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Palliative care unit at Grey Nuns Hospital receives a boost

EDMONTON- Family and friends of a young Edmonton mother who passed away in 2010 have come together to make the Grey Nuns Hospital a more liveable place for those receiving end-of-life care.

Krista Simms was diagnosed with cervical cancer in April 2009.

“Krista was told to bring all her family and in that little room they told us that ‘you have cervical cancer and it is stage four. There is no cure and you’re going to die.’ And she was just 30 at that time,” explained Simms’ mother, Lesley Gierulski.

“She said ‘promise me I won’t die in a hospital.’ But there gets to be a point where the family can’t look after her and they get scared,” Gierulski added.

As her condition worsened, Simms was moved into the palliative care unit at the Grey Nuns Hospital. Her family tried to make the hospital room as bright and liveable as possible, bringing her things from home. Simms’ three young children drew her pictures, but Gierulski says one big setback was the single bed.

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“She would have loved to hold one of her children, or her husband to be able to cuddle her at night. Instead we had to sit in chairs beside the bed with our arms overtop of her, trying to give her comfort,” she explained.

Simms passed away in March 2010.

After that, Gierulski, along with a group of Simms’ friends, came together in hopes of making the unit a more home-like experience for people in the final days of their lives.

“When you come into this world, if you have the experience in the maternity room like the one downstairs, you should have the same experience when you leave this world,” said Simms’ friend Patricia Auger. “It’s the circle of life, I guess.”

“Let’s make these into bedrooms. Let’s make this comfortable for whoever wants to stay, or has to stay,” Gierulski added. “They already get the best medical care, the most compassionate people up here, the only thing missing is the esthetics. Now if we can give all of that, it would sure make a difference in people’s lives.”

With the help of the Caritas Foundation, the group- named the Clitar Heroes Foundation- planned a fundraiser and raised a total of $93,325.37. The cheque was presented to the palliative care unit at the Grey Nuns on Wednesday.

“We have families that move in with their loved one,” said Kelley Fournier, manager of the palliative care unit. “So to have structure right in the room to facilitate them staying and encourage them to stay, that’s important.”

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The donation is enough to renovate three of the 20 rooms in the unit.

“We’ll do it within the infection control restrictions. We’ll do it within the physical restrictions that these people have. And we’ll have beautiful rooms,” Fournier explained.

Rooms will be softened to help shift the focus from medical equipment and machines, to home and family. Curtains, lamps, artwork and larger beds will be installed.

“When you spend your last moments, you want to be around your family as much as you can,” Auger said. “I believe that if we would have had something like that for her, they would have definitely had more moments at the end together.”

The first newly renovated room will open this winter and will be named the Krista Michelle Simms Room.

“She loved her children, did everything with her children… She brought people together,” Gierulski said, holding back tears. “She’s going to make a real difference. She did before, but now it’s going to be so that everybody can see.”

The Clitar Heroes hope to transform all of the rooms in the unit. If you’d like to help in their efforts, you can visit the group’s Facebook page.

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With files from Su-Ling Goh, Global News.