Monthly Archives: July 2014

Hospital volunteer talks about her “six figure paycheck”

Nicole McAmis moved to St. Louis from Ventura, California to attend Washington University. She chose chemical engineering as her major, and is planning to one day attend medical school. As a freshman, she began volunteering at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. Now a junior in college, Nicole has been working with patients  for more than two years. When asked what this experience has taught her, she answered, “Children have the ability to teach adults to be spontaneous, be courageous, make mistakes, and most of all, approach life with enthusiasm.” 

Nicole and Demonte

One day at St. Louis Children’s Hospital a father approached me and asked me why I volunteer. I quickly answered, “I do it for the kids.” And with that answer, he told me, “Thank you for making each day just a little bit better.” It is amazing how the little things in life can make such an impact on someone else. Even a smile is enough to brighten a child’s day. After all, someone once said, “Volunteers are paid in six figures… S-M-I-L-E-S.”

In the hospital, I have volunteered in many different areas including the school room, Project Picasso, the play room, Hematology-Oncology Clinic, and Family Resource Center. In the school room, I am able to tutor kids that are patients in the hospital and try to add a sense of normalcy to their day. During Project Picasso, we use art in order to help improve the patient’s stay and help their attitude toward the situation at hand. It is always a huge hit when we paint rocks for the garden! The play room is a place where patients are able to play different games with volunteers and just have fun for a while. The Hematology-Oncology clinic is a great place where you can play with a patient to get their mind off the different procedures they are enduring. In the Family Resource Center, we provide information to parents of different diagnoses as well as a place where a parent can access movies for their child to help them get through the tough time.

My Children’s Hospital experience gives me the opportunity to see how doctors and nurses interact with patients and how doctors are always striving to find the cure for any diagnosis. With such amazing doctors always at hand, Children’s is always a very prominent place in the medical field, providing care for people from outside the country as well. As a volunteer, we strive to make their experience at the hospital the best it can be. It is amazing the amount of impact a volunteer can have in a very busy hospital environment, even if it is just playing a game with a child and allowing the parents to go out for coffee.

nicolecollageWhile the amount of volunteering time is often limited by school or other activities, those who can give time make all the difference in the world. It makes that time irreplaceable and priceless for that patient who may not be going through the best time of their life. As a volunteer, you learn that compassion is the key to everything since you do not necessarily know what the patient is going through. You have not walked in their shoes to know. But you do get the opportunity to walk with them and make a difference, even if it is small, in that patient’s day. Volunteers are given the greatest gift, the chance to choose and change the kind of community we live in.

“One of a kind kid” inspires occupational therapist

Nicole Weckherlin joined the team in the Cerebral Palsy (CP) Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital four years ago. She spent the decade prior working with kids with CP in the school system. As an occupational therapist, Nicole says these children have always motivated and inspired her, because therapy can make such an impact on their lives. Jansen is one such child.

We always say the greatest resources that we pass onto our patients are the ones patients have given us. Jansen and his family truly embody this.

NicoleJansenJansen has been a patient here for quite some time.  He has a diagnosis of spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy and is dependent for mobility, transfers and self-care.  While he may be a very involved kiddo, his family surely doesn’t treat him like that, nor does he treat himself like that.  They have high expectations for him, and he certainly gives it right back to them. To say the least, I’ve been so impressed with him and his family.

Jansen and his family live about three hours away with an incredible community around them.  Recently, his community put on a huge fundraiser to help Jansen and his family. After collecting the proceeds, his family then turned around, came to our clinic and presented us with two iPad Modular Hose mounts. Jansen has one and whenever they come to the hospital, people stop and ask, “Where did you get that?” So here’s a family that took the opportunity to use their own situation to help others. Jansen’s mom simply asked that we find a good home for them, seeking no acknowledgment or anything in return.  This family has also donated other equipment such as Jansen’s stander and gait trainer for others to use. What a great example of paying it forward.

Jansen’s family truly defines what we at the Cerebral Palsy Center have hoped for: that their appointment is not just a doctor’s visit, but the chance to become part of a network and a community. We can give advice, information and consultation, and while perhaps there’s a level of expertise we may have, we haven’t lived the day in and day out taking care of a child with special needs. That’s a well-needed and invaluable perspective.

