Iowa ambulance crew to grant last wishes
Le Mars Ambulance will help make end-of-life requests possible for hospice patients, and began by helping a woman go to church one last time
By Amy Erickson
Le Mars Daily Sentinel
LE MARS, Iowa — Before she passed away, Kathy Powell had a wish -- to go to her church one more time.
Last October, Le Mars Ambulance made that possible.
Bill Rosacker, director of Le Mars Emergency Medical Services, or EMS, and another crew member picked Kathy up in an ambulance.
They drove her to church, waited for the service to be over, and brought her home.
"We just stayed in the background in case she needed anything," Rosacker said. "She really didn't."
Arlene Urban, Kathy's mother, said her daughter, who died March 25, was "absolutely thrilled" to be able to go to church.
Kathy's experience was a trial run for Le Mars Ambulance's participation in a program called, Sentimental Journey.
As part of the program, the ambulance service will help make end-of-life requests possible for hospice patients.
"We take hospice patients and basically give them a last wish," Rosacker explained.
Le Mars will officially roll out the Sentimental Journey program today (Monday).
Rosacker heard about Sentimental Journey while attending a conference where Steve Berry, founder of the program spoke.
Berry, a well-known paramedic and cartoonist, is a frequent speaker at EMS conferences, Rosacker said.
The Sentimental Journey program started 16 years ago, when Berry and his partner, Kim Madison, made the first trip.
Part of a Colorado Springs, Colo., ambulance crew, the two were transporting a hospice patient on a standard transfer.
The patient told the crew he wished he could see the fall colors of the Colorado aspens one last time.
The ambulance crew turned down a country road, pulled into an open field and opened the ambulance doors so the patient could see out.
Berry also spoke of a journey involving a woman who wanted to take her grandchildren to the zoo one last time, Rosacker said.
While at the zoo, she put her hand on the glass of the gorilla cage and the animal put its hand against hers, Rosacker said.
"It's just very moving," he said.
Rosacker introduced the idea of the Sentimental Journey program to the Le Mars crew, who thought it would be great to participate.
"I have no idea what the demands will be," Rosacker said. "I assume one or two a month tops."
The program is free, and only for hospice patients, with ambulance crew volunteering their time, he said.
"It's really rewarding for the crew," Rosacker said.
Typically, the journeys will stay in Plymouth County, and could get interrupted if the ambulance is needed elsewhere.
"Our mission is to provide emergency medical care," Rosacker explained. "This is a second mission."
He recently presented the Sentimental Journey program to the Le Mars City Council because it involves using the city-owned ambulance and local crew members.
"They were very supportive," Rosacker said.
Remsen will cover Le Mars if the ambulance is out on a Sentimental Journey and a transfer is necessary, he said.
Planning the trips will require "a lot of coordination" with patients and family members, Rosacker said.
Patients will be screened through local hospice services to ensure they are capable of tolerating the trip, he said.
Rosacker said the Sentimental Journey program is another way for Le Mars Ambulance to serve residents.
"It's just a service we can give back to the community," he said.
For Urban, the Sentimental Journey program means much more.
"I think it's just wonderful," she said. "It's just an answer to a lot of people's prayers."
Urban said she had wanted to help her daughter go to church one last time, but wasn't able to do so on her own.
"These people (EMS) made it so easy," Urban said. "They made sure she was comfortable the whole time."
The crew was also cordial and accommodating, willing to wait if Kathy wanted to visit some people after the service, Urban said.
"We are privileged to have such a wonderful team and program," she said. "They just do such terrific work.