Max and Beatrice Wolfe Centre for Children’s Grief and Palliative Care at Mount Sinai Hospital: Coming Home

Thanks to the committee of the Unicorn Dream Dinner for organizing this fundraiser and for asking us to share Sasha's story of coming home with the Max and Beatrice Wolfe Centre for Children’s Grief and Palliative Care at Mount Sinai. We are honoured to be here with you and to share this evening with some of our SickKids care team, cardiologistDr Jennifer Russell, Riley and Tessie two of Sasha's many cardiac nurses and Maria Rugg of SickKids Palliative Care. Max and B's ability to help SickKids Hospital's patients is an important new palliative care collaboration.

Our happiest days were the births of our two daughters. Mia was born June of last year. Sasha, our first, was born 2 years earlier and she passed away the day before Mia’s birth.

Shortly after Sasha’s birth, we discovered she had a serious congenital heart defect and Alagille Syndrome, a rare liver disease. Cardiologist Dr. Jennifer Russell organized the Heart Centre surgical plan consisting of multiple interventions with the understanding that our top priority was Sasha’s quality of life. At age 18 months Sasha was thriving and all was going as planned, however she then suffered severe complications after her 2nd surgery in December 2005.

To date, this period after Sasha’s surgery was the most difficult time of our lives as we saw Sasha go through intervention after intervention and our criteria for quality of life kept dropping.

We basically moved into the hospital but as the weeks turned to months we knew we couldn’t take up permanent residency at Sick Kids and what kind of a life was this for Sasha. She was now dependent on nutrition through an IV and almost daily blood transfusions. We couldn’t help Sasha get better and we felt responsible for putting her through this. We knew that she was dying but hoped that she would get better.

At this point, after 5 months in the hospital, we were exhausted and we needed an intervention.

A friend gave Pam Larry Liebrach’s and Stephen Jenkinson's phone numbers and after speaking with Stephen over the phone, we walked across the street to the Temmy Latner Center and spoke to Steve for a long time. He challenged us and asked the questions we didn’t want to ask. We spoke about Sasha’s death and we knew she wanted to take Sasha home the second we left Steve’s office.

We wanted her to see her house, her dog, her toys – we were ready to organize everything necessary so that she had a peaceful death at home. We finally felt, as we considered the ending of her life, that the quality of her life was again the priority.

The Dr Jay Foundation, one of Temmy Latner’s sponsors, has a motto that really sums up perfectly what we wanted to do: to add life to a child’s time, not just time to a child’s life. We thought that Sasha would only live a few days.

Every step of the way home was special, seeing her smile when she saw the car for the first time in 5 months, watching her in the car seat, looking out the window, humming to herself, seeing her eyes widen as we walked up the stairs to her dog and cat and toys and then walk through all the rooms in the house. It really was quite a moment.

That first day Toronto CCAC came over to orient us. Sasha had many IVs to configure. The nurses were cheery and also very respectful of our wishes and they worked with us over time to lessen their visits and let Pamela take over the nursing duties.

Going to sleep with Sasha in our own bed that first night was an incredible milestone for us. We played and sang songs together. We awoke with the sun and birds chirping and then Pamela coming in to reset the IV.

Sasha was happier and more comfortable and her bleeding just stopped. Steve and Russell came over to speak with the family and we told them that Sasha was no longer bleeding, what do we do. Well we go on living. When Sasha’s paediatrician Dr Peer came to check on her we had completed a full circle, Sasha was back with her community doctor.

We had worried that Sasha was becoming institutionalized and would forget our life before the operation. That feeling started to melt away. There were no more rounds, no vitals, no intercoms. We walked the neighbourhood, went out in the car, family came over every day and Sasha celebrated her second birthday at home. It was very bitter sweet. She was tired and we knew we had very little time left together.

I could speak all night about how special it was that we could choose to come home with Temmy Latner but will end with a few thoughts.

After experiencing very high standards of care at the Heart Centre, The Temmy Latner Centre picked up the support role without dropping a beat. Dr Russell Goldman and the TCAC nurses were incredibly positive and gave us as much space as we needed while always being available when we had little panic attacks.

The hospital gave us a life with Sasha, The Temmy Latner Centre helped us give her a good death at home. The words “good death” must seem strange. But if we all strove to give her a good life, why would we want anything different for her death? In Nov, the Temmy Latner centre organized a Ceremony of Remembering for a number of bereaved families and it was without any exaggeration the most powerful and beautiful memorial we have ever participated in as we built a small house in which to put memories of our deceased.

The medical system struggles to find the right moment or person to bring in palliative care however parents don’t know they need guidance on facing death. We are a good example, we pushed palliative care away. I say this because the person who intervened for us wasn’t a doctor or a nurse. He had never seen Sasha before. He had never met us before. He simply asked us what we wanted and when we drifted into dreams of cures he quietly challenged us: was that going to happen? No. Steve Jenkinson had no relationship with us but he gave us that space to face Sasha’s death.

Photo by Heather Rivlin for Now I Lay Me Down To SleepThe Temmy Latner Children's program is working with the Hospital for Sick Children to give families the option of allowing their child to die at home. Sasha was one of the first such children.

This picture behind us was taken by heather rivlin on the first morning home as part of her voluntary work for Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep. We thank the Temmy Latner Centre for making this picture possible and we thank all of you tonight for your generous donations to continue Samantha’s unicorn dream.


  1. Anonymous5:04 PM

    Thanks For Everything

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