Jansen, though living with special needs, is a bright little guy with the coolest sense of humor. Once when at a Botox treatment, Jansen brought his Spiderman figurine to help him be strong for his series of shots. As a huge superhero fan, Jansen showed us powers of his own, bravely taking on the shots without any fear.  Afterwards, when asked if it hurt, he stoically replied, “I’m Spiderman, of course it didn’t hurt!” Only Jansen…he’s a one of a kind kid.

Transporting precious cargo

Tiffany MellenthinTiffany Mellenthin, RN, joined the St. Louis Children’s Hospital team in 2012 as a nurse on a critical care neonatal/pediatric transport team. In addition to having six years of experience in emergency/critical care, Tiffany also has a 3-year-old daughter. Almost immediately after completing orientation, she encountered a situation that made her realize how life can change in an instant.

I was on my last week of orientation with the transport team in March of 2013 when I met the Mazzola family. My partners and I were dispatched to an outside hospital to pick up a previously healthy little girl who was just diagnosed with a brain tumor. Her name was Abigail, and she was around 3 ½ years old – about the same age as my daughter. That is something that has definitely struck a chord with me since I joined the team: how a child can be ‘fine,’ and then all of the sudden develop this huge problem. It doesn’t seem fair. And the fact that she was so close in age to my daughter hit a little closer to home for me than some of our other calls.

My partners (Erin Juenger and Amy Henschen) and I arrived at the outside hospital to find Abigail finishing her MRI. We spoke to her clearly distraught parents, and tried to do our best to explain what was going to happen next for their family. As a mother, I really felt for Abigail’s parents, and tried to make sure they understood everything we were going to do before we left. Both of Abigail’s parents rode with us to Children’s, and we let her mother ride in the back to stay close to her. Amy and I explained everything we were doing, and what she should expect when she arrived at the PICU. When we arrived at Children’s, multiple things were happening, not only in Abigail’s room, but in other areas of the PICU, as well. I stayed with Abigail’s parents and tried to answer questions the best I could while they settled Abigail into her room.

Abigail leaves St. Louis Children's Hospital after surgery to remove her brain tumorBefore I left the unit, Abigail’s mother came up and hugged me with tears in her eyes. She told me I was an angel, and that we had just saved her daughter’s life. After Abigail’s surgery and while she completed rehab, I made a point to see her, and was amazed at her progress. Right before Abigail was discharged home, she ran up, hugged me, and said, “Thank you.” Those are the types of moments that make me and my wonderful co-workers on the transport team love what we do.

The Mazzolas are an amazing family. They were always at their daughter’s bedside, and have even done some amazing things to pay it forward, raising money for other patients in the hospital. It’s such an incredible thing to know they went through such a traumatic life experience with their daughter, and because of the care that was provided at St Louis Children’s Hospital, they want to turn their experience around and help others.

Working on the transport team, we see families at some of their most vulnerable times. We are sent to pick up children who have suffered a traumatic event of some sort, whether an accident, relapse in a disease, or something unexpected. It reminds me daily that anything can happen at any time, and definitely helps remind me to be thankful that my daughter has so far been healthy. I can’t help but think about how blessed most children are and, more importantly, how things can change in a second.

Abigail’s mother, Erin, recently wrote about the impact Tiffany and the rest of the transport team had on her family:

“One of the transport team members, Tiffany, made it a point to visit Abigail the entire time we were in Children’s.  She had told me that she had a 3-year-old daughter herself and I think was alarmed at our story.  In a way, I think her visits helped her to heal as well, and to close the chapter on her book that everything was going to turn out ok.  I think these people are the ones that are so easily forgotten, but in a way, they are the ones that take you to safety.”

Today, Abigail is doing well. She recently graduated from kindergarten, danced in a recital, and caught a fish with her dad.Today, Abigail is doing well. She recently graduated form kindergarten, participated in a dance recital, and had a successful fishing outing with her dad!

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