The “angel of kindness” who makes final wishes come true

Carol Steadman, Coordinator of the Magic Moments program, speaks to a palliative care patient at Mount Sinai Hospital.

Under the Magic Moments program for palliative patients at Mount Sinai Hospital, Carol Steadman puts into practice the hospital’s philosophy of providing “not just care but caring.”

She has brought terminally ill patients together with estranged family members, and arranged private concerts by famous musicians. She has organized something as simple as a haircut, and as elaborate as a daughter’s wedding ceremony.

 

Mr. H was a holocaust survivor. His wish was to visit the newly unveiled Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa and meet the young woman who lobbied the government to have it built. Mr. H was transported on a medic bus with his daughter and given a tour of the Memorial and the War Museum. He sat in the House of Commons during question period and was given a standing ovation by the House. He later had dinner on Parliament Hill where he had a private meeting with some Members of Parliament. He is flanked in the photo by MP David Sweet (left) and MP Peter Kent (right)
Mr. H was a holocaust survivor. His wish was to visit the newly unveiled Holocaust Memorial in Ottawa and meet the young woman who lobbied the government to have it built. Mr. H was transported on a medic bus with his daughter and given a tour of the Memorial and the War Museum. He sat in the House of Commons during question period and was given a standing ovation by the House. He later had dinner on Parliament Hill where he had a private meeting with some Members of Parliament. He is flanked in the photo by MP David Sweet (left) and MP Peter Kent (right)

For palliative care patients at Mount Sinai, Carol Steadman is known as the “Magic Moments Lady” who makes final wishes come true. Her efforts are so appreciated, she has been described as an “angel of kindness.”

“When the doctors see me coming, they say ‘put on your wings’!” Ms. Steadman jokes. “But when I see the smiles and closure each wish provides, I know it is all worth it.”

Beyond providing care for patients and their families in the terminal phases of illness, patients on the palliative care unit at Mount Sinai are offered the opportunity to submit three wishes they would like to see fulfilled in this crucial moment of their lives. Carol Steadman helps the patient determine what it is they truly want and then – no matter how big or small the wish may be – tries to make it happen.

Odette’s wish was clear and concise. “I want a haircut. Then I will be ready to meet my husband who died ten years ago”, she told the team. As you can see from her big smile in the photo below, Odette was very pleased with the results.
Odette’s wish was clear and concise. “I want a haircut. Then I will be ready to meet my husband who died ten years ago”, she told the team. As you can see from her big smile in the photo below, Odette was very pleased with the results.

Funded through the Mount Sinai Hospital Foundation, Ms. Steadman does her work with the Magic Moments program as a volunteer. Her role as Coordinator of Magic Moments is above and beyond her full-time job as Coordinator of the volunteer department at Mount Sinai.

Ms. Steadman takes part in rounds on the palliative unit and often hears desperate needs from the patients, whether it’s enjoying a dish from a favourite restaurant or being reunited with an estranged family member.

She recalls fulfilling a wish that a patient from Cape Breton was partially joking about; he said he would love to see Nova Scotia fiddler Natalie MacMaster play. “Within hours, we were able to arrange for Natalie MacMaster and her family to stop in at the hospital in between their 16-hour bus ride from New Brunswick to their home in Ontario,” Ms. Steadman recalls. “Even with no sleep, the Celtic musician, along with her children, leapt off the bus and performed for over an hour in the cafeteria. The patient – Mr. W – clapped, laughed and was overjoyed.”

In reflecting on the final wishes she has helped make possible, Ms. Steadman has come to recognize that a common thread is the desire for people to come together. “Whether it centered on food, or on celebrating a special event, I saw families reunified and reunited,” Ms. Steadman says. “The joy of seeing a grandchild’s bar mitzvah and the solace found in speaking with a priest made such a difference to others facing end of life. Comfort was another wish. “A simple massage or haircut brought comfort and pain relief to many.”

Harold and his brother had fallen out and not seen each other in over 10 years. The patient’s wish was to see his brother one last time and make things right between them. All that Harold knew of his brother’s whereabouts was that he was living somewhere in the desert near Arizona. After some sleuthing online we managed to locate him. Forty-eight hours later they met.
Harold and his brother had fallen out and not seen each other in over 10 years. The patient’s wish was to see his brother one last time and make things right between them. All that Harold knew of his brother’s whereabouts was that he was living somewhere in the desert near Arizona. After some sleuthing online we managed to locate him. Forty-eight hours later they met.

She says she relies on the team at Mount Sinai to help fulfil many of the wishes. “Whether it is the doctors, nurses, maintenance or kitchen staff, they all support me in making each dream a reality.”

Mount Sinai Foundation Director Wendy Corn describes Ms. Steadman as humble and incredibly resourceful in fulfilling a patient’s final wishes. “She manages to accomplish the seemingly impossible in her own quiet fashion and by using her own resources,” Ms. Corn says. “She managed to find the location of a patient’s estranged brother, flew him to Montreal from Arizona and reunited them within 48 hours. She makes phone calls at all hours of the night to international embassies in order to expedite visas for family members she reunites with our patients in their final moments together.”

Ms. Corn sums up Ms. Steadman’s contribution: “She is providing joy and closure to palliative patients at a time when they need it most.”

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