Health

At 25 years old, Justin Magnuson had to speak for his dying grandmother, something he never imagined would happen. She lived independently in a big house until she was 80-years-old, when she gradually got very sick. After a stay in the hospital and five weeks in a nursing home, she died.

Magnuson is hoping to pass on the lessons he learned as his grandmother’s “health surrogate,” a legal term meaning he communicated her wishes to doctors.

That’s why he co-founded the Louisville “Before I Die Festival,” which will wrap up on Nov. 4 with a day-long symposium at the University of Louisville on end-of-life planning. The first part of the festival was held earlier this month and included events focusing on ways to prepare for death and dying.

Magnuson said the main thing he wants people to take away is simple:

“It’s OK for me to reflect on my mortality and to talk about it with the people in my life,” he said.

Magnuson said only a fraction of people die in a sudden accident — most have some time to plan and make arrangements. While it’s not the easiest thing to talk about, planning can make a big difference in quality of life and can be helpful to caregivers. Here’s some of his advice:

  • Make a living will. Forms can be found at the Kentucky Attorney General’s website. There you can name a ‘health surrogate,’ who will be able to tell a doctor if you want to be placed on a ventilator at the end of life, go into a nursing home or die at home.
  • Talk about medications. Will you want to be on medications that could keep you alive?
  • Talk to your doctor. Even if your primary care physician won’t be the one with you if you end up needing hospital care, this can make you and family members more comfortable asking questions, expressing wishes and finding out what difficult decisions might need to be made.
Lisa Gillespie is WFPL's Health and Innovation Reporter.