Sandra Shapiro helps patients and their families through the most difficult time in their lives. As a social worker in Palliative Care, Sandra works as part of the collaborative team that cares for patients who have a prognosis of less than three months. But she nevertheless believes in the importance of making lives better. “Families come here upset, and rightly so,” she says. “They think, ‘I’m bringing my loved one here to die.’ We talk about it being a place to live until you die.”
Originally from Montreal, Sandra has lived in Richmond Hill for 16 years. As a high school student, she volunteered at two seniors homes. “I loved being able to help people,” she says. “That’s how my interest in social work came about.”
A recent winner of the President’s Kudos Award, Sandra never imagined herself in Palliative Care but now says: “I can’t see myself anywhere else. “We’ve done some amazing things on this unit. The best part is making patients’ wishes come true. I always say nothing’s impossible. Everything’s possible. We just have to figure it out.”
And that’s what the team does. One patient wanted to get home to build a train set. “He had collected trains his entire life with the hope he would have his trains running,” says Sandra. “So we said, ‘Why don’t we build a train set here?’” They found a hospital volunteer who could construct the set and gave the patient a remote. Another patient wanted to visit Niagara Falls, so the team put her in an ambulance and she visited the Falls on a stretcher.
Sandra, who also works in Rehab and Complex Care, is quick to point out that it’s the entire team that makes the unit strong. Patients in Palliative Care not only have access to doctors and nurses, but also physical therapy, pet therapy, music by the bedside and art therapy. Grateful for her colleagues, Sandra gives back by organizing an annual retreat.
It’s all a reflection of Sandra’s deep connection to those whose lives she touches — a connection forged in her own life experience. She herself is a five-year survivor of breast cancer. “I was off work for about a year. I went through chemo and radiation,” she says. “If anything I think it strengthened me and helped me to help families because I understand what they’re going through.”
— Joann MacDonald