A Vehicle for a Children's Hospice in Russia
Over the course of the past 10 years, no fewer than 7 million children have died in Russia from a range of different illnesses, an unimaginably vast number of individual tragedies. Sadly, the hospitals are in many cases still insufficiently prepared in caring for terminally ill children and their families. Once a child is diagnosed as terminally ill, he or she is discharged from hospital and sent home. The parents are left alone to deal not only with all their pain and fear, but also with innumerable practical problems. Many families live in so-called communal apartments that are shared by several families. Adequately caring day and night for a child in such circumstances is sometimes impossible, and families often fall apart under the strain. On top of this, friends and relations often tend to draw back, partly out of fear of infection, but also from a sense of helplessness and inadequacy.
The situation also takes a heavy toll on the healthy brothers and sisters, who still need parental care themselves. Often they cannot cope and suffer greatly from the situation because their parents are entirely taken up with caring for the sick brother or sister. On top of this, these children also have to look on and see the sufferings of their sibling, a suffering that can often drag on for years.
In 2003, an Orthodox priest in Saint Petersburg, Father Aleksandr Tkachenko, had an idea. He had previously studied in the United States on a special course as a hospital chaplain, and he realized that in Russia, too, something needed to be done in this field as soon as possible. And so this dynamic young priest determined to establish the first children's hospice, together with qualified doctors and psychologists.
Today the hospice cares for over 300 terminally ill children, providing not only medical care but also supporting them and their families lovingly around the clock. This work ranges from different forms of therapy intended to improve the quality of life of the children, most of whom are suffering from cancer, through to the dedicated effort to do everything humanly possible to make these children happy and allow them as far as possible to enjoy a normal childhood.
Sadly, by the time many of these children arrive in the hospice, they have already become so accustomed to their loneliness, suffering and isolation that it can be difficult to motivate them to engage in light-hearted activities. Trained social workers and specialists are on hand to provide sensitively targeted care, while doctors, psychologists, social workers, priests and volunteer helpers all work hand in hand to ease the difficult plight of the children and their families.
The hospice also has horses and other animals and the staff are constantly striving, with imaginative love, to stimulate and surprise the children, as they did this year, for example, by helping them to see behind the scenes in the production of a cartoon. A range of different trips are organized, which the families of the children can also join so that they, too, can enjoy happier moments in the midst of the suffering and tension.
As Father Aleksandr Tkachenko observes, "Caring for their sick children can often bring the parents to the edge of exhaustion. They, too, need the occasional pause for breath, so that they do not have a breakdown." Staff and volunteer helpers work round the clock to help these young patients and their parents. And they not only care for the children living in the hospice but also support families who are caring for their children at home, providing the same kind of medical, material, pastoral, psychological and social help.
Father Aleksandr writes: "Many children endure very long illnesses, and eventually end up lying in a coma on their deathbed. Then there is nothing left for us to do but to pray together with their parents at their bedside. It is a great comfort for the parents when we tell them that their children are now angels in heaven and are praying for them." From his own experience he knows that these dying children are often inwardly very mature and grown up. "It is not I who talk to them, but they who tell me about their experience with God," he tells us. "And above all they ask me again and again to comfort their parents; they think more about their loved ones than about themselves."
ACN has been involved right from the start in helping for the work of this children's hospice, most recently with a contribution of $32,500 for a vehicle that was urgently needed for its work. In particular it is used to provide the enormous range of support that is given to families caring for their children at home within a 15 mile radius, but also for the outings that provide these little patients with so much joy, and, of course, for all the other necessary trips to doctors, physiotherapists and psychologists, and others.
On behalf of all these sick children and their families Father Aleksandr wants to express his heartfelt thanks to all the benefactors of ACN for their support.