Angels, Miracle Workers and Unsung Heroes

Family Hospice Column
Jim is an RN at Family Hospice’s Center for Compassionate Care. Here, he spends time with a patient who was a fellow Veteran.

By Rafael J. Sciullo

The month of May is an exciting time. Children can see the end of the school year on the horizon, tree and plant life are coming into full bloom and summer is finally around the corner.  We also have other reasons to celebrate in May… from Cinco de Mayo, to Mother’s Day, to Memorial Day. Not to mention some more obscure observances this month, including Tuba Day, National Barbecue Month, Salad Month and even Cookie Monster’s birthday!

But the observance that touches nearly everyone in a unique way is May’s recognition of nurses. They have been referred to as angels, miracle workers, and unsung heroes. At Family Hospice and Palliative Care, our nurses deliver our mission of quality, compassionate care on a regular basis. And before you think this is accomplished just by bedside visits and the administering of medications, think again.

Allow me to share some special stories that really shine the light on our nursing staff:

Traci, a Family Hospice pediatric nurse, can still feel the small body in her arms. He was only two and was suffering from inoperable cancer. Nothing more could be done but to make the child comfortable and support his young parents and sister. “He was special. I can still see his large brown eyes looking into mine. They revealed such innocence. I will always remember him,” she says.

Carrie is a nurse assigned to one of our skilled nursing facility partners. No matter what her day holds, Carrie is known for taking extra time. She is never in a patient’s room solely to “check on them” – rather, she is happy to sit with patients, talking, listening, holding their hands and often tending to needs that go beyond traditional nursing services.

Jim is an RN at our Inpatient Unit, The Center for Compassionate Care. A Veteran himself, Jim has connected on a personal level with many of the Veteran patients for which we have cared at The Center. He recognizes the unique bond brought about by shared experiences as members of the Armed Forces.

There’s Cynthia, a nurse who visits one of our patients enrolled in the Transitions program – our initiative designed to improve hospice access for the African-American population of Pittsburgh’s Greater North Side. When Cynthia arrives at the patient’s home – she’s like one of the family. Offering a warm “Hi, Bill”, as she walks through the door, she picks up right where she left off at the last visit, sitting with the patient and his wife, discussing not only his condition, but the latest family news.

And who could forget the massive snowstorm of February 2010? Our nurses were determined not to let Mother Nature hold them back.

Melissa, a Family Hospice RN, could not get to a family at a critical time due to road conditions. So, she pulled her vehicle over, jumped a guard rail and hiked to the patient’s home in over a foot of snow.

In the wake of that same storm, Deb, a nurse who resides in Greenfield, walked nearly 20 miles one day to see three families. “When I saw there was no other way to go down my hill, I put my stethoscope in my backpack and headed out. I came home tired and sore, but it was worth it.  I had a young patient who was showing improvement, and I didn’t want her to have a setback.”

Keep in mind that the hospice movement was founded by a remarkable woman, Dame Cicely Saunders, who herself was a nurse turned physician. It was in that spirit of nursing that Saunders set out to ensure those with life limiting illness would receive compassionate care, comfort and dignity at life’s end.

Our hospice nurses continue that mission today – and we are all the better for it. So, after you help Cookie Monster blow out his candles, take a moment to thank a nurse for the light they bring to so many lives.

Rafael J. Sciullo, MA, LCSW, MS, is President and CEO of Family Hospice and Palliative Care and Past Chairperson of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. He may be reached at or (412) 572-8800. Family Hospice and Palliative Care serves nine counties in Western Pennsylvania. Its website is