Kauai team aids
bereft tourists

Five volunteers jump into action
with the tour helicopter crash

LIHUE » They call themselves "The Beeper Team," and some of them were there along with the rescue crews as the body bags were carried off the helicopter during the four-day effort to recover the bodies of the victims of Friday's Bali Hai Helicopter Tours crash.


Gina Kaulukukui: Kauai Hospice bereavement coordinator anticipates families' needs

Still others were with the family of one of the victims. Some were on the phones to victims' family members who were not in Hawaii. They also were talking to the doctor performing autopsies, relaying important information.

The five-member "Beeper Team" is made up of Kauai Hospice volunteers: Sherry Olkonen, Sharron Edwards, Vicki Requilman, Mary Nugent and Betty Moore.

The service they provide is unique to Kauai. While hospice organizations everywhere help with the terminally ill and their families and provide counseling for local residents whose family members have been killed unexpectedly, Kauai Hospice is the only one to have a team dedicated specifically to helping tourists.

"It began in 1992, primarily at Wilcox Memorial Hospital when a visitor died suddenly and unexpectedly," said Gina Kaulukukui, Kauai Hospice's full-time bereavement coordinator.

"Tourists were walking into the hospital when a family member was killed, and they were obviously upset and didn't have any direction. It was overwhelming the hospital's social workers," Kaulukukui said.

"We're the experts in death, dying and grief, so we made ourselves available to the hospital and the Fire Department and the Police Department. As the program evolved, we became the link between the professionals and the families."

Kaulukukui did not bring it up, but "Beeper Team" members also are the ones who ferociously guard victims' families from the media.

Some of the things they do are amazingly simple and important.

In a drowning, for example, once the body is at the hospital, the hospice workers clean up the body, cover it with a blanket and place a pillow under the victim's head.

"What we're doing is re-creating the last time they saw the person at peace. The ritual of saying goodbye is very important and very healing," Kaulukukui said.

They also prepare victims' families for what will happen next.

"We tell them a police officer will be talking to them. We tell them there will be an autopsy. We ask if they have any spiritual needs. If they can't go to the mortuary, we will bring the mortuary to them.

"The only thing we don't do is spend the night with them. The family needs some time alone to grasp what has happened. But the pagers are available 24 hours a day, as are the cell phones. There are systems on systems, and they can reach us immediately if they need us."

Afterward, the hospice remains in touch with the families of every victim for at least a year. "That first anniversary is very important," Kaulukukui noted.

They also help the rescue crews, even if it is only a matter of providing them with something cold to drink.

The Army, which regularly flies ambulance missions for civilians on Oahu, had never before sent a Black Hawk medical helicopter to help in a search and rescue effort on Kauai. The crew was surprised when hospice workers handed them bottles of cold water.

"The Army crew -- and they are a great bunch -- were so grateful. In all the missions they have flown on Oahu, apparently no one had ever handed any of them a bottle of water," Kaulukukui said.



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