Pilot research program makes dying more personal, dignified for patients, families

LOS ANGELES – Having a loved one or a patient die in a hospital's intensive care unit is painful and stressful for families and caregivers. 

University of California at Los Angeles Westwood is the first hospital in the United States to initiate a pilot research program to make the dying process more personal and dignified for patients and families. 

The program is similar to the Three Wishes program in Canada, which made Adam Levitt's end of life a little less painful for his wife, Sandy.

Adam Levitt 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, an ICU team moved Adam and the equipment that was keeping him alive 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," said Dr. Thanh Neville, assistant professor of medicine at UCLA.

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

She told Neville that she still sleeps with that blanket because it's the last thing Adam touched.

The Three Wishes team has blankets, frames, pictures and other things to help patients and families cope as the patient's life comes to an end.

"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," Neville said.

Neville is gauging the impact of the Three Wishes program on families like Sandy and the ICU staff. Responses have been overwhelmingly positive..

Neville said they've filled wishes, such as creating a last date night, filling a patient room with memorabilia from Hawaii and bringing in a harpist to play classical music. 

They've fulfilled more than 400 wishes for 100 patients at an average cost of $30. 

The project has already expanded to UCLA Santa Monica. 

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