By NIKKI YOUNK
IRON MOUNTAIN - For the past year and a half, staff at the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center have been enriching the lives of both terminally and chronically ill veterans through the Butterfly Wish program.
Vietnam War veteran Steve Steeno, front, received a recumbent bicycle as part of the Oscar G. Johnson VA Medical Center’s Butterfly Wish program. Also pictured, in back, from left, are VA employees Mary Bertucci, Susan Scullon, and Bryan Carter.
The program allows hospice patients, who have a life expectancy of less than six months, and palliative care patients, who have chronic conditions, to have a wish fulfilled.
"Wishes range from simple to significant," explained Brad Nelson, VA public affairs officer. "But we always try to make it a complete package."
One veteran asked to visit his wife's grave in Bruce Crossing one last time. Thanks to the Butterfly Wish program, he received transportation from Iron Mountain to Bruce Crossing, flowers for the grave, and food for a picnic.
Another veteran requested a recumbent bicycle that would be more comfortable than a regular bicycle for him to use.
Other veterans have decided to visit grandchildren and great-grandchildren downstate, celebrate a special wedding anniversary, enjoy a catered meal with family, take a trip to the casino in a limousine, eat a lobster dinner flown in from Maine, have a Christmas party, and receive Green Bay Packers or Detroit Lions footballs.
Wishes are granted as often as the opportunity arises.
Selena Okler, palliative care coordinator for the VA, pointed out that there is often only a small window of time to make wishes happen, due to the life expectancies of the veterans involved.
"Many get their wishes just before they pass on," she said.
Okler's goal is to offer wishes to 100 percent of hospice patients and up to 10 percent of palliative care patients.
The VA has at least four hospice in-patients at a time. There are many more in home-based care, which is coordinated by Mary Bertucci.
Okler and Bertucci said that they often have to give veterans ideas for their wishes.
"Some don't want anything, they think they have it all already," Bertucci added.
However, the process of discussing possible wishes may be therapeutic in itself.
"Conversations that occur between our healthcare team, veterans, and families while identifying the wish help develop and establish trusting relationships," said Okler.
Families of the veterans also benefit from the program.
"It changes the atmosphere at a difficult time in their lives and gives everyone something to look forward to," said Okler. "It leaves some positive memories."
All funding for the Butterfly Wish program comes from outside sources like veteran service organizations and donations.
"Volunteer Services is a huge key to our success," Okler noted. "Staff and other veterans are also essential."
There is no cost to the veterans who receive wishes.
For more information on the Butterfly Wish program, contact Okler at 774-3300, ext. 34504 or Bertucci at 774-3300, ext. 32561.
Nikki Younk's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.