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America Supports You: Walter Reed Unveils Suites for Terminal Cancer Patients

By Bernard S. Little
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 24, 2007 – A new area of Walter Reed Army Medical Center here will provide state-of-the-art medical care for terminal cancer patients in a warm, homelike setting.

After countless hours of fund raising, designing and remodeling by various individuals and organizations, the first palliative care suite and patient/family lounge opened Jan. 22.

Roderick Mitchell, president of the Pentagon Federal Credit Union Foundation, which spearheaded efforts to raise funds to design and furnish the suite and lounge, presented the rooms to Maj. Gen. George W. Weightman, commander of Walter Reed Army Medical Center and North Atlantic Regional Medical Command.

In accepting the rooms, which are for patients diagnosed with terminal cancer and their families, Weightman said the medical center has been about warrior care for nearly 98 years. He added that the project is indicative of the commitment and partnership that exist among WRAMC, the civilian community, and the different organizations that help support the Army family.

The project, which cost about $400,000 and took about five months to complete, provides the comforts and amenities of home in two rooms, including modern kitchens and bathrooms, sofa beds for family members, flat-screen plasma televisions, DVD and CD players and computers with Internet access. Basil Walter Architects in New York and Seiko Obayashi designed the rooms at no cost.

Mitchell said the vision of providing cancer patients and their families with a private living space that would remind them of home was the brainchild of Maj.

Carlton Brown, former head nurse of hematology and oncology, and Col.

Princess Facen, his section chief more than three years ago. It was Facen who showed Mitchell the areas where wounded soldiers from the global war on terrorism were treated and where cancer patients received medical care at WRAMC.

"She told me the story of this young soldier who passed away from cancer," Mitchell recalled. "She showed me the room that he passed away in, and it was heart-wrenching. The only thing that made the story heartwarming was that clearly, the personnel who helped that young man and (his loved ones) get through that terrible time were very compassionate and loving people who work here. But the room itself just didn't measure up."

"This is a dream that's become a reality," said Col. LaDonna Howell, chief of WRAMC's medical psychiatric nursing section. She said that in the past, if a patient chose to spend his or her last days here, the patient would have been assigned a standard, private room. The patient's loved ones would have had to sleep on a small sofa at best.

The death of Staff Sgt. Michael Somers was a sobering reminder of the need for the palliative care suite at WRAMC. Ladonna Somers, his widow, and Barbara Tye, his sister, supported the project with open arms and helped in the fund-raising efforts.

The bulk of this money came from active-duty men and women who are deployed all over the world. Other significant contributors were the Association of the United States Army and Health Net Federal Services.

"How people exit this life is probably just as important as how people enter this life," Weightman said. "(The palliative care suite and lounge) send the absolute right message: that we care for our patients throughout this spectrum, whether they're 1 minute old or 99 years old."

(Bernard S. Little is a command information officer at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.)

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Walter Reed Army Medical Center
America Supports You

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