22nd Annual Tree of Light Ceremony Spotlights Extraordinary Care of MemorialCare’s Hospice Team

22nd Annual Tree of Light Ceremony

Lucy Stafford Lewis, Claudia Gambino, Amanda Fernandez

As families gather for the holidays, they often celebrate loved ones who have passed. This is the purpose behind Saddleback Memorial Foundation’s annual Tree of Light ceremony, which was held December 1 at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center.

At this event, community members have the opportunity to pay tribute to loved ones with a gift to MemorialCare Hospice and Palliative Services. All Tree of Light donations benefit this program, which consists of compassionate nurses, social workers, and volunteers who give comfort and care to the seriously and terminally ill and their family members. So far this year, the Foundation has received more than $8,000 in Tree of Light contributions, and continues to receive gifts.

Among the guest speakers this year was Claudia Gambino of Mission Viejo, whose husband Joe received care from MemorialCare’s hospice team this past April before he passed away.

Gambino shared her touching experience with hospice during the event: She brought him to the emergency room back in April simply because his chest felt “heavy.” She would soon learn shocking news from doctors: He had pneumonia that had moved from one lung to the other, and he would not recover. MemorialCare’s hospice team was called, and they arrived within the hour. A caregiver came every two hours to make sure Joe Gambino — and his family — were comfortable.

Claudia had taken him to the ER on a Monday, and he passed away on Friday.

“I don’t know what we would have done without hospice,” Claudia Gambino said. “If a hospital experience can be good, that’s really what it was. They allowed everything positive that was possible to happen.”

Gambino was especially moved by the above-and-beyond gesture of Amanda Fernandez, a social worker who arranged for a young veteran from a military base to present Joe with a special honor for his service during World War II and the Korean War. Although the young man did not arrive until a few minutes after Joe Gambino had passed, he presented the award to him in the hospital room surrounded by beloved family and friends.

Lorie D’Amore, Director of Hospice and Palliative Services, also spoke from personal experience; this year the staff cared for her own sister-in-law before she passed. She remarked to the guests that gifts like theirs allowed her team to help a 38-year-old father attend his children’s soccer games when he was critically ill.

Guests then gathered in a large circle around the decorated Tree of Light, and each one spoke about the person they were remembering, lighting a candle. Gambino had the honor of lighting the tree. Each light represents those remembered by loved ones. The Tree of Light will remain in the foyer of Conference Room 1 at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center throughout the holidays.

Those who were honored with a tribute donation to Saddleback Memorial Foundation are listed in the Book of Remembrance, which is on display in the hospital’s chapel through the beginning of January.

To make a tribute gift in honor of or in memory of a loved one, contact Saddleback Memorial Foundation at (949) 452-3724 or smf@memorialcare.org, or visit memorialcare.org/smf and click “Give Now.”