Tag Archives: Healing

The human side of healing: How seeing loved ones helps COVID-19 patients

Tom and Virginia Stevens have been married 66 years, and lived together in an assisted-living facility in Nashville, Tenn., when they got COVID-19 last summer and had to be transferred to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

The couple was split up and put into separate rooms. 

“I think that traumatized them,” said their son, Greg Stevens. “They kind of live for each other, at this stage, so adding to the not-feeling-great and the stress of COVID, they separated them.”

Tom Stevens, 89, became disoriented.

“They found my dad wandering the halls and he was looking for my mom,” said Greg. 

The care team decided to bring the couple together into the same room, in the COVID-19 unit, for their two weeks of treatment — which their son credits with their recovery.

Virginia Stevens, 88, was elated by the move.

“When we finally were united together in the hospital, we just shouted ‘Hallelujah!'” she said from her son’s house, where they are all now living after being released from hospital. 


Virginia, right, and Tom Stevens at their son Greg’s home, where they have been living since recovering from COVID-19 at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. (Ian Maravalli)

The Stevens’ story, which was featured in an essay by Vanderbilt ICU Dr. Wes Ely in the medical journal The Lancet, is more than a heartwarming anecdote in a year of pandemic isolation.

It illustrates a finding from a recent study of more than 2,000 COVID-19 patients, also published last month in The Lancet, that looked at delirium, which can be “highly prevalent and prolongued in critically ill patiients with COVID-19.” While the use of certain medication was linked to higher risk of delirium, family visitation — whether real or virtual — lowered it.

“We know that the human side of healing is real,” said Ely, a co-author on the study and co-director of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship Center at Vanderbilt and is writing a book about rehumanizing the recovery process with an emphasis on bringing families together to help. 

“People’s brains clear when a loved one is around them and they get anchored. So, it’s like removing sensory deprivation. This is science as well as humanities.”


Dr. Wes Ely, at his home in Nashville, is an ICU physician ta Vanderbilt University and co-director of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship (CIBS) Center. He’s writing a book about rehumanizing the ICU and recovery process after critical illness. (Ian Maravalli)

In Toronto, Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre physician Donald Redelmeier supports the idea that family connection while COVID-19 patients are in the ICU has great value. 

“Delirium is always worse when there is separation from the family. It’s blatantly obvious,” he said.

“Not all married couples should be brought together, though,” said Redelmeier, adding that it depends on the couple’s relationship and that cases should be judged individually. 

Visiting constrained during pandemic

Despite those benefits, hospital visitation has been tightly curtailed during the COVID-19 pandemic as an infection control measure — although one with its critics.

Advocates have flagged the crucial role of families in patient care, and health-care workers have shared the difficulty of holding up an iPad so a loved one could say goodbye.

“Generally the family is not allowed [into COVID-19 ICU areas] in Canada. There are institutional restrictions which have become much more intense with the COVID epidemic,” said Redelmeier.

Ely acknowledges the need for infection control, but says there are other options, besides isolation.

“We have to reopen these hospitals to the loved ones,” he said.

“The message is … that PPE [personal protective equipment] works, and that people need other people and doctors and nurses are not a substitute for loved ones.”

Confusing and foggy

For Sharon and Fred Reyes, in Nashville, it was more than five weeks before they could even lay eyes on each other through a glass wall in Vanderbilt’s ICU. Fred contracted COVID-19 in May 2020, and the hospital didn’t allow family visits at that time.

“It was extremely difficult to be separated from your loved one during the greatest fight of their life,” said Sharon. Her husband was close to death three times over his 80 days in hospital, she said.


Sharon and Fred Reyes sit outside their home in a Nashville suburb. Fred was hospitalized for 84 days after he contracted COVID-19 in May 2020. Sharon was not allowed to visit for the first six weeks of his hospital stay. (Ian Maravalli)

Fred describes his days in ICU as confusing and foggy. 

“I remember so many times just calling for her, just wanting her to be there,” he said of his wife. 

