Perry Rust speaks from the heart when he describes the last days of his 82-year-old father, Warren Rust. They were spent in the Sanford Health Palliative Care Unit in Fargo, where he was surrounded by family, specialized care -- and meaningful moments.
"I can’t say enough about Palliative Care,” says Perry. “They made an end-of-life experience more than bearable. They made it as good as it could possibly be for my dad and for our entire family.”
Palliative Care is the medical specialty that focuses on symptom management to provide comfort and relief. Whether it's in the context of serious illness or at the end of life, Palliative Care helps patients and families transform every moment, making life the best it can be at a difficult time.>
- How is it different from Hospice?
Palliative Care is broader in scope than Hospice, which is specific to end-of- life care. In fact Hospice is a specialty within Palliative Care.
- Is Palliative Care available for children?
At Sanford Children’s in Sioux Falls, the Pediatric Palliative Care Team plays a key role in supporting children and their families during potentially life-limiting injuries or illness.
- Does every hospital have a Palliative Care Unit?
Certainly not. While many may have Palliative Care Programs, far fewer have specifically designed Palliative Care Units.
So how did this compassionate, patient-and-family-focused unit find its way to Fargo? Meet Dr. Preston Steen, medical oncologist who pioneered Sanford's Palliative Care Unit.
Personal experience inspires action
Dr. Steen knows what it's like when a loved one dies. He lost his father-in-law to cancer, then in 1995 his father died of lung cancer.
"I saw the suffering they went through -- what was done right and what could have been done better to relieve their symptoms," he says. "It had a profound effect on me."
The experience inspired him to take his oncology specialty to the next level. He studied Palliative Care, then brought it home to Sanford Health. Today he leads a team of board-certified Palliative Care physicians, specially trained nurses, chaplains, social workers, psychologists and others.
The multidisciplinary team meets daily to discuss each patient and determine the goals for that day. Patient's specific needs and desires stay at the forefront. In fact patients and families play a key role in developing the care plan.
"Palliative Care is definitely a team effort,” says Dr. Steen. “We strive to help people be as comfortable as possible -- physically, mentally, socially and spiritually. We alleviate all the stressors as best we can.”
Dr. Steen has never regretted his decision to pursue Palliative Care. “Other than birth, there’s nothing more intimate than death,” he says. “The emotions, the needs, the intensity …. you develop very special relationships with people, even though they may be fairly short-term. It’s gratifying to help."
It’s been two years since Warren Rust died. Perry still has the giant card the Palliative Care team made for his parents' anniversary. "They did so many things that made that time very special," he says.
But for Perry, perhaps the greatest meaning came from an image etched in his mind for the rest of his days: "When my dad passed away we were all there, surrounding him with love."
Posted Date: December 2011