Dolphin therapy for terminally ill at Sentosa's Underwater World

Hospice patients have fun day out at Sentosa's Underwater World
Judith Tan Straits Times 24 Mar 12;

MOST of the patients have been diagnosed by doctors as having only a year to live, so staff and volunteers at HCA Hospice Care often take them out on excursions.

On Wednesday, more than 30 patients spent the morning and a good half of the afternoon at Underwater World Singapore in Sentosa.

Among them was ovarian cancer patient Chong Ah Chiew, 74, who, with pants rolled above her knees, got to wade into the Dolphin Lagoon to meet pink dolphin Han.

'I was told she has a temper, but she was gentle and friendly with me. She did not even baulk when I went near,' said Madam Chong, grinning happily from the experience.

It might have been her first time getting into the lagoon, but for many of the others, it was their first visit to the tourist attraction.

Some of the patients, who are attending day care at the HCA Hospice, were in wheelchairs, and others had feeding tubes attached. They went in vans, accompanied by volunteers.

Singapore Hospice Council (SHC) chairman R. Akhileswaran said: 'For some, the disease is in remission, while for others, it might be their first time at the Underwater World and, sad to say, it could well be their last.'

Most of the patients attending day hospice care suffer from life-limiting conditions, including end-stage cancer.

They also have been diagnosed by their doctors as having only a year to live.

When they go for excursions, 'usually, it is to somewhere simple like the park or the beach', Dr Akhileswaran said, adding that the volunteers have to be trained first to understand how to take care of a terminally ill person.

'And organising an outing for the terminally ill sometimes can be a logistics challenge - ensuring that everyone's nutritional and physical needs are met.

'We are fortunate to have good people to help out here,' Dr Akhileswaran said.

Senior nurse manager Angela Tan, 56, said transport was arranged islandwide to pick the patients up from their homes.

'Not all will arrive at the same time so often we and the host organisation have to play it by ear. We cannot stick rigidly to a given programme,' she added.

Unfortunately, five patients missed the dolphin show on Wednesday because the van they were in was stuck in bad traffic caused by an accident along the Pan-Island Expressway.

But all made it in time for lunch and a tour of the tourist attraction.

Underwater World's general manager Peter Chew, 31, said hosting the hospice has been 'great for the staff'.

'It takes them away from the day-to-day dealings and commercial objectives of the job and places them in a place of compassion and higher service.

'They learn to handle situations outside of the comfort zone and turn out better for the experience,' he added.

SHC vice-president Seet Ai Mee, 68, hopes more such places would open up their facilities for hospice patients to visit.

'Because many of such patients would never have the chance to travel out on their own, and would probably never have a second chance to do so in their limited lifetime,' she said.