“So many days I just didn’t have a thorough grasp of what was happening,” he said. “I needed to have my loved one.”

When asked if he remembers that first time he saw Sharon through the ICU glass, Fred chokes up and can’t hold back tears. 

“It was quite emotional,” he said. “And though it was through the glass at first, you know, we were there communicating. We were able to communicate something that was difficult. And then we moved into a medical ICU and I was able to be with her more. And things did change dramatically.” 

WATCH | Fred Reyes recalls seeing his wife for the first time during COVID-19 treatment:

Nashville resident Fred Reyes talks about what it felt like to see his wife, Sharon, after spending more than five weeks in the ICU at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last summer. 2:05

Hopes for change

Kathy Henderson of Mufreesboro, Tenn., hopes that with the collective COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. now over half a million, something might change for the better in the way patients are cared for with regards to family connection. 

“I mean a million people read that Lancet article about little old me in Tennessee,” she said of Ely’s essay, which featured the story of her own parents, Mary and Philip Hill, along with Tom and Virginia Stevens.


Kathy Henderson at her home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., lost both parents to COVID-19 in September 2020. She fought to get her mom in the same hospital as her father, so they could be together. (Ian Maravalli)

Her parents contracted COVID-19 last September. Mary was sent to the local hospital but Philip was transferred to Vanderbilt because he had underlying heart issues.

Henderson had an uphill battle trying to convince both hospitals that her mom should be transferred to be with her dad. 

“I knew that if the worst did happen it would just be awful to have the two of them in separate hospitals, not even to be able to say goodbye,” she said of her parents who lived and worked together and had been married for 61 years.

“Even if I could get mom’s stretcher to pass by my dad’s window that would be better than nothing.”


Mary and Philip Hill were reunited for a tender moment in the ICU while both were being treated for COVID-19 at Vanderbilt University Medical Center last year. They died within six hours of one another. (Lauren Birmingham)

She was successful. Her parents ended up being treated in side by side rooms in the ICU and they were granted a moment together in the same room, in their beds, while Henderson joined them remotely on Zoom.

Mary Hill rubbed her husband’s hand and said, “I’m here Phil Hill, I’m here,” Henderson recalled.

Two days later they both passed away within six hours of each other.

WATCH | The benefits of bringing families together during COVID-19 treatment:

COVID-19 restrictions are keeping many patients apart from loved ones in the hospital, but doctors, patients and families are speaking out about the benefits of bringing families physically together during treatment. 3:32

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Pope urges healing of ‘suffering members of our human family’ in Christmas message

Pope Francis urged the world to let the light of Christmas pierce the “darkness in human hearts” that leads to religious persecution, social injustice, armed conflicts and fear of migrants.

In his Urbi et Orbi (to the city and the world) Christmas Day message, the 83-year-old Pope called for peace in the Holy Land, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, Venezuela, Ukraine and several African countries caught up in conflicts.

The common thread of his address to tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City and millions watching or listening around the world was that change starts in the hearts of individuals.

“There is darkness in human hearts, yet the light of Christ is greater still,” Francis said to mark the seventh Christmas of his pontificate.

“There is darkness in personal, family and social relationships, but the light of Christ is greater. There is darkness in economic, geopolitical and ecological conflicts, yet greater still is the light of Christ.”

Francis singled out the persecution of Christians by militant groups in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, asking God to console those who suffer for their faith.

On Dec. 1, at least 14 people were shot dead in an attack on a church in eastern Burkina Faso, where an Islamist insurgency has ignited ethnic and religious tensions.

‘Brighten the darkness’

Francis, who has been scorned by populist politicians because of his defence of refugees and migrants, dedicated a section of his address to their plight.

“It is injustice that makes them cross deserts and seas that become cemeteries. It is injustice that forces them to endure unspeakable forms of abuse, enslavement of every kind and torture in inhumane detention camps.”

This month, Francis called for the closing of migrant detention camps in Libya.

“It is injustice that turns them away from places where they might have hope for a dignified life, but instead find themselves before walls of indifference,” he said.


