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When You Have a Child...

"When you have a child, you look at things differently," Sarah Schuster says, smiling at her son, three-week-old Thomas Conrad Schuster, who is not one bit concerned about the conversation going on around him. He has one thing in mind, and that is breakfast!

Even though he doesn't realize it yet, Thomas is a pretty lucky boy. His parents already took steps to ensure that, should something happen to either or both of them, their wishes regarding their care have been communicated in a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care. The document authorizes another person to make health care decisions for an individual who, temporarily or permanently, can no longer make or communicate such decisions.

Both of Thomas' parents are nurses in the Avera system, Sarah at Avera McKennan where she works in oncology and bone-marrow transplant, and Tom, his father, at the Avera Heart Hospital where he is a critical-care nurse.

"Since he was born, we are more responsible about a lot of things - how we eat, how we live, doing this," says Sarah, describing the bigger picture.

Tom adds, "I see every day at work how people wait until it is too late to communicate what they want."

The term "durable" means the individual appointed is authorized to make health care decisions on behalf of the person who becomes incapacitated - for example, a person who is in a coma after a car accident. Sarah explains, "Things go wrong, and people are left saying, 'I don't know.' I would hate for someone to feel guilty and be left saying, 'I hope that is what she really wanted,' when making decisions about my care."

Both Sarah and Tom credit their own parents for setting the example for them. The documents, which should be reviewed every two years, ensure that the person making health care decisions for them, should they be unable, is someone who knows and will follow their wishes.

The couple says the next step is a Living Will, a document that specifies their choices regarding life-sustaining treatment should the need arise. (Unlike a Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care, a Living Will normally does not allow for the appointment of an individual to make health care decisions and usually takes effect only when a medical condition is terminal.)

Sarah encourages every person to put these documents in place, and she is quick to explain how easy to complete the process is. "We just went to Social Services at Avera McKennan. They had the forms right there. It took a matter of minutes!" Sarah relates.