At the Edge of Life

At the Edge of Life

Palliative care provides a compassionate alternative to traditional medical rituals for these dying patients and their families.

To prepare this four-part video series, The Dallas Morning News spent a year exploring efforts to improve end-of-life medical care. Reporter Lee Hancock interviewed experts and attended national and regional conferences and trainings in palliative care. She and photographer Sonya Hebert gained unprecedented access to Baylor University Medical Center’s palliative-care team, spending months attending team meetings, observing patient visits and interviewing clinicians, patients and families. They shadowed the team around the clock for three weeks.

This comprehensive package includes a five-part text series, interactive tools, and exhaustive resources — in addition to the four extraordinarily intimate video stories that ultimately put the human face on the end-of-life process that we all must ultimately face. These are not just talking-head interviews with patients and caretakers — we get to see, hear, feel and experience pivotal moments and the whole range of emotions that accompany them.

Videographer Sonya Hebert recounts that, despite her photojournalist background, this assignment represented the first time she’s ever seen anyone die “in real life,” as it were. It’s a strange experience for most of us, despite the ubiquity and inevitability of the event. And even for a photographer who may have “covered” tragedies, and seen death and dying through a viewfinder, there is nothing that can prepare you for these potent end-of-life stories and images. But let her tell it: “This was not a news event. This was no accident, fire, or act of terrorism. Rather, this was a private matter, involving a well-loved person, who was dying in a private place. Journalists cover death everyday. But we do not cover everyday people dying everyday deaths. This was intimate, raw and personal.”

Patients at the edge (7:43)
Dying patients navigate the end of life with the help of the Baylor University Medical Center palliative care team.

Penni Bourque: Living fully until the end (6:33)
Palliative care worked for Penni Bourque. No longer responding to treatment for ovarian cancer, she chose a palliative plan of care to help her live to the fullest, away from hospitals and treatment side effects.

Judy Jackson: Letting go of Bobby (4:06)
When her husband Bobby was rushed to Baylor complaining of stomach pain, Judy Jackson was not prepared for the life and death decisions that followed.

The palliative mission (3:56)
Dr. Bob Fine and nurse Min Patel of the palliative care team discuss how to bring healing to patients and families at the end of life.

Photography and video: Sonya N. Hebert
Reporter: Lee Hancock
Video editor: Sonya Hebert, Ahna Hubnik, Mei-Chun Jau
Story editor: David Tarrant
Project editor: Brad Loper