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A hospice story: The ’amazing’ last days of Diana Fitzharris

Author: Diane Grant
17 April 2018

An uncommon option in Canada, hospice care helps woman with ALS live to the fullest.

In October 2000, they met and fell in love. Mark Fitzharris was a musician and Chen Hsiang-Shan was a businesswoman. Her English name was Diana, after a childhood teacher in Taiwan.

They married and three years later Diana gave birth to Gwendolin. They bought a house in North Gower, Ont., and opened a bead and jewelry store.

Life was good.

Fitzharris of North Gower, Ont., was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in 2014, and given only a few years to live. (Jean-Francois Bisson/CBC)Then in 2014, a customer noticed that Diana was limping. Her foot kept dropping when she walked. 

A couple of months later, Diana learned that she had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) — a disease that would gradually kill her nerves and paralyze her muscles.

She was given two to five years to live. 

"Oh gosh, I am shocked," Diana said of her initial reaction. "Huge shock. I think, 'That's impossible, that's not me.' But two and a half years later, now I have to admit, I am bad luck."

Caring for Diana

Diana's husband Mark describes ALS as, 'Fast, fast, fast – it never slows down. It’s terrible.' (Joe Fiorino/CBC)Mark, a nurse, had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 16 years earlier. Nonetheless, he threw himself into caring for his wife.

"You can't make sense of anything," Mark said, describing their experience with ALS.

"All you can do is follow the path the disease is setting for you. But it's fast. Fast, fast, fast – never slows down. It's terrible."

When Dr. Louise Coulombe met her in August 2017, Diana's body had deteriorated to the point where her family had to use a sling to move her from her bed to a wheelchair. The muscles surrounding her lungs were barely moving and she needed a machine attached to a tube which, when put in her mouth, pushed air into Diana's lungs. She had to use it every few seconds.

It was clear that Diana was close to death. Read more...

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