PHorum 2019


MARCH 12, 2020

VNA Health (formerly known as Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care) presented Keynote Speaker Christopher W. Kerr, MD, PhD
CEO & Chief Medical Officer
The Center for Hospice & Palliative Care
Buffalo, New York
March 7, 2019

With the power of science and storytelling, Dr. Christopher Kerr shares findings of the first medical research study aimed to demystify and validate end-of-life experiences (ELE) to understand the role of ELEs in helping patients live well and die well.


“I see dead people,” said Cole Sear, the fictional boy character in the 1999 American horror film The Sixth Sense. What if people could see dead people? And what if it wasn’t scary? What would that mean?

Dr. Christopher Kerr, CEO & Chief Medical Officer for the Center for Hospice and Palliative Care in Buffalo, New York, and a team of researchers are studying the dreams of terminally ill patients who reported having dreams or visions of lost loved ones and described their dreams as feeling “more real than real.”

End-of-life experiences are intrinsic to the process of dying, and have been reported throughout history and across cultures. Yet, the dreams and visions of the dying have been dismissed by the medical community as confusion or hallucinations. No one had ever asked dying patients directly or attempted to quantify their end-of-life experiences—until now.

Dr. Kerr and the research team have interviewed more than 1,400 terminally ill patients, and they are the first to quantify and document end-of-life dreams and visions directly from patients during their final days. The vast majority of patients reported at least one end-of-life experience, and shared a common thread in their dream content: 72% dreamt of deceased loved ones; 59% dreamt of traveling or preparing to go; 29% dreamt of the living; and 28% had “other meaningful experiences.”

The researchers also discovered that the different types of visions and dreams provided different levels of comfort. On a scale of 1 to 5, where 5 is the highest level of comfort, those who dreamt of deceased loved ones reported a comfort level of 4.23 and those who dreamt of the living reported 3.03.

People who are close to death often reported dreams of deceased loved ones at their death beds, usually “invisible” to others in the room. For example Mary, a dying woman in bed surrounded by her four children. One day she was sitting up and cradling a baby no one else could see. Mary called the baby Danny, but none of her children knew of a Danny. The next day Mary’s sister visited and shared that Danny was Mary’s first born child, a stillborn. The loss was so deep that Mary never spoke of Danny; but as she faced end of life, her indescribable loss returned to her transformed into tangible love and peace. Many dying patients, like Mary, have physical wounds that could not be cured, but through end-of-life dreams, their spiritual wounds are healed.

On March 7, 2019 VNA Health (formerly known as Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care) invited the community to join Dr. Kerr at the 6th Annual PHorum: Perspectives in Healthcare where he shared his research on “Validating Dreams & Visions of the Dying” at the Hilton Santa Barbara Beachfront Resort from 5–7 PM. VNHC Associate Medical Director Dr. Michael Kearney further explored with Dr. Kerr how these end-of-life dreams and visions are characterized by a consistent sense of realism, and how they may be a profound source of potential meaning and comfort for both the dying and bereaved who remain. Admission to PHorum was funded by the VNHC Foundation as a community education program.

VNA Health is the leading nonprofit provider of comprehensive in-home healthcare, helping patients and their families live well at home, wherever they reside and call home. The VNA Health Foundation provides more than $2 million each year to support direct patient charity care and community benefits programs like the Loan Closet, Serenity House, Bereavement Services, Music Therapy and Pet Therapy. VNA Health is accredited by The Joint Commission in Home Health and Hospice Care and PHorum is the 2018 Elevating Home Program of the Year by the VNAA. Established in 1908, VNA Health is California’s third oldest VNA and one of Santa Barbara County’s most established nonprofit healthcare organizations serving the greater Santa Barbara area, and Santa Ynez and Lompoc Valleys.

For additional information or questions about this year’s PHorum, contact Lailan McGrath at or call 805.690.6218.