Entries in Terminal Illnesses (5)


Fospice Program Provides Homes for Elderly, Terminally Ill Pets

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- It may be hard for an animal lover to imagine, but many elderly and terminally ill dogs and cats are abandoned by their owners just when they need their people the most.

And that's where the ASPCA of New York City's "Fospice" volunteers step in.  These volunteers open their hearts and their homes to animals at the end of their lives.  The animals chosen for the Fospice program are not adoptable, and are instead placed in homes that are part foster, part hospice.

"It's a very special call, and not everybody is up for it or can do it.  But we've never had anybody drop out of the program once they've gotten in," said Diane Wilkerson, director of volunteer programs.

The program grew out of a need to place animals that weren't easily adopted out.

"We started to get this subset of elderly dogs and cats.  Sometimes it was animals that had a terminal illness," said Wilkerson.  "They weren't suffering, they could still move along, but it brought back their ability to be adopted.  So we got to thinking about how we could help these animals out and decided to hybrid hospice and foster."

While the baby animals tend to get adopted quickly, the same isn't true for older pets.

"They love to be around people, they're still eating their food, but they're at the end of their lifespan and not just suitable for adoption," said Dr. Jennifer Lander, director of Medicine at the ASPCA of New York City.  "People aren't coming in and saying I'd like a 15-year-old Labrador Retriever, they're coming in looking for puppies or younger animals."

There's a wide range in the health of the dogs and cats in the program.  Many are simply old; others have a more serious condition.

"In years past, when an animal was diagnosed with cancer or organ failure, it was sort of a death sentence but it doesn't mean that it's a death sentence on that day," said Lander.  "It's a matter of watching and managing and doing what you can do while balancing quality of life."

The shelter provides full support for the Fospice parents, including all medical care and even sheltering the animal if the family needs to go away.

"We consult with the foster parents like they're the owners or adopters and they get literature with a lot of information.  They get websites to refer to so they really understand the animal's medical condition, and they have a support network so when they have questions or problems we can answer," Lander said.

People who are interested in a Fospice-type program should call their local animal shelter and ask if there's a subset of the foster program -- very common in shelters around the country -- that deals specifically with elderly and terminally ill animals.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Community Shows Support for 4-Year-Old with Terminal Cancer

ABC News(DALLAS) -- People across the country are sending in pictures of themselves showing support for Dyrk Burcie, a 4-year-old from Texas with terminal cancer.

Dyrk was diagnosed with stage four liver cancer when he was just 3 years old.

“On March 8, 2011, while Dyrk was getting a bath, we felt a distinct mass on his abdomen,” Dyrk’s mom, Shelley, wrote on the “Fundraiser for Dyrk Burcie” Facebook page. “Both Dameon [Dyrk's dad] and I had a sinking feeling in our gut that this is not good.”

When they took Dyrk to the emergency room the next day, they were given the unimaginable diagnosis.

And so the Burcies began the long process of trying to heal their young son.

Dyrk has already endured nine rounds of chemotherapy, five surgeries and a liver transplant, according to ABC News Dallas affiliate WFAA.

Dyrk’s dad, Dameon Burcie, is a lieutenant with the Dallas Fire Department. His fellow firefighters decided that while doctors worked to heal Burcie’s son physically, they wanted to do something to lift the Burcie family’s spirits.

So the firefighters began taking photographs of themselves to support Dyrk -- holding up posters with words of encouragement and spelling out Dyrk’s name in creative ways.

The support began to spread -- first to other fire departments in the area and, eventually, it became a trend across the country.

Firefighters, sports teams, hospital staff and families have all sent in photos to boost Dyrk’s spirits and help support the Burcie family.

To send in your own picture for Dyrk and his family, please visit the Fundraiser for Dyrk Burcie Facebook page.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Retired Doctor to Test Physician-Assisted Death Law in Hawaii

Courtesy Robert Orfali(HONOLULU) -- Jeri Orfali was a top software executive in the early days of Silicon Valley, author of several books and was even professionally courted by Steve Jobs until, like Jobs, she was struck down with cancer at the age of 56.

"You don't think about how someone dies from cancer," said her husband of 30 years, Robert Orfali.  "No one tells you what really happens.  It took me by surprise, everything."

The Orfalis settled in Hawaii, where his wife was eventually diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died in 2009.  In her final days, she bore excruciating pain that was not helped by palliative care.

"In the end I could see tumors coming out of her legs and in her neck," he said.  "Her legs were swollen and her stomach was so bloated, the cancer almost burst out of her.  She couldn't get her next breath."

There is no dignity in dying, according to Orfali, who was so horrified by his wife's suffering that he wrote two books on the topic and has pushed to see Hawaii be the fourth state to legalize physician-assisted suicide.

