“I have always believed that how we handle death in healthcare is important to the survivors,” says Sue Gammill. She serves as a liaison between patients and medical staff, acting as a buffer and “translator.” Gammill works in the pediatric intensive care unit of a hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. This type of environment, especially working with children in potentially life-threatening situations, is rife with misunderstandings, anger and frustration at times. She drafted a proposal, “My Dream Job,” and remembers that everyone thought it was crazy at the time.

Four years after her proposal, her department had to work with organ donation. Her proposal, in summary, asked that she be a liaison between physicians and families. When the organ donation issue popped up, Gammill’s director asked if she thought the proposal would be a good fit—she said yes, eager to get her proposal heard, but not really knowing just how well they would mesh.

The Middle Woman

There can be big disparities between the science and the emotion. Gammill’s “dream job” was to explain to patients what doctors and medical staff were saying. Since then, it’s turned into a program that helps children dying in the ICU, organ donations and has put Gammill in the position of being a champion of the people. She also “translates” for doctors what the emotions of parents may be. It optimizes communication.

If other medical staff teams want to do something similar, Gammill suggests formulating exactly what they can do that can and will make a difference. It may be different for everyone, and her exact proposal may not fit in every healthcare facility. “You have to be passionate about it…have to want to do it for the right reason,” she says. You can’t do it for yourself, but you can do it to make a difference.


Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley

Dr. Gloria and Dr. Heidi Horsley

Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley are a mother/daughter team and internationally recognized grief experts. They are the founders of The Open to Hope Foundation and the hosts of The Open to Hope Show. In addition, Dr. Gloria is a board member for The Compassionate Friends and Dr. Heidi is an adjunct professor at Columbia University and has a private practice in manhattan. Their message is that others have made it through the grief journey and so can you, if you do not yet have hope lean on theirs.

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