The Pope greets refugees arriving from Lesbos on Dec. 19. Francis dedicated a section of his Christmas address to the plight of refugees and migrants on Wednesday. (Ettore Ferrari/ANSA/Reuters)

Francis said that while there were many huge problems in the world, people did not have to look far to correct injustices. They could make a difference in their own communities as a start to healing all the “suffering members of our human family.

“May [God] soften our often stony and self-centred hearts, and make them channels of his love. May he bring his smile, through our poor faces, to all the children of the world: to those who are abandoned and those who suffer violence,” Francis said.

To underscore his message, the two cardinals Francis chose to join him on the basilica’s central balcony were Renato Martino, president emeritus of the Vatican’s immigration office, and Konrad Krajewski, the papal almoner who distributes aid to Rome’s poor and homeless.

“Through our frail hands, may he clothe those who have nothing to wear, give bread to the hungry and heal the sick,” he said, adding that through friendship, everyone could be close to the elderly, the lonely, migrants and marginalized people.

“On this joyful Christmas Day, may he bring his tenderness to all and brighten the darkness of this world.”

South Sudan peace appeal

Francis and two other religious leaders also sent out a Christmas appeal to the leaders of South Sudan to keep their promise to form at least a transitional unity government early next year.

The brief message was signed by Francis, worldwide Anglican leader Archbishop Justin Welby and Rev. John Chalmers, former moderator of the Church of Scotland.

The country, the world’s youngest, is mostly Christian, and a stable peace would allow the Pope to visit, something which he has said he hopes to do next year.


Francis and two other religious leaders sent out an appeal on Wednesday to South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir to keep his promise to form a transitional unity government early next year. (Alex McBride/AFP/Getty Images)

In the message, the three religious leaders said they were praying for “a renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and fraternity.”

Last month, President Salva Kiir and former rebel leader Riek Machar delayed forming a unity government for 100 days beyond the Nov. 12 deadline, which itself was an extension of an original deadline last May.

They agreed to form a transitional unity government if they fail to resolve all their differences before the end of February.

The religious leaders said they wanted to show the political leaders “our spiritual closeness as you strive for a swift implementation of the Peace Agreements.”

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Ariana Grande Opens Up About Balancing Tour Life and Healing: ‘Sometimes I Cry a Lot’

Ariana Grande Opens Up About Balancing Tour Life and Healing: ‘Sometimes I Cry a Lot’ | Entertainment Tonight

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Indigenous healing room opens at east Toronto hospital

Michael Garron Hospital in east Toronto has turned a room in the pediatric unit into an Indigenous healing room with help from members of its Aboriginal Healing Program.

Over the summer, the members painted the room's walls with spirit animals, the seven grandfather teachings and a medicine wheel.

Elder Little Brown Bear, who is Mé​tis, runs the Aboriginal Healing Program and was recently made manager of Indigenous Culture for the hospital, formerly named Toronto East General.

About 1.5 per cent of people in the hospital's catchment area identify as Indigenous, a slightly higher rate than the city overall.

Images of spirit animals adorn the walls accompanied by an information sheet on the significance of the animal. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

"I had a vision about what needed to happen in pediatrics," he said.

At an executive meeting, he encouraged the hospital executives to become innovators, not imitators where reconciliation is concerned.

"It's about the generations; for us we always have the seven generations that follow us in our footsteps," he said.

"What happens today is going to affect what happens down the line."

On the wall entering the healing room are the seven grandfather teachings within the image of a dream catcher. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

'It's an organizational journey'

"Aboriginal people were the first people to live in this country," said Sarah Downey, president and CEO of the Michael Garron Hospital.

"I think it behooves the public sector organizations and certainly health care services to figure out how we can help in the healing journey many Aboriginal or First Nations people are on."

The team believes that this is the first pediatric healing room of its kind in Toronto, perhaps the province.

