Angel of comfort


POSTED: Saturday, December 26, 2009

People often call Leilani Grippin Karasaki a guardian angel or a savior.

“;I couldn't have done it without your support,”; is another thing she hears a lot, Karasaki said.

Professionally, she has been a nurse for almost 20 years. But for the past 10, Karasaki has gained a reputation as someone who goes out of her way for patients with cancer, particularly those who face the end of their lives.

Karasaki is an acute-care oncology nurse at the Queen's Medical Center, but she stands out among a breed of nurses whose job especially calls for compassion, said Diane Thompson, director of the Cancer Center Program.

While working with Karasaki on an evening program that helps kids adjust to having parents with cancer, Thompson said, “;She went above and beyond with this program, staying late even after working a shift, (which prevented her from) sleeping before starting back on the unit again. ... She never looks for a 'thank you' but just keeps doing sweet little things that always add up and go with her incredible upbeat attitude.”;

Karasaki said, “;These patients are so special. They are so appreciative of all the information about chemotherapy and the whole treatment process. It's such an honor and blessing to work with them.”;

She added, “;I become a part of them. I just take that extra moment, give that extra hand-holding ... just supporting them in that moment. Sometimes the best treatment is just listening.”;

“;Crying with the family is totally acceptable because you're helping them through it,”; and it is hard to remain professional at the same time, she said.

Unlike people who die suddenly in car accidents or from heart attacks, “;cancer patients have the gift of time—for their families to hope, and time for patients to express what they wanted to do,”; she said. “;It's difficult to be faced with your own mortality. They get to decide how they want to finish their life.”;

Of the many patients who have touched her heart, a young woman with two small children she met last year stands out.

“;I just felt I needed to do something so when the mom passed on they would have something to remember her by,”; she said.

On her own time, Karasaki made them each a framed collage of family photos, interspersed with cutouts of the mother's hand prints, with a special note to the daughter and son. Karasaki came to the intensive-care unit to show her the collages and said, “;This is what I promised you.”;

“;She couldn't talk. She just started crying, and all the alarms on her started just going off. Everyone came running! I said, 'I'm sorry! I'm sorry!'”; Karasaki recalled. “;Six days later she passed.”;

“;Working with cancer patients is such an eye-opener. It really puts my life into perspective,”; she said. “;I'm so thankful I can get up and walk around, and feed myself, and shower and dress myself, and be able to do what so many of my patients cannot do.”;

The most gratifying thing to oncology nurses in particular is that “;we love to see the patients come full circle,”; Karasaki said. “;It doesn't mean they are healed or the cancer is in remission. It means someone's passing was OK. They wanted to be home and their passing was very peaceful.

“;When it's my turn, I'd want my kids and family next to me. I can't think of a better place to be than with my family,”; she said.