St. David's HealthCare - April 17, 2016
by Live Healthy Austin

This week, I had the pleasure of spending a couple of hours with several volunteers at St. David’s Medical Center. This is Volunteer Appreciation Week, and I wanted to celebrate it by getting to know these philanthropic individuals a little better and learn why they choose to generously give their valuable time to our hospital. At St. David’s Medical Center, we are incredibly grateful to our volunteers because we truly depend on them to fulfill important roles within the hospital. From rocking babies in our neonatal intensive care unit to assisting with admissions or discharge processes, our volunteers are critical to helping us provide exceptional care to our patients and their loved ones.

Meet Joiesah (pronounced Joysa) Sunga, a recent graduate of the University of Texas Neurobiology program and volunteer for St. David’s Neuroscience and Spine Institute. Joiesah, whose name is a lovely combination of her parents’ names (Joey and Sally), began volunteering in our gift shop 4 ½ years ago as a freshman. As a recipient of the St. David’s Foundation Neal Kocurek Scholarship, she was matched with a St. David’s mentor, who encouraged her to spend some time in the hospital. She has impressed her leaders at St. David’s throughout her many experiences in the hospital, helping out on nursing floors, completely revamping our student volunteer interview process, and finally assisting with neuroscience research studies. During her tenure, she has served as a volunteer team lead and was elected as the chair of our student advisory committee from 2012-2015. Her deep commitment to the hospital is remarkable. Joiesah says she has gained countless friendships and now enjoys mentoring new student volunteers. Her professionalism and excellent customer service, which she attributes to her experiences at St. David’s, simply radiate from her demeanor. Joiesah is back in school taking courses to become a nurse and aspires to eventually become a physician. I have no doubt she will achieve her ambitious goals.

Sue Ann Chandler, a volunteer at St. David’s Medical Center for nearly 5 years, truly epitomizes what it means to have a servant’s heart. After a successful 40-year career managing statewide rehabilitation programs for the blind, Sue Ann simply could not sit still and knew that giving her time to St. David’s would allow her to be close to sweet babies. She freely gives love, attention and gentle care every week to our littlest patients in the newborn nursery. Even after changing hundreds of diapers, Sue Ann is still totally in awe of these hours-old, tiny babies. She describes their curiosity and wonder like it’s nourishment for her soul, and says her work in our nursery has become addictive it is so magical. Aside from her time caring for newborns, Sue Ann assists our physicians and nurses with numerous tasks. The staff has welcomed her as a vital member of the team, which she describes as amazing, fulfilling her desire to work alongside people achieving a greater purpose. In addition to her time at St. David’s, she also volunteers for Art from the Streets, a free and open art studio that serves the homeless community. Even before she retired, she always made time to volunteer, serving as a refugee mentor during the Tibetan Resettlement Project and as a mediator in juvenile court. She says her abundance of energy (even drinking decaf) will allow her to volunteer for the rest of her life, and we look forward to many more years with Sue Ann at St. David’s Medical Center.

Ashley Hayes, a freshman at the University of Texas, began volunteering with us in January when she needed an escape from school. She is 1 of 8 children in her family, and she says living with only one roommate in college has taken some adjustment. Recently accepted into the nursing honors program, Ashley felt like she could fulfill her dream of working in a hospital and get the social interaction she craved by becoming a volunteer for St. David’s Medical Center. She spends Monday mornings here, discharging patients, which she describes as the energizing boost she needs to start the week off on the right foot. Ashley realized at a young age she wanted to work in healthcare when she cared for her very sick grandparents. They were admitted to hospice care her senior year of high school, and while it was a sad experience, she recalls feeling strong enough to handle the pain and blessed to have been present during that beautiful phase of their lives. Ashley has also volunteered at a nursing home, and through these experiences has strongly determined that her calling is to be a nurse. She truly values the time she is able to spend with our patients and appreciates how caring for the sick has taught her to show respect for everyone, regardless of social or life status. St. David’s will be blessed if this young lady spends her career caring for our patients.

Mitchell Telles, a biochemistry student at the University of Texas, began volunteering at St. David’s Medical Center in January, 2016. He learned of the opportunity through his work as the webmaster and publicity chair for the Longhorn Pre-Pharmacy Association. Mitchell is still undecided if he would like to be a pharmacist or if he wants to work in pharmacology research, but he knew volunteering here would give him great opportunity to learn more about the field. He describes his work in the freshman research initiative, studying super molecular sensors, with such astute clinical understanding that I am certain he will be successful regardless of his final career choice. Mitchell spends his time at St. David’s discharging patients, which he says he loves because of the interaction with so many people. He will soon move into our pharmacy department and he is excited to learn more about the field.

Michael Poliner began giving his time to St. David’s Medical Center in the summer of 2013. He volunteers here on and off depending on his workload at the University of Texas, where he is taking prerequisite courses for medical school. He admits to spreading himself a bit too thin, but clearly does so with a good heart and a habit of saying yes to everything. Even with the crazy workload of applying for medical school, serving on the UT Student Health Advisory Committee, and mentoring students with disabilities in Best Buddies, Michael still finds time to volunteer at St. David’s Medical Center, discharging patients. An extrovert to the core, he absolutely loves being around people. With a love of science and the human aspect of caring for others, he knows without a doubt that he wants to become a doctor. After spending a day with one of our vascular surgeons, he is more excited than ever at the prospect of becoming a surgeon. We hope to have a few more months with Michael before he begins his next adventure in medical school. Perhaps he’ll be back to share his talents with us again.

After her husband suffered a heart attack 13 years ago, Julie Zersen read that St. David’s Medical Center was in need of volunteers in her church bulletin. Her husband’s life had just been saved by the physicians and nurses at St. David’s, and she felt a strong calling to give back. Julie enjoyed a successful career in education as an elementary school teacher and adult educator. She was the director of continuing education at Concordia University of Wisconsin where she developed a distance learning program for parish nurses while completing her master’s degree in Administrative Leadership and Adult Education. Upon moving to Texas, she provided continuing education for parish nurses in the Lutheran Church.

My last interview was with an old friend. Velma Brady worked at St. David’s Medical Center for 22 years in Administration. After only one short year into her retirement, she came back to help us 2 days a week in our Breast Center where she helps women get comfortable and prepared for their procedures. As an executive assistant during her career with St. David’s, she attended all medical staff department meetings so she hardly goes a few feet down the hall without a hug from one of our physicians. Velma is probably one of the most humble women I’ve ever known, and when asked to describe her work with St. David’s, she instead affectionately recalls stories of her former boss, Reverend Chuck Meyer. She truly admired his work with death and grief counseling, sharing stories of his legacy as a pillar of our hospital. She feels very connected to this hospital, it’s like home to her, and she enjoys spending her time with our patients and employees. Velma developed a deep loyalty to St. David’s during her tenure as Reverend Meyer’s assistant, and we are blessed she continues to give back through her volunteerism.

This week, and every week, we offer our sincere appreciation for the amazing people who generously give their time to St. David’s Medical Center. We are honored to serve our patients alongside these incredibly intelligent, caring and passionate humanitarians.