Finding meaning in dark moments

The Three Wishes program at St. Michael’s Hospital helps families soften the loss of loved ones.

Chris Eugenio’s father battled lupus for years. His brave fight ended on March 22, 2022, when Nilo Eugenio succumbed to the disease. Nilo spent his last days in St. Michael’s ICU. Chris says he was deeply moved by the care his father received during that time.

“For my mother and my sisters and me, it was one of the darkest moments in our lives. But the compassion and care that the doctors and nurses and the social worker showed my dad, and us, really helped. It was amazing.”

It was one gesture in particular, by social worker Rose Piacentino, that Chris says he’ll never forget. After Nilo died, Rose presented family members with a lock of his hair in one bottle, and in another, a printout of Nilo’s EKG – a permanent record of his heartbeat. Rose also gave Chris a handwritten note of congratulations in honour of his graduation from the Smith School of Business in Kingston, where he had just completed his executive MBA. She knew how proud his father had been.

“I broke down,” he says. “It was such an incredible gesture. I just broke down.”

Gestures like these are not out of the ordinary for Rose and her colleagues in the ICU. They’re part of a program called Three Wishes, which began a decade ago at St. Joseph’s Healthcare in Hamilton and has now spread to other hospitals, including St. Michael’s. The idea is to honour the end of life and it can involve anything from playing a patient’s favourite song to arranging special meals to providing loved ones with mementos and memories.

“It’s about dignifying their death while celebrating their life,” says Rose. “Often, it’s more for loved ones than for the patient. Ideally, it creates positive experiences of the dying process, especially within an environment as sterile as the ICU.”

Orla Smith, the senior clinical program director for the emergency department and medicine, introduced Three Wishes to the hospital in 2016. She says the program epitomizes the HUMANCARE campaign, which is about making health care more human.

“Three Wishes is all about connecting to the person, and seeing the person beyond their illness and outside of the dying process.”

Chris Eugenio has never read Rose’s note. At the time, it was too overwhelming. He feels it’s enough that he has it, and that someone who cared for his father wrote it.

“I know there’ll be a day when I want to read it. Maybe I’ll need to read it. And I know I’ll have it, that it’ll be there for me. That’s a good feeling to have.” 

This is #HUMANCARE.

To support St. Michael’s movement to make health care more human through the Three Wishes program, click here.

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