man’s pain under control, and he was able to return home to his family.

The patient had told Sheila that he was a lifelong fan of Superman and, as a child, dreamed of being this superhero when he grew up. He was so grateful to Sheila for helping him remain comfortable and at home that he presented her with a Superman necklace.

Sheila proudly wore the Superman medallion in his honor when she ran hospice the Providence Marathon. Despite Sheila’s life-threatening accident more than a decade before and predictions that she may never walk, never mind run, ever again, she had persevered.

Sheila said, “I have this strong faith and I tell my patients that they’re part of my mantra when I’m running.”

Following the race, Sheila presented the marathon medal she had won to her patient, telling him that “he was my true superman.”

Sheila remembered, “his mom texted me when he passed that ‘Superman is flying high in the heavens now.’ He was a wonderful man.”

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