SALT LAKE CITY — In March 2014, tragedy struck the Lindblad family when Lisa Lindblad was placed on life support as a result of brain cancer.
For a lot of families, knowing what to do next is almost impossible. But her husband, David Lindblad, knew what steps were next, thanks to his wife's advance directive she had filled out before she went on life support.
"For me, the advance directive made it so I knew that I was doing exactly what she wanted when she couldn't speak for herself," David Lindblad said in a video interview produced by the Huntsman Cancer Institute.
Tuesday, in honor of National Healthcare Decisions Day, Huntsman Cancer Institute officials urged patients to fill out an advance directive — legal documents that outline a person's health care wishes in the event they become unable to speak for themselves.
"We never know when something might happen where we won't be able to speak up," said Sue Childress, director of nursing for the cancer institute.
It's important to fill the form out before a crisis, Childress noted.
"When no one's sick, when no one's in crisis, when everybody can just talk about it, is a much better time to have that conversation," she said. "Take your time filling out the paperwork and not feeling like you've got a timeline here, you know it's a matter of life and death situation."
The paperwork itself is about eight pages and starts with naming a trusted person who would be in charge of a person's medical decisions if they ever were unable to speak for themselves.
Dr. Jamie Brant, supportive care oncologist with the institute, encouraged healthy people to consider filling the form out in case anything happens.
"Even if you're not having anything done, just having these conversations early I think makes a huge difference," Brant said. "Because it's really unpredictable."
For David Lindblad, knowing his wife's wishes helped bring him peace of mind when she died.
"That's the thing is that doing what we knew that she wanted leaves no regret. I don't have any of that," he said in the video. "I mean, I know everything we did was 100 percent what she wanted from the time that she couldn't speak for herself till she died."
Only 37 percent of people in the U.S. have an advance directive, according to research published in Health Affairs, a peer-reviewed medical journal. Both Brant and Childress said they want that number to increase.
"I think it's just never knowing what the next day will bring, being able to be clear about what's important to you and what brings quality of life so that decisions can be made to align with that," Brant said.
While filling out the form helps family members or caretakers through the process, it isn't a perfect system, Brant said.
"It's certainly not perfect even if you complete them, there's still tremendous grief with loss," she said. "But knowing that you were able to do what your loved one wanted or would've wanted in that situation I think alleviates at least a small part of that"
This was true for the Lindblad family. Per Lisa Lindblad's wishes, she was removed from life support. However, she didn't immediately die, and in her advance directive she had requested that in that scenario she would like to be taken home to live her final hours.
Her daughter, Ann-Marie Lindblad, said in the video that because her family knew what her mother wanted, no one wasted precious time arguing over what to do.Comment on this story
"Nobody was fighting in the end, nobody was arguing if that was the right thing to do, nobody was, you know blaming anybody," she said. Instead, she said her family was able to enjoy her mother's last night alive and spend time with her knowing they had given her what she wanted.
For families or caretakers who are now in charge of medical decisions for their loved one, who have no idea what they would want, it can be extremely difficult for them, Brant said.
"(If) they've never discussed it and they really don't have a sense of what their loved one would want, (it) creates not only distress during that event but when and if the patient dies the grief that occurs afterwards can become more complicated with wondering if you made the right decision," she said.