Michael Wang, 17, is a lot like most teens his age. He attends high school, works a part-time summer job scooping ice cream, and every chance he gets, he gathers with friends to play Nintendo’s Super Smash Brothers. However, there is something major that sets him apart.
Michael is on a mission to raise more than $50,000 for the new purpose-built pediatric suites at Regional Hospice and Palliative Care (RHPC)’s Center for Comfort Care and Healing. Designed to meet the specialized needs of dying children and their families, the rooms will be the fifth in-patient hospice unit to specially serve pediatric populations nationwide.
“I was at the end of my junior year in high school when I decided that I want to pursue a career in medicine,” Michael says. “My mom started thinking about college applications and what might make mine stand out.”
Both he and Catherine decided that volunteering at Regional Hospice would offer a great opportunity for him. “To be a good doctor, you need to understand the broad perspective of the patient,” explains Michael. At Regional Hospice, care is patient-centered, meaning that patients are listened to, informed and fully involved in all aspects of their care—from clinical decisions to psychosocial support. “I realized that this would be the place where I would learn how to really care for people.”
To support Michael, Catherine signed up alongside her son to complete 20 hours of training to become hospice Family Support Volunteers. In this role, they would provide direct support to hospice patients and their loved ones. Care is provided in a variety of environments, including the patient’s home, a skilled nursing facility or at RHPC’s residential in-patient facility, the Center for Comfort Care and Healing. Michael and his mom chose the latter option, and since March, have been regularly volunteering at the Center – both together and apart.
Not surprisingly, Michael felt nervous about his new role as a Regional Hospice volunteer. “You are dealing with dying people and their families. I was concerned that I would be unable to provide the care expected of a volunteer,” he says. Soon, however, his comfort level began to grow, and his connection to the cause deepened. “I learned that even though people here are dying, they still are relatively happy and alert. Some still do what they can, while they can. Basically, because you are dying doesn’t mean you just give up. It’s about cherishing the time you have left.”
Michael has developed a deep appreciation for talking with patients and listening to the stories they share. Some tales are more intriguing than others. But all of them matter, because each narrative provides an opportunity for Michael to get to know the patients. It’s the stories about their lives that define them, not their diseases.
Spending time at Regional Hospice eventually opened his eyes to the hard truth that hospice care is not limited to adults. Another population that RHPC regularly serves is children. “I love spending time with kids. They are cute, curious and they approach life with all of their senses,” he says, adding, “It’s so sad to see future minds pass early.”
Learning of Regional Hospice’s goal to build suites specially designed for their pediatric patients motivated Michael to do more. He wanted to help fundraise for this important cause. Learning about the various ways that the agency hoped to create a healing environment, he decided to focus his efforts on one tangible goal: the installation of a series of woodland trails and pathways right outside the pediatric entrance that will be accessible for both patients and their families.
“I wanted to work toward something specific,” he says. “Knowing exactly what you’re raising money for—and how much you need to raise—is a good way to stay focused and achieve success.” The winding woodland trails will allow children and their families to momentarily get lost in the quiet and calm of nature as they walk on their own life-changing paths.
Michael has a few ideas about how to raise the funds needed to meet his $50,000 goal. He’s posted a call for donations to Regional Hospice on his Facebook page. He also delivered a passionate presentation about his fundraising efforts at his father’s company. That added more donations to his pot. He even called on his gaming community and hosted a Super Smash Brothers tournament, in which players donated to participate. So far, he’s raised $2,300. And he’s just getting started.
Spearheading this project has motivated other teens and has led to the launch of the newly formed Regional Hospice Youth Project with teens from four local high schools – and counting.
More than making Michael’s college applications shine, his volunteering and fundraising efforts will touch countless patients, their loved ones as well as the staff at Regional Hospice. As a future doctor, he is also learning one of the most important lessons of all: That life and death, each profound in their own mysterious ways, are interconnected. And with the support, kindness and compassion of others, the journey we all are on can be made that much lighter.
About Regional Hospice
Regional Hospice has served Fairfield, New Haven, Hartford & Litchfield counties with nonprofit home hospice care for over 35 years. In 2015, we opened our state-of-the-art Center for Comfort Care & Healing. This family-centered hospice residence is CT’s first and only private-suite facility. Its mission is to provide exceptional end-of-life care, comfort and compassion to infants, children, adults and their families with a dedicated staff of professionals.