UCLA'S 3 Wishes Project fulfills wishes for dying patients, their families

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- When a loved one is a hospital's intensive care unit, the experience can be very stressful. And if the patient rapidly declines, a different kind of emotional stress affects both the patient and the loved one, as the focus may then shift to end-of-life care.

The 3 Wishes Projectat UCLA Medical Center's ICU aims to make that a much more gentle, loving and dignified time.

It came about as a pilot research program to make the dying process more personal and dignified for patients and families, and it's based on a similar program in Canada.

Dr. Thanh Neville and UCLA colleague Dr. Peter Phung launched the program after receiving a grant from from the California State University Institute for Palliative Care.

"By honoring the patient's life and creating a positive memory, we can help support family during an extremely difficult time," Neville said.

For Sandy Levitt, the 3 Wishes Project gave her a meaningful last memory with her husband, Adam. Both Adam and Sandy Levitt loved the outdoors.

"He was always like, if it's sunny out here, we have no excuse to be lazy, so we were always going for hikes, biking, walking down by the beach," Sandy Levitt said.

They married in 2015. He'd suffered from an autoimmune condition for years. Last year, he got an infection and went into the ICU. When it was clear Adam wasn't going home, the ICU team at UCLA moved him and the equipment that was keeping him alive, outside to the terrace.

"I handed Sandy a blanket and she crawled into bed with Adam and we disconnected him from the ventilator. He was able to peacefully pass," Neville said.

"Adam and I loved walking down to the beach and watching the sun sets together. So the fact that we could enjoy one last sunset together was ... meant a lot to me," she said.

The impact of the experience was lasting.

Neville said Levitt told her she still finds comfort with that blanket because it's the last thing Adam touched. The 3 Wishes team has blankets, frames, pictures - all kinds of things to help patients and families with end of life.

Some of the wishes granted have been creating a "last date night," filling a patient's room with memorabilia from Hawaii, and bringing in a harpist to play classical music. It can be a big gesture or a small one, but creating that moment can really create a lasting, loving memory.

The responses from patients, their families and the ICU staff has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I feel privileged and honored that for the very first time that doctors and nurses are really able to do something very active in a patient's and family's darkest, darkest moment," said Neville.

So far, the team has fulfilled more than 400 wishes for 100 patients. The project has already expanded to UCLA Santa Monica.

Neville hopes other hospital systems all over the country adopt the program.
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