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Finding Hope at St. Jude

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In the almost three decades as a chaplain at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Episcopal deacon Brent Powell has not only seen a lot of changes, but been part of the changes himself.  With years of experience with thousands of parents of patients, he knew that their input was valuable for progress at St. Jude.  “In everything we are doing in the hospital, we involve parents from the Parent Advisory Council in the process,” says Powell.  These parents include not only survivors, but also parents of children that died.  Two important hospital programs Powell helped form include the Parent Mentor and the Quality of Life Programs. Parent Mentors is a peer program, parents helping parents, for both new families and children for whom recovery may not be possible.  Quality of Life is a comprehensive program to coordinate care, manage patient symptoms, and provide end of life and bereavement care when necessary.  “Before, individual physicians managed the cases of children that they knew may not recover.  Now we have a multidisciplinary team that works with the child’s physician and family as we work together to form an integrated care plan,” Powell explains.  “The ultimate goal is to provide each child living with or dying from a catastrophic illness with state of the art patient and family-centered physical, emotional and spiritual care with the goal of attending to suffering, promoting healing and improving quality of life.”

Powell’s work caring for patients and families and facilitating communication between medical professionals and parents has involved a lifetime of dedication to the spiritual needs of others.  How does he balance his own spiritual well-being?  Powell cites family, friends, and photography. His wife, Jo Ann, is a nurse at St. Jude. The two lean upon and support one another when crisis rules the day, and they play hard when not working.  “I love photography.  I am always taking pictures and seeing things that I should be taking pictures of,” says Powell.  Beautiful photographs of streams and sunlight hang in his office just doors away from some of the patients he serves.  His job is emotionally demanding, but also rewarding, he explains.  “The children have taught me to see that which is important: we are more than our body, relationships are central, and we are never alone. Companioning the patients and families is a sacred honor and I am so thankful for their trust. Our faith brings the promise of a God who explores through us and suffers with us.  And there is something immensely comfortable and hopeful about that.”

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