'I was thinking about community, families and some of those families that have yet to make it to the doors of Michael Garron,' says Elder Little Brown Bear about his thoughts while painting the murals. (Rhiannon Johnson/CBC)

The room is open to people of all spiritual backgrounds and the hospital encourages and patients in the pediatric unit to request more information if they feel they would benefit from the space.

"This is a small step but an important step on our journey of truth and reconciliation," said Downey.

Recognizing the value of Indigenous healing practices and making them available for Indigenous patients where requested was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's Call to Action 22.

The hospital hopes to have a special room where patients would be able to smudge with traditional medicines available soon.

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Paralyzed in Toronto's Danforth shooting, Danielle Kane focuses on healing and forgiveness

Moments before he tried to take her life, Danielle Kane locked eyes with Faisal Hussain.

Armed with a handgun, Hussain was walking along Toronto's Danforth Avenue, spraying gunfire into shops and restaurants.

Kane and her boyfriend had just left a friend's birthday party at a nearby eatery to rush to the aid of a person injured in the chaos.

"He immediately started shooting at us. I turned and I felt the shot, and immediately my legs buckled under me," Kane says. "No one expects to go out on a Sunday night and then have their life turned completely upside-down. No one expects that."

Danielle Kane says a random decision about her friend's birthday party put her in the path of the gunman. 1:05

The single bullet that struck her tore through her stomach and diaphragm, and shattered part of her spine, leaving her paralyzed from the waist down.

But Kane, one of 15 victims of this summer's mass shooting in Toronto's Greektown, doesn't hate the man who tried to kill her on that balmy summer evening.

When Danielle Kane rushed into the street to help an injured person, she locked eyes with the man who tried to kill her. 0:40

"I feel sorry for them," Kane, 31, says from a room in the Toronto rehabilitation centre, where she is undergoing extensive treatment following multiple surgeries and a period in a medically induced coma. Throughout the interview, she referred to the gunman as "they."

Kane spoke exclusively with CBC News this week, in her first media interview since she was shot on the night of July 22 while trying to help another victim

"I wish perhaps they had the help they needed, so they didn't have to get to that point," she says.

Why not just do the best that I can and make the most that I can out of this second chance?– Danille Kane, mass shooting victim

His rampage killed 10-year-old Julianna Kozis and 18-year-old Reese Fallon, left Kane paralyzed and injured 12 other people. A police source said at the time that Hussain also killed himself, with a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, shortly after. 

Kane has a long road to recovery ahead of her. She's currently an inpatient at a Toronto physical rehabilitation centre. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Investigators have not provided any insight into what may have motivated Hussain. In the aftermath of the shooting, however, his family released a statement citing a long history of mental illness, including depression and psychosis. He had sought out professional help over the years, according to his family. 

Kane, who is studying to be a nurse at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, says her own history with mental illness has helped her try to understand what happened that night.

The mass shooting in Toronto's Greektown rocked the city and generated an outpouring of support for the victims and the community in the weeks that followed. (Cole Burston/Getty Images)

"I've had a history of depression, so I can relate to the feeling like you don't feel like you connect to other people … or feeling a lot of pain and not knowing where to go," she explains.

"I'm not saying this is what the person who did this felt, because I don't know that. I imagine though, probably, they felt not very connected to the community."

Kane, 31, spent 11 days in a medically induced coma and underwent multiple operations to fuse two of her vertebrae together, as well as repair damage to her stomach and diaphragm. This photo, taken during her recovery, was uploaded to an online fundraising page for Kane. (GoFundMe)

'My story could have ended there'

Positive thinking has "been key" to her physical and mental recovery thus far, Kane says. 

"Just trying to focus on letting go of any negative thoughts and emotions and focus on the fact that, you know, two other people died that day — and I could have been one of them. My story could have ended there. But it hasn't, so why be miserable? Why pity myself? Why not just do the best that I can and make the most that I can out of this second chance, which this feels like it is," she says.

The Danforth shooting survivor says she has 'suffered enough' and has no intention of allowing her disability to define her. 1:13

Kane admits, though, that her future remains deeply uncertain.

