Caring for communities: The impact of gifting wishes to palliative care patients in New Zealand in the times of Covid

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In April 2019, 30-year-old Loreta Taylor fulfilled her wish to spend some special time away with her young family before she passed away.  This brave young woman with terminal cancer travelled from the family home in Auckland’s North Shore to Queenstown, for a luxury holiday with her husband Mark and two children Charlie (4) and Anabelle (2). This was all made possible by the Race4Life Trust, an organisation that was first established in 2015 in New Zealand.

Race4Life delivers a wish service and provision of special events and activities to engage adult palliative care patients throughout New Zealand. Fulfilling wishes enables people with a terminal illness to realize their dreams and create memories that they and their families can cherish. These special experiences promote positive wellbeing, often providing light when all hope may have been lost. As a result, these special wishes have a very profound impact on patients, their families, and the wider community.

Over 600 wishes have been granted since Viv James first began the Race4Life Trust in 2015.  From 2015 until March 2020 the staff grew to 9 full and part time workers. A strong passion and enthusiasm for this beautiful work, along with an understanding of the profound impact the service has on patients, families and communities throughout NZ, being the life blood of the staff.

Since 2020, with the onset of Covid 19, Race4Life has experienced many challenges including limited ability to raise funds, staff redundancies and an inability to grant wishes safely at anything but Alert Level One due to fragility of immune compromised patients. The continuous rollout of Lockdowns across New Zealand since 2020 has effectively meant that wishes have been compromised due to travel and gathering restrictions rules. Many patients as a result have passed away whilst on the ever increasing Waiting List.

The team restricted in so many ways, processed 79 wish requests in 2020, however they were only able to successfully deliver 49 wishes. In fact, 28% of wishes were not able to be completed compared to 13% in 2019. Several wishes were deferred to 2021 resulting in patients passing away before their wishes could be granted.

Wishes are a gift of hope and happiness at a time when patients need it the most. They can dramatically lift the spirits of people with life-limiting illness who can often feel isolated and removed from society. A helicopter ride, meeting a celebrity, a luxurious holiday away or a simple gathering in the backyard, are but a few of the many types of wishes requested by patients throughout NZ.   These initiatives not only benefit the dying individual, but bring together families and the community, during often tragic cases of bereavement, to help them process grief in a healthy and meaningful way as expressed in this video:

Race4Life has been engaged in a study led by Dr Alison Booth, looking at the impact of a wish on patients, their families, and host communities throughout New Zealand. We have been given an opportunity to present our work at the Palliative Care Conference in Montreal in September 2022. The study is the first of its kind that has looked at the impact of the Wish Experience on patients over 18. It points out the demands of the growth of the service, over the years and the impact that Covid 19 has had on the organisation.

Race4Life Report- Palliative Care Wishes and Sustaining Compassionate Networks Oct2021

A large percentage of wishes do involve travel to popular tourist spots within New Zealand. With Covid 19 Alert Level restrictions and the policy of the NZ Government, the Tourism and Hospitality sectors have been decimated these past 18 months. However, at different stages in 2020 when the Wish Service was in operation, there was still heart-warming support from communities New Zealand wide. It would appear that the currency of the heart had over-ruled the pocket. So many businesses, have been touched over the years by this humbling work. Even in what would seem impossible situations, they have maintained a loyalty.

The ancient adage: “It is in giving that we receive” is apparently the driving force!

When the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of Palliative Care Patients is in the asking, businesses throughout New Zealand are tending to open their arms to patients, just as they did prior to Covid times, with Loretta and her family in 2019.

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