Mending a tiny heart: Chaplains bring family comfort

Spiritual Care and Chaplain Services at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford offers support to families coping with uncertainty, honoring every faith and attending to their unique spiritual needs.Untitled design (32)

Light filters through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows inside the Sanctuary at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford. Just outside in the Healing Garden, a sculpture titled Joie de Vivre stands as the focal point of the space. The bronze piece, created by Israeli artist Jonathan Darmon, immortalizes a special moment: a warm embrace between mother and child.

For the Manjunath family, the Sanctuary is a quiet space of peace and reflection. It is the first place outside of their patient quarters that they visit with their older son and 3-week-old infant, Ishan, who is one step closer to going home following his stay in the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU). For those of the Hindu faith, a baby’s first outing is traditionally made to the temple. For the Manjunaths, the Sanctuary is the closest thing to the family’s temple available within the hospital walls.

“Generally, back in India, we’d go to the temple first,” says Shubha, mother of Ishan. “We didn’t know where to go, but the Sanctuary was a temple. Yesterday we took Ishan there, and we prayed. It was a beautiful experience.”

Reverend Diana Brady, BSN, MDiv, BCC, director of chaplaincy services for Stanford Children’s Health, oversees the Sanctuary and supports families like the Manjunaths by attending to their unique spiritual and emotional needs. Brady began her career as a registered nurse, and her early experiences prompted her to pursue a higher calling to help families in times of crisis. She attended Princeton Theological Seminary and is an ordained United Methodist pastor who is board certified by the Association of Professional Chaplains.

Chaplain Diana Brady Brady works with seven hospital chaplains and a small group of volunteers who are specifically trained to help people of every faith tradition, including those with no faith tradition. They see patient families in their most hopeful, joyful, sad and complicated moments.

“People come to us and to the Sanctuary seeking meaning and hope, bringing their fears and their prayers,” Brady says.

During the Manjunaths’ time at Packard Children’s, the family has drawn strength from Reverend Carolyn Glauz-Todrank, MDiv, who Shubha says was truly amazing and never missed daily prayers at Ishan’s bedside.

“It was at times very traumatic for us as a family to witness Ishan’s suffering, and [Reverend Carolyn’s] prayers were soothing and made use feel confident and strong and believe in the power of prayers,” says Manju, Ishan’s father.

The family’s journey began four-and-a-half months ago, as they prepared to welcome Ishan into their Cupertino home. During a doctor’s visit when Shubha was 21 weeks pregnant, the Manjunaths learned that their unborn son had a hole in the wall separating the lower two chambers of his heart, a congenital condition known as ventricle septal defect (VSD).

Seeking a second opinion regarding Ishan’s diagnosis, the Manjunaths came to Packard Children’s. Then entering week 24 of the pregnancy, Shubha and Manju were devastated to learn that their son had been underdiagnosed and that his situation was far more complex than they were initially told. Not only did Ishan have VSD, he also had a second rare congenital heart defect known as double outlet right ventricle (DORV).

“When we heard this news, we were broken into pieces,” says Shubha. “We were crushed.”

Throughout Ishan’s stay at the hospital and during the time leading up to his open-heart surgery, the family has built close relationships with members from Ishan’s care team, including cardiologist Rajesh Punn, MD, and cardiothoracic surgeon Frank Hanley, MD. Chaplain Carolyn has been with the family every step of the way, following them from the neonatal intensive care unit to the CVICU, and most recently to the patient care unit where Ishan has been recovering.

“We find that it matters to families that they have one person who sees them through their care,” Brady says. “We try to be a light to them in dark times.”

For many patients and families at Packard Children’s, the role of the chaplain is not always understood.

“I know chaplaincy can be a mystery sometimes to people who have no familiarity with what a chaplain is, and there are so many people that families meet here as part of the health care team,” says Brady.

That’s why during the planning and development of the Sanctuary, which is located in the Main Building of the new hospital, Brady worked with the Family Advisory Council to create a special card with a menu of available services offered by the chaplaincy. In addition to compassionate listening and emotional support, patients can request to receive consultations on religious or ethical questions. They can also ask for a chaplain’s presence during patient care conferences, bedside hospital visits, or prayers before surgery.

Available 24/7 through a shared service with Stanford University Medical Center, chaplains are assigned to medical service areas and are referred to patients by the care team or at the request of a family. The team provided more than 6,800 bedside visits last year, and now offers regularly scheduled services, including Catholic Mass every Sunday at 1 p.m. and a Protestant Christian prayer service on Thursday evenings. The Sanctuary will soon hold evening prayers to welcome Shabbat for Jewish families. Next to come will be a program for Muslim families, offering prayers in the Islamic tradition on Fridays at midday.

“It’s reassuring to hear that the sanctuary has meant so much to families when they’ve gone there,” Brady says. “We really did want to be intentional about welcoming everyone and helping them to know that everyone is welcome.”

Family update: The Manjunaths headed home with Ishan this past June, just in time for Father’s Day. For Shubha and Manju’s oldest son, the moment he looked forward to most upon Ishan’s release from the hospital was the chance to play with his new baby brother.

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