It was a rainy night in Eugene, Oregon and Sandra Clarke, a bedside nurse at Sacred Heart Medical Center was busy making her initial rounds.
One of Sandra’s seven patients that evening was a man she describes as frail, pale, old and tremulous. In a voice barely audible the man asked, “Will you stay with me?” Sandra replied, “Of course, as soon as I check my other patients.”
But for the next 90 minutes, Sandra was busy checking vital signs, passing meds, doing chart checks and providing bathroom assistance for her six other patients. By the time she returned to the man’s room, he had died.
The elderly man was a DNR (do not resuscitate), had no family and was end-stage, multi-organ disease. The medical professional in Sandra understood it was his time to die, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that it was not acceptable for him to die without family, friends or anyone at his bedside.
“I looked around; scores of people were nearby providing state-of-the-art patient care,” Sandra recalls. “For this man, state-of-the-art should have been dignity and respect.”
No One Dies Alone Was Launched in 2001
Years went by and Sandra’s life was busy with family and work. However, even though she couldn’t remember his name, Sandra often thought about the man who had died that rainy night.
His lonely death had left an indelible impression.
In 2001, with the help of her co-workers at Sacred Heart Medical Center, Sandra launched the No One Dies Alone (NODA) program. Best described as an elder orphan program for those who have either outlived family and friends or are alone for other reasons, NODA brings a trained volunteer, called a compassionate companion, to the hospital bedside of someone in the last hours of life.
The fledgling NODA program enlisted volunteers from local healthcare organizations, hospice programs, and community groups. NODA has no religious affiliation and its programs are community-based and operated.
It’s initial mission was, and remains today, simple: Be present with a person at the end of his or her life, perhaps holding their hand, reading, singing, playing appropriate music or simply talking quietly.
NODA Helps Provide a Dignified Death
The inclination is to think that all of the people helped by NODA are very old, but that’s not true. The program provides a dignified death for people of all ages, from those who have no family or friends to those who might be far from home and suffer a catastrophic event, be it accident or illness.
Since its inception, NODA had grown quietly but steadily. It has been implemented in health care facilities all across the U.S. and in many countries around the world. Staying true to its all-volunteer philosophy, NODA still operates with no funding, with the exception of a small grant to subsidize the printing of an orientation manual.
Nobody Dies Alone was profiled in O Magazine in a heart-warming 2008 article penned by Lauren Kessler. “Whatever the volunteers do in these hours,” wrote Kessler, “they offer the most valuable gift: a dignified death. In return they sometimes experience something profound.”
Sandra still works at Sacred Heart Medical Center. She’s a shining example of someone who saw something that she didn’t think was right and she decided to do something about it.
To learn more about No One Dies Alone and Sandra Clarke, visit this website.