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Duluth hospice marks 10 years of caring for terminally ill

Photo by Kristen Ralph

Photo by Kristen Ralph

DULUTH -- In the decade that Peachtree Christian Hospice has served the Gwinnett community, the Duluth facility has cared for more than 5,000 terminally ill patients in their final days.

It's a difficult, heart-rending line of work but one Bill and Martha Todd, who have overseen the operation of the ministry from day one, say has been a blessing.

"It takes a gifted person to give the kind of care that we give at Peachtree Christian Hospice, it truly does," Martha Todd said. "We feel that each and every one on our staff is a very, very special person in that area."

The Todds, both retired from BellSouth, were asked to oversee the hospice project -- a nonprofit, outreach ministry of Peachtree Christian Church in Atlanta -- in 1998 by then-pastor Jim Collins. Collins had been approached by Gwinnett developer D. Scott Hudgens Jr. about offering the much-needed service in the Gwinnett community.

The hospice was one of Hudgens' last major philanthropic gifts -- he provided funding for the 8.7 acres of land, the construction and operation -- before his untimely death, which came just a week after Peachtree Christian opened its doors Oct. 22, 2000. His wife, Jacqueline, continues to support the ministry.

"It was Mr. Hudgens' wish that it be built in the center of the Gwinnett community, the community that he loved," Martha Todd said.

"None of this would have been possible without the generosity of Scott Hudgens and his family," Bill Todd added.

Peachtree Christian Hospice's purpose is to offer physical, emotional, mental and spiritual support to individuals facing death as a result of incurable illnesses. The average time patients spend at the facility is just days before they pass on.

Administrator Georgia Morris calls hospice care a ministry.

"It is a ministry. It is a special, I believe, a calling," she said. "Folks allow us into this vulnerable and very sacred space as strangers."

While at Peachtree Christian, patients receive palliative care -- treatment focused on reducing the severity of their symptoms rather than combating an illness. Doctors and nurses on staff work to prevent and relieve suffering and improve patients' quality of life in their final days.

"We like to think that at the end of one's earthly journey and after the hospital's aggressive care is finished that we're just simply able to offer a more meaningful and relaxed quality of life outside that clinical hospital environment," Martha Todd said. "We feel like at Peachtree Christian, with its home-like bedrooms and elegant amenities and serene courtyards and gardens, (it) was all designed just for that purpose."

The Duluth hospice can accommodate 16 patients at a time and is almost always full -- the facility even keeps a waiting list of individuals who would like to spend their final days under the care of the Peachtree Christian staff.

"Most of the time a terminally ill patient reaches a point when they need 24-hour care and the kind of care that we can give them," Martha Todd said.

The hospice provides an environment in which families are encouraged to spend time with their loved ones. A family convenience center is provided inside each of the two wings where patient rooms are located with a refrigerator and ice maker, a microwave, a coffee maker, a toaster oven, "almost all the comforts of home," Martha Todd said.

Each of the patient rooms, which are all private with the exception of four semi-private rooms, open to the outside, an accommodation Bill Todd was insistent upon so patients and their families could have access to the outdoor areas and never feel trapped.

"Providing peace and assurance is of utmost importance and our doctors, and nurses and chaplains and volunteers are the best at doing that," Bill Todd. "Our motto is 'We provide a loving place of rest, comfort and hope.' We feel that we live up to this motto every day."

It's that mission -- comforting and caring for individuals in their final days of life -- that is prompting Peachtree Christian to expand its facility, adding four to six patient rooms and additional administrative space, sometime over the course of the next 12 to 18 months.

"It's really an honor for us to walk with (patients) on their journey for as long as they have left," Morris said. "Sometimes we're the very last voice that a person will hear. Sometimes we will be the last hand a person will hold. It's really an honor to be able to be in this role."