In honor of National Volunteer Week, Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital would like to recognize the many people who selflessly give of themselves to help provide high-quality care for patients and their families.
Volunteers are an integral part of the patient experience at the Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center Campus. Generously sacrificing time out of their own lives to help others in need, they work in many capacities across the Campus, from helping navigate visitors through the hospital, to providing solace for families during difficult times.
“We are so grateful for the many people who choose to spend their free time making a difference in other peoples’ lives,” said Kristen Wilkerson, manager of volunteer services at Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital. “Their dedication is inspiring, and plays an integral role in helping ensure that our patients and their loved ones feel comfortable and welcome during their time with us. These special individuals help advance Memorial Hermann’s commitment to provide personalized, compassionate care to all who come through our doors.”
National Volunteer Week, which is commemorated this year from April 10 to April 16, was established in 1974 by President Richard Nixon to celebrate volunteers across the U.S. In the years since, the mission has expanded to become an annual nationwide push to urge more people to volunteer in their communities.
Every year, scores of people sign up to help out in a variety of roles across the Campus, including playing games and reading books with pediatric patients at Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital to help take their minds off their hospital stay; restocking supplies, visiting family members and assessing patients’ needs at Memorial Hermann Texas Trauma Institute; or working at information desks to help guests find patient rooms and other locations on Campus.
Volunteers enlist for a variety of reasons, but some of the most unique volunteers are the scores of former patients who have returned to help guide and comfort patients experiencing a similar trauma or disease.
More than 17 years ago, a horrific blaze tore through Justina Page’s home while she, her husband, and her six boys were asleep inside. The family awoke in the middle of the night to find the house engulfed in flames.
Justina and her husband worked quickly to rescue the boys, but Justina and one of her sons were badly burned in the process. Her last memory was the ambulance ride, the excruciating pain of the burns, her son’s howls of terror, and then darkness as she slipped into a coma, which lasted six weeks. When she awoke in the John S. Dunn Burn Center at the Texas Trauma Institute, she was told that her injured son had survived, but another had died, trapped inside the burning house. He was just shy of his second birthday. She had missed his funeral.
The tragedy that would’ve crushed some people instead gave Page a stronger resolve than ever before to help others. During her extended stay at the burn center, a volunteer named Gary Alley stopped by her room every week to see her.
“He would come every Saturday to visit me,” she said. “He would come even when I wasn’t awake yet. I thought that was so beautiful. I thought: When I get out of here, I’m going to pay it forward and make sure everybody has somebody in their corner, at least one person, to help them pull through.”
Page’s severe burns required a long and arduous recovery, but within two years of leaving the burn unit, she was strong enough to return, and she’s remained a volunteer for more than a decade since. She now leads John S. Dunn Burn Center Support Group at the Institute and regularly visits with other burn patients to share her story and offer a compassionate ear.
“I think my biggest impact has been the hope factor,” she said. “When I meet with burn victims, they see the scarring from the burns on my arms and the partial amputation on my right hand, and they know that I can understand what they are going through. They see me and they begin to believe again. A lot of them call me the ‘Hope Angel.’ I cried the first time I heard that.”
Page, who is now an author, speaker and lyricist, said volunteering has been a therapeutic experience that helped her cope with the unspeakable tragedy of losing a child, and she encourages others to consider the rewards they could reap from the process.
“A lot of people don’t volunteer because they don’t feel like they have anything to offer, but everyone has something to give to another human being,” she said. “It doesn’t always have to be this big dramatic experience. It can be a smile, a cup of water, basic kindness shared from one human to another. There’s no price on that.