AccentCare honors a woman’s dying wish with a trip to the beach • St Pete Catalyst

As the area’s beaches begin to overflow with an influx of college students celebrating the weeklong respite known as Spring Break, Indian Rocks Beach had a decidedly different type of visitor last Thursday.

Stacy Washburn, 48, is dying, and her last request was for one more chance to breathe the salty air, feel the sun on her face and listen to the waves crashing against the shore. Thanks to the compassion and quick action of her care team at AccentCare Hospice, her last wish was granted.

Knowing that time was a luxury Washburn no longer possessed, a team from AccentCare Hospital Care Center in Largo stepped in to ensure her request came true.

“She had told me that the beach, for her, is a place of renewal,” said Piper Stannard Vanderlee, director of patient experience. “She said it was absolutely amazing.”

Washburn came to AccentCare on Tuesday, March 8 for end-of-life care. Her family requested that her diagnosis not be disclosed and declined an interview for the story during a difficult time.

Vanderlee was shown to Washburn on March 9 and found she was non-ambulatory and easily fatigued. Vanderlee said when she met Washburn and realized the seriousness of her condition, she knew she had to act fast.

After realizing the gravity of Washington State, Vanderlee orchestrated the trip into a day.

“She had only been in service for a few days and we were able to make it happen,” Vanderlee said. “We were able to act quickly and get her to the beach on Thursday the 10th.”

AccentCare hired Medfleet, which provided non-emergency assistance and a stretcher, and a rubber mat helped navigate the stretcher through the sugar sand at Indian Rocks Beach. Wrapped in cozy blankets and with a pair of EMTs waiting in the background, Vanderlee backed Washburn with one last clear view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Just below an oxygen tank attached to the back of the stretcher was a brown wicker basket filled with Washburn’s favorite dishes for beach days – hot dogs and a bag of Lay’s Classic crisps. Washburn is struggling to eat these days, but Vanderlee said she managed to finish about a third of her picnic on the beach.

The trip wasn’t about food, however, and Vanderlee said the overcast weather allowed Washburn to relax with a sense of peace, not worrying about the sun.

“She would just close her eyes and listen to the waves,” Vanderlee said. “We tried to give her time for herself… she kept saying how grateful she was and how it was exactly what she wanted and everything she hoped it would be .

“It really seemed to do wonderful things for her.”

Vanderlee said that although Washburn told a nurse she was from the Philadelphia area, she had lived in Florida for some time and described herself as a true Floridian. The beach has special meaning to Floridians, Vanderlee said, and it meant a lot to Washburn to make one last visit.

Washburn has been through great loss and change recently, Vanderlee said, and she’s made it clear that the beach has brought her a sense of renewal. She mentioned the ever-changing waves, constantly pushing and receding, several times during their visit.

“I think being able to go out there and feel like herself again — that was pretty essential,” Vanderlee said.

The group was able to stay an hour before fatigue set in for Washburn. She fell asleep several times and they thought it best to take her back to the facility.

Washburn is a mother of seven and the family remains close, Vanderlee said. Washburn told Vanderlee that she spent her life raising her children and caring for other family members when they fell ill.

While Vanderlee said there was no crystal ball to predict how long Washburn was left, she said the best estimate was days to weeks.

“We did this so quickly because we didn’t think she would have another chance to go to the beach again,” Vanderlee added.

Vanderlee called the opportunity to make Washburn’s latest request both a happy and a humbling reality. She said the main goal of palliative care is to make patients as comfortable as possible, and AccentCare does its best to grant final wishes like Washburn’s when possible.

Bringing Washburn to the beach and holding her hand while they talked about life, Vanderlee said, was probably the most memorable experience of her career. She is extremely grateful that her work helps bring joy and help restore a sense of purpose to seriously ill patients in their final moments.

“And that feeling of, just because I’m sick, that doesn’t define who I am,” Vanderlee said. “I think that’s a lot of what we’re trying to do in palliative care in general, but also with these trips that we’re trying to do for them.”

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