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Hospice Patient Skydives Once More, Thanks to VITAS and Virtual Reality

By Evalisa McClure


From the cramped cabin of the aircraft, VITAS Healthcare patient Kim peered out through the open door and took in the landscape. In the next moment, she was dropping from 10,000 feet, reminding her senses: You are alive.
 
Kim couldn’t help but smile. She had made a habit of seeking these reminders throughout her 64 years on Earth. Now, as she neared the end of her life, the message seemed to come through with renewed clarity as her wish to fly through the atmosphere one last time came true, thanks to her VITAS hospice team.
 
“It takes a lot of coordination, but when you have a whole team coming together, you can make anything work,” says Daily, VITAS volunteer services manager.

To Kim, cirrhosis of the liver seemed at first like a challenge waiting to be overcome. After all, she had raised a son as a single mother, worked on a farm, and been involved in community politics—she understood perseverance. But after receiving a terminal prognosis and beginning care with VITAS, Kim started to focus on what she could feasibly achieve in the time that remained.
 
“I’d been seeing Kim for about eight months, and one day she mentioned that she’d been skydiving in the past and wanted to do it one last time,” says Tammy, Kim's nurse.
 
Daily suggested that virtual reality (VR) could offer a simulated version of Kim’s desired experience without the risks associated with jumping from a plane. The VITAS team manager and physician agreed.
 
On the day of the skydive, Kim was joined by Tammy, Daily, and other members of the VITAS team in her home. One of the nurses stood ready with the fan as Kim sat down and donned an Oculus Rift VR headset. What followed was a beautiful experience for everybody.
 
At one point, Kim stood from her chair, ecstatic with the sheer sensation of it all. After “landing” safely on the ground, she immediately began showering the team with appreciation.

For Kim, the experience was clearly a dream come true, but not quite a replacement for the real deal: Tammy says that her patient still jokes about skydiving—and bringing her favorite nurse along for the ride.

Evalisa McClure is general manager for VITAS Healthcare in Pittsburgh. For more information about end-of-life care services, call the nation’s leading provider at (866) 759-6695 or visit VITAS.com.

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