"We try to get an idea of what our patients want to do, something that they have never done and always wanted to, or something that they would like to do again before they die," said Janet Gard, executive director of the Branson/Monett and Joplin/Pittsburg offices. "A social worker will interview the patient, and if the request is appropriate, we assign someone the task of making that dream come true."
The Dream Team officially started working to fulfill the wishes of their terminally ill clients in February of this year. Since that time, 27 patients in the four-office region have had some of their deepest wishes fulfilled.
"Some of the requests are as simple as making a last trip to Branson," Gard said. "We get in touch with some of our partners and arrange for lodging, meals and tickets to Silver Dollar City.
"We've had requests for everything from a new pair of eyeglasses to finding lost relatives, arranging a visit with the local weatherman on television, a casino trip, to providing a patient a laptop computer so she could play computer games in bed," Gard said. "Some of those just need a phone call to make happen. Others need some funding."
Patients on hospice care are generally expected to live less than six months, and sometimes the challenge of making a dream come true is not as easy as it sounds.
"When we have a request, we have to move pretty quickly. Our four offices work together toward making that dream happen," Gard said.
"We had a patient that wanted to get in touch with his son," said Volunteer Coordinator Dorothy Blinzler. "We finally found him, but the patient had unfortunately passed away the day before we were able to locate the son."
Another wanted an electric wheelchair so he could go fishing. As volunteers were finalizing arrangements for that dream to come to fruition, the patient's health rapidly declined and was never fulfilled.
But there are happy endings.
"We had a patient that had not had an eye exam in over 10 years," Gard said. "Between Cindy Stephens and the Lions Club, Jolene Garoutte at Crosslines and Dr. Huntress with Huntress Eye Care Associates, we were able to get her the exam and a new pair of glasses."
Local partners play a vital role in the Dream Team's abilities to fulfill patient requests.
"It is important to note that businesses and individuals in the community who assist with the Dream Team that they are making a huge difference in people's lives," Gard said.
"We had one gentleman request a trip to Australia," she continued. "We could not make that happen. We just don't have that kind of resources. So we brought Australia to him."
Outback Restaurant and Oyster Bar catered and flew in a specially created menu and a safari hat. An area bookstore donated a pictorial volume featuring photographs of the country's outstanding scenery. An Australian band, Six, came and sang a cappella and related personal stories to the accompanying photos in the book. Also included was a video featuring some of Australia's highlights.
"It was really gratifying to be able to connect with businesses and members of the community to bring this together," Blinzler said. "The outreach has been incredible."
"Other requests are much simpler, and some might think very ordinary," Gard said. "One patient just wanted to go to the movies just one more time. Another wants to ride around Kellogg Lake (in Carthage) once more in a convertible."
The Dream Team concept was devised by Gard in response to an earlier client who died of liver cancer.
"He had always wanted to fly in an airplane," she explained. "We called the Aurora Airport and were told to bring him on over. The pilot and the patient flew around all afternoon."
When the plane landed, the event was commemorated with a photograph that now graces the Monett office of Hospice Compassus.
"The grin on his face said it all," Gard noted. "He died three days later. And this photo serves as a reminder and an inspiration for the Dream Team.
"The one thing that we've found is that this program brings a deeper connection to who these patients were before they became ill," she continued. "We get to see a different dimension to their lives. They have their dreams. And regrets."
The Dream Team steps in to assist in making things right or fulfilling last wishes whenever it is feasible.
"When we talk to folks, they don't ask for anything outrageous," Gard said. "It's relatively easy to poke around and get an idea of a dream that's doable. And when we partner with local businesses, they are benefitting people right here in their community."
Those wishing to donate to the Dream Team make their tax-deductible contributions to Community Hospice of America Foundation which has established a dedicated account for the project. Donations may be mailed to CHA Foundation, 2135 S. Eastgate, Springfield, MO 65809.