Keepsake offers comfort to family members

WESTFIELD-Keepsakes are treasured gifts that have a profound effect on our heart, and Maria Hermanson, RN, has seen how a simple gesture for family members who have lost a loved one in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Mercy Medical Center can make them feel comforted.

The keepsake is a “Heartbeats in a Bottle” that is a printout of the deceased patient’s heart rhythm strip placed in a tiny, sealed glass bottle by Hermanson.

Maria Hermanson, RN, of Westfield, holds the tiny “Heartbeats in a Bottle” keepsakes she creates at Mercy Medical Center for family members of deceased ICU patients. (MERCY MEDICAL CENTER PHOTO)

“This small token allows them to keep their loved one’s heartbeat with them during the difficult days ahead,” said Hermanson. “Our patients are very sick and it’s an honor to care for them.”

Patients can sometimes have lengthy stays in the ICU and, since the pandemic began, they have not been able to have visitors. ICU team members not only care for these patients, they often form strong bonds with them and their family members.

Hermanson said with the COVID-19 pandemic it has been especially hard for families with a loved one in the ICU. 

“It is so sad for families,” said Hermanson. “We want families to know that we cared for their loved one just like our own family.”

Hermanson noted after a work shift her patients are still on her mind.

“You take the patient home with you and because we are always talking with family members on the phone, you become connected to the family,” she said.

Hermanson, a resident of Westfield, first saw the “Heartbeats in a Bottle” concept when she was working at a hospital in eastern Massachusetts and knew that the idea needed to be shared with others.

“We talk with family members every day, providing updates on their loved one’s condition,” she said, adding, “It’s a stressful situation. This is one way we can say, ‘we cared about your family member and we care about you.’ The family members who receive the bottles are really moved by the gesture.”

Maria Hermanson, RN, shows the keepsake bottle that holds the heart rhythm strip of a deceased ICU patient at Mercy Medical Center. (MERCY MEDICAL CENTER PHOTO)

The bottle is personally given or mailed in a padded envelope to the deceased patient’s parents, spouse, or children, and includes a sympathy card that Hermanson signs on behalf of the ICU team.

“I cry every time I write out a card,” she said, adding, “I can’t help it.”

While every patient experience is personal, Hermanson said the connection the ICU team makes with the family members is a reflection of Mercy Medical Center’s mission to be a transforming, healing presence.

“The keepsake is a personal way for someone to keep their loved one with them and family members have told us it means a lot to them,” she said.

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