And now, experts working with the national group, Compassion and Choices, and the Hawai'i Death With Dignity Society, have unearthed a 102-year-old provision in Hawaiian law that they say means aid in dying has been legal all along:

"[W]hen a duly licensed physician or osteopathic physician pronounces a person affected with any disease hopeless and beyond recovery and gives a written certificate to that effect to the person affected or the person's attendant, nothing herein shall forbid any person from giving or furnishing any remedial agent or measure when so requested by or on behalf of the affected person."

Advocates say the provision was added in 1909 to give dying patients the option to get treatment that may not have been approved by the government.  It likely arose out of now-canonized Father Damien's missionary work on the Island of Molokai with those who suffered from leprosy.

Some retired doctors now say they are poised to go ahead and help those who seek aid in dying, provided they meet guidelines established by a law in Oregon, where doctors have been legally allowed to end a terminal patient's suffering since 1997.

Since then, Washington and Montana have also legalized aid in dying.

"I think there is very little risk on my part if I did that," said Dr. Robert "Nate" Nathanson, 77, a retired general practitioner from Oahu, who said he has kept his medical license current so he could test the existing law. "If you qualify and your own doctor won't do it, I would be willing."

Nathanson and Orfali were part of a recent forum on that legal provision and have been advocates for what they call "death with dignity."  Advocates say that just having the lethal pills gives terminally ill patients peace of mind that they can control their lives and their death.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Terminal Baby at Center of Treatment Battle Returns to Canada

Photodisc/Thinkstock(ST. LOUIS) -- After receiving a tracheotomy at a St. Louis hospital that his native Canadian government denied him, Baby Joseph, the 15-month-old terminally ill infant at the center of an end-of-life debate, has returned to his Ontario home where he is set to spend his remaining days with family.

"The tracheotomy was successful," said the Rev. Frank Pavone of New York City-based Priests for Life, Joseph's medical care at Cardinal Glennon Children's Medical Center in St. Louis. Priests for Life is an organization which lobbies against abortion rights and euthanasia and was active in advocating for Baby Joseph's further treatment in the U.S.

"We were anticipating that he would need to go to an intermediate facility after the procedure but he responded so well that he's been off the machines and breathing tubes completely for a week. He's breathing on his own," he says.

Joseph Maraachli, who has come to be known as "Baby Joseph," was thrust into the forefront of the end-of-life debate in February, when Canadian doctors told his parents, Moe and Nader Maraachli, that their baby's degenerative disease was so bad that no treatment would bring him out of a persistent vegetative state. Joseph suffers from a progressive neurological disease called Leigh Syndrome -- the same disorder that claimed the life of Joseph's then 18-month-old brother eight years ago.

Though health care professionals presented Joseph's parents with a consent form that would allow doctors to take him off life support, the Maraachlis refused to sign the waiver and fought for their son to receive a tracheotomy -- a procedure that would allow them to care for their baby in his final days at home.

For months Baby Joseph's life was literally in negotiations as pro-life advocacy groups fought the Canadian government to allow him the procedure, underscoring the sensitive balance many parents may face between keeping their babies alive as long as possible and pouring money and medical resources into a losing battle.

The case was brought to the Consent and Capacity Board, an independent body created by the government of Ontario, and then a supreme court judge. Both entities ruled that Baby Joseph's breathing tube should be removed. It was only after Priests For Life offered to pay for Baby Joseph's medical costs that the infant was able to get the tracheotomy on March 21. The cost of the jet to the hospital, chartered with Kalitta Air, was donated to the family.

Felicia Cohn, Ph.D., director of medical ethics at the University of California at Irvine, told ABC News that she has been involved in similar conflicts, and an ethical process must be under way to assist both parties.

If conflict arises, a clinical ethicist or an ethics committee may assist in the decision making process. The court is a last resort and is a sign of persistent conflict.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio 


More Americans Opt for Hospice for End-of-Life Care

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(ALEXANDRIA, Va.) -- More Americans are choosing hospice care over hospitals for end-of-life care, reports Health Day News. In 2008, two in every five people who died in the U.S. were under hospice care, according to the national hospice group.

People facing fatal illnesses often feel a lack of control with medical staff in and out the room treating and testing at all times.  Hospice, on the other hand, offers patients more control and compassionate care and treatment. 

"I don't know about you, but when I'm sick and not feeling good, I'd much rather be at home," J. Donald Schumacher, who is president of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, told Health Day News.  "I think dying is the same way.  If you're going to die, it's better to be in your own environment and away from the high-technology setting of the hospital."

Kathleen Pacurar, president of San Diego Hospice and the Institute for Palliative Medicine that because of the acute nature of terminal illnesses, patients are often making multiple trips to emergency rooms and hospitals.  Consequently, hospice care can often be the more cost effective way of caring for the terminally ill.

"With hospice, because we are managing their symptoms and pain and we're available 27/7, patients call us rather than the medics when they are in pain or distress.  That means fewer trips to the hospital and a lot few medical procedures," Pacurar said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio