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Gundersen program prepares patients for future

'Respecting Choices' creates lifelong conversation for advance care planning

Gundersen program prepares patients for future

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) - Gundersen's end-of-life care program, Respecting Choices, has gained both national and world-wide attention - but it's also doing groundbreaking work for people right here in La Crosse.

For most people, the decisions you make for the end of your life are done in your later years.

In some cases, you don't even get to make those decisions - your family is left to decide once you've passed away. Respecting Choices take a different approach, and starts that planning process early - because, as Ginnie Hill knows, sometimes the worst can happen when you're least expecting it. 

Ginnie was diagnosed with melanoma two years ago, and has since spent her days in and out of the hospital. This week, along with her treatment, she's also receiving a folder of questions to consider - Gundersen's end-of-life planning program.

"There have been questions, 'Why? Is something wrong with me that you're asking me these questions?'" says Verona Lachman, a facilitator for the program. "But it really is a basic document for everybody, because we just can't predict the future."

Ginnie has just begun answering the questions, which span from her hospital preference, to whether she'd like a breathing tube, to if she'd choose to donate her organs.

"There's so much that you have to think about, and so much information to consider," Ginnie says of the process.

But the questions go beyond your typical medical preferences. They ask what Ginnie wants to accomplish, her fears and worries.

"That's when things come out that families can really understand what's important to my family member," Lachman explains.

Going through advance care planning is typically a family process at Gundersen - the more family members included in the preparations, the better they understand what their loved one wants for the future.

Ginnie's brother, Mike Billing, is at her side to help navigate those questions.

"When they're in a situation where they can't make decisions for themselves, it gives you the confidence that you are making the choices for them that they would want," he says.

Ginnie says she's doing well - she was discharged from Gundersen this afternoon, and begins and new treatment at home this week.

Virtually all of Gundersen's patients have some sort of avance directive on file. Basic questions about end-of-life care are actually part of the admission process there for anyone 18 and older.

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