Final wishes coming true after iconic image

 

SOMETIMES, it's the simple, kind gestures that have the most power.

When Hervey Bay ambos Graeme Cooper and his partner Danielle Kellam found out their elderly patient Joyce loved the sea, they made the time to divert from their route on her final trip to hospital to give her one last glimpse of her favourite place.

Their act of compassion has touched millions of hearts all over the globe - including Prince Harry and wife Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex - who specifically requested the ambos be invited to a reception on Fraser Island as part of the royal visit to Queensland last October.

The attention garnered by the simple snap of Graeme standing at Joyce's side as she took in her last visit to the seaside also gave momentum to a scheme to give more terminally-ill patients dignified final trips to the places they love.

Joyce had been in palliative care in hospital when Graeme and Danielle were tasked with taking her home, where she was going to die surrounded by family and with her husband. It was on this trip that Joyce told Graeme she and her husband had loved walking along the beach.

When things got tough at home, Graeme and Danielle were sent to move to back to hospital.

"I went straight to Joyce and whispered in her ear 'would you like to go back via the beach?' on the way back," Graeme said.

"She just lit up. She said 'can we?' and I said 'absolutely'. I knew this was going to be something special."

They backed the ambulance in off the Esplanade at Urangan and wheeled Joyce out of the back, across the foot and bike path and stopped against the foreshore rock wall. Joyce could hear and see the water, but the rock wall stopped them getting her close enough to touch it. Instead, Graeme scrambled down the rocks, filled a sick bag with salt water and brought it back so Joyce could dip her fingers in the saltwater she loved.

Paramedic Graeme Cooper and Patient Transport Officer Danielle Kellam at the spot where they fulfilled dying palliative patient Joyce’s wish to see and feel the ocean at Hervey Bay one last time. Photo Lachie Millard
Paramedic Graeme Cooper and Patient Transport Officer Danielle Kellam at the spot where they fulfilled dying palliative patient Joyce’s wish to see and feel the ocean at Hervey Bay one last time. Photo Lachie Millard

After 15 minutes, they eased Joyce gently back in to the ambulance and took her to hospital.

Danielle said it was not the first time they or their ambulance colleagues had tried to make a patient's final trip easier. Just this week, one Gold Coast crew stopped to help a terminally-ill cancer patient stop for a quiet ice cream at the seaside.

To make such trips easier, Ambulance Wish Queensland will launch in December to help terminally ill Queenslanders to fulfil their final wishes with the help of trained volunteers, donated ambulances and backing from Palliative Care Queensland.

"Many people remember that very touching photograph of QAS staff in Hervey Bay with a terminally ill patient that they'd taken to look at the ocean while transporting her," Queensland Ambulance Minister Steven Miles said.

"She was able to see Fraser Island in the distance and smell the salty air before going home for the last time, per her request.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex with Queensland ambulance officers Graeme Cooper and Danielle Kellam. Photo QAS Media
The Duke and Duchess of Sussex with Queensland ambulance officers Graeme Cooper and Danielle Kellam. Photo QAS Media

"There have been several other stories of Australian paramedics performing similar impromptu acts of kindness for people approaching the end of life, and Palliative Care Queensland's Ambulance Wish Queensland program is essentially trying to create a sustainable program for these acts of kindness.

"Fulfilling the final wishes of people can be challenging as you could be transporting someone who can't walk, or sit in a chair, or who might require continuous oxygen or other medical appliances and support.

"With the Ambulance Wish Queensland program medically trained volunteers, adapted ambulances, and necessary equipment will transport people to fulfil their wish successfully and safely."

Now in their 15th year, the Pride of Australia awards seek to unearth and honour ordinary Australians who make an extraordinary contribution to communities.

News Corp Australia, publisher of The Courier-Mail, is partnering with Australia Post and Seven News to stage the 2019 awards.

Nominations are open at prideofaustralia.com.au until October 21.



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