The bullet that struck her tore through her stomach and diaphragm and shattered her T11 vertebrae, in the lower half of her back. Surgeons fused together her T10 and T12 vertebrae, and tried to repair all of the damage done when the bullet "ricocheted" inside of her. 

After Kane emerged from a medically induced coma, she had one of the most difficult conversations of her life with her spinal surgeon. 0:49

Some of her doctors maintain hope that she will walk again, while others have been blunt in their assessment that she will remain paraplegic for the rest of her life. 

For now, her goals are short term. She needs to buy a wheelchair and, along with her partner Jerry Pinksen, will need to find an accessible apartment. Kane will stay at the rehabilitation facility for at least another month. 

"Obviously, prior to the incident, I had all these ideas about what I'm going to do with my life and what the next five, 10 years are going to be like. And that — I mean, it is going to be different," Kane says.

But she still looks forward to what life may have in store for her. 

Kane says that a positive outlook has been critical during her recovery thus far. 'Nothing has been guaranteed to us. So I’m trying to look at things in a more positive way and be grateful for each new sunrise and be grateful for the little gains I make in physio,' she says. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

"I can still travel. I can still have my children. I can still finish my degree. So, so many of the things that I want to do are still available to me," she continues, adding that she plans to return to school next year to finish her degree.

An online fundraising campaign for Kane has raised more than $ 210,000 to help her financially during her recovery. She says she has been "strengthened" by the outpouring of support.

"It really does put me in a position where all I do need to worry about is getting better."

Jerry Pinksen, Kane's boyfriend, was with her the night she was shot. Pinksen, a nurse, and Kane, a nursing student, had rushed out of a friend's birthday party to help another victim when they ran into the gunman on Danforth Avenue. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)


With files from Ian Hanomansing, Ghazala Malik and Lucas Powers

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Healing invisible wounds with the Art Cart

Every Thursday at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in the west end of Toronto, sterile plastic chairs are pushed aside to make way for a graffiti-covered cart stocked with paint, felt, scissors and paper.

Patients peek their heads into the otherwise grey, multi-purpose room, lured by the sound of laughter. Disposable water bottles filled with bright paints are piled around large white sheets of paper on tables as patients gather around, tools in hand. 

Art Cart CAMH

The Art Cart program employs artists who have personal experience coping with mental health or addiction issues. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

The Art Cart program is run by Gifts of Light, a group funded entirely by donations that supplies patients with free hygiene products, clothing — and now, art classes. It began as a pilot project one year ago and has expanded to offer improv comedy classes, painting and drum-making. 

Sheri Stranger

Sheri Stranger developed her artistic skills as a way to deal with her own mental health struggles. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Sheri Stranger, an instructor for the Art Cart sessions, came to art as a way to deal with her own mental health struggles. 

“For me any kind of art is art therapy,” she says. “I like doing expressive arts … because you don’t have to have any art skills to do it.” 

Art Cart

The Art Cart began as a pilot project in 2016. Organizers hope to make it permanently available to patients. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC News)

Gifts of Light manager Quinn Kirby says staff have been blown away by the results.

“It just sparks this other aspect to the treatment,” she says. “I think a lot of people can really bond over this.”

For Delroy Flowers, 40, the classes are a part of a weekly routine that he looks forward to. He says painting helps him relax and treat his schizophrenia.

“When you do it by yourself, you’re not so relaxed. But when you do it with other people, you actually grow,” he says.

Quinn Kirby

Gifts of Light manager Quinn Kirby stands in front of the Art Cart. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

Staff say many of their patients rarely see visitors, so the art classes help break up the boredom. Many patients say they plan to take their new skills and the lessons that come with them and into recovery. 

“Just like life, sometimes you got to wipe it clean and start all over again,” says Stranger, as she does just that to paint on a canvas.

“See? I just learned something new,” replies Flowers.

Art Cart

Artworks created by patients are displayed inside the hospital and sold with proceeds going back into the Art Cart program. (Stephanie vanKampen/CBC)

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