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Bill Jackson had his first open-heart surgery when he was 16 years old.
Fortunately, that procedure gave him many healthy years, including a rewarding career in national television news and public affairs, with key roles at ABC Evening News and public broadcasting.
In 2001, Bill underwent two emergency heart surgeries, within three weeks' time. Those surgeries extended his life, but damaged some of his ability to think as clearly as he had before. With hard work and time, he recovered most of his brain function—but not all. After his third surgery, because he valued his mind, he told his wife, Micki, "enough is enough." He didn’t want any further surgical interventions.
Working closely with Don McAfee, MD, his cardiologist at PeaceHealth in Bellingham, Washington, they managed his heart conditions for more than a decade after that.
Bill shared his goals and values with his family and Dr. McAfee by initiating "the conversation" about his healthcare choices. Micki said, "Bill recognized that physicians have huge time constraints and these conversations are often difficult and time-consuming, so he took the initiative and shared his wishes. Dr. McAfee respected Bill's values so it was a productive relationship."
"I believe having these conversations is a shared responsibility. I think many doctors are relieved when patients bring up the topic."
What Micki learned through her husband's experience sparked a passion for helping others make informed choices about their medical care. “Bill lived a good life,” she said. "He believed that explaining his choices gave him more energy to live."
“It was the outstanding patient-centered care my husband had that propelled me to talk about this with others,” she said. In addition to speaking and writing about the benefits of advance care planning, Micki has organized several community events in northwest Washington to promote National Healthcare Decisions Day, April 16. NHDD exists to inspire, educate and empower the public and providers about the importance of advance care planning.
The most recent event was an evening of storytelling with a guest from every decade of adult life—from a woman in her mid-20s to a man in his late 90s. Each speaker talked about making healthcare decisions, either for themselves or for a loved one. Micki said event participants felt uplifted by the stories and conversations.
"Having the conversation" and choosing a healthcare surrogate—a person who will speak for you, if you cannot communicate yourself—is what it’s all about, she said.
Talking with loved ones helps people understand what they want when it comes to treatments and life-sustaining measures. One college student told Micki after the event, “I’m going home for spring break and I’m going to tell my parents what I would want and I want them to tell me what they want.”
Advance care planning can sound complicated and somewhat scary. It doesn’t have to be. In fact, it brings peace of mind, said Patrick Tandingan, MD. As the medical director for palliative care and hospice services at PeaceHealth, Dr. Tandingan has seen the remarkable difference that advance care planning makes for families.
“You’re putting your choices out there and that puts family members at ease knowing what you want for your care,” he said. “In life and death situations, it’s enormously difficult for families who don’t know if they’re making the right choice.”
By telling your family and your healthcare provider what you want ahead of time, your loved ones don’t have to make what can be an agonizing choice on your behalf. You’ve already made it for them—and for yourself.
Like Bill Jackson, we can make our own healthcare choices today and live for many years, comfortably at peace and with even more energy.
Caption: Micki Jackson, at the helm of Zodiac, believes in charting a course for the healthcare decisions in life. (Photo: courtesy Micki Jackson)