Favorite Mayo Clinic Stories of 2017: Care Team Honors Dying Patient’s Last Minutes of Life #ThrowbackThursday

Each year, Mayo Clinic's In the Loop blog looks back and shares some favorite stories of the year gone by. Here is the third of 17 stories from 2017. Be sure to check back each week for the next story.

Care Team Honors Dying Patient's Last Minutes of Life
Life as a care provider on 6 Mary Brigh at the Saint Marys campus of Mayo Clinic Hospital—Rochester is not for the faint of heart. "Many of our patients come to us very critically ill," says Janelle Wozniak, a registered nurse on the floor's medical intensive care unit.

To support patients who are in their final days, the unit recently tried something new. Two "support carts" were filled with items that staff hope will bring a bit of comfort to patients and their families. The carts include prayer shawls, warm socks, prayer stones, games, and other activities. And not long ago, one more item was added to that list.

It came about early one morning, when a prayer shawl from the support cart was placed over a patient whose health was declining. "He lit up because he thought it was an American flag," Wozniak tells us. "After we explained what it was, he told us he was a veteran and that he'd love to have a flag laid on top of him as he passed."

That's all Wozniak and others in her unit, including fellow nurses Chris Noll and Jared Brugger, needed to hear. "We'd never had that request before, and I think it's an awesome request," Wozniak says. "And so I was like, 'We have to make this happen. We have to be able to find a flag somewhere here on campus.'"

They didn't let the fact that it was 5 a.m. stop them. Wozniak began working the phones, calling other units throughout Mayo Clinic, while Noll set off on a flag hunt as well. Brugger stayed at the patient's bedside. "Before he left, Chris said, 'I don't care if I have to take one off of my own front porch, we're finding a flag for this patient,'" Wozniak tells us.

About 60 minutes later, Wozniak was connected to Mayo Clinic groundskeeper Todd Ness. "He was awesome," Wozniak says. "I told him the whole story and he said, 'We'll do everything we can.'"

A short while later, Ness was hand-delivering a new American flag to the unit. "It was their backup flag," Wozniak says. "It was the only backup they had for the entire institution. I asked if I needed to buy it from them or if they needed it back and he said, 'No, it's yours.' And then he left."

Brugger, who had been caring for the patient for three days, tells us the patient and his family were "ecstatic" when the flag was placed over him. "Everyone cried," Brugger says. "The patient then requested that the flag be given to his wife after he passed."

Alyssa Frank

Alyssa Frank is a Marketing Segment Manager at Mayo Clinic Laboratories. She leads marketing strategies for product management and specialty testing. Alyssa has worked at Mayo Clinic since 2015.