Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Volunteering gets personal at HSC

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Betsy Brandt describes herself as a stay-at-home mom who is never at home.

The mother of two now-grown children, Jason, 21 and Terri, 19, she keeps herself busy volunteering at Health Sciences Centre. The reason she volunteers at HSC has deep roots not only in her faith but also in the death of her eldest son, Morley, 17 years ago at the tender age of six.

"Nineteen years ago, my eldest son Morley [who was four years old at the time] was diagnosed with a kidney disease," says Brandt.

Morley received a kidney transplant from his father, but complications set in and the kidney had to be removed.

"They did further testing at that point and he was diagnosed with a very complicated metabolic disease which at that time had never really been diagnosed before -- it didn't even have a name. He became diabetic. Two years after his initial diagnosis, he passed away."

Morley's medical condition meant Brandt and her family spent a lot of time at the Children's Hospital at HSC. "He was on dialysis, tube feeding, a long list of medications, high blood pressure, you name it," says Brandt. "I was trained to look after him at home, but when things became unstable he came back to the hospital, and the nursing staff was amazing."

That is why Brandt decided to begin volunteering one day a week at HSC four years ago, when her daughter started high school. "The hospital was a real place of security for me and my family back then -- I wanted to give something back to them," says Brandt. "They were there for us as a family. I could bring my other two babies in, and the nurses just poured themselves out for us as a family."

Brandt now spends Friday mornings working as a cashier at the gift shop and Friday afternoons at the Children's Hospital. She cleans the family kitchen on the ward and brings in snacks for families of sick children.

"I can't fix the hurt, but it's something I can do for them," says Brandt. She also reads to children, sometimes holds them, and talks with parents going through similar situations to which she can very much relate.

"I find that parents often just need someone to listen. I can give them a listening ear, I can do that," says Brandt.

"Volunteers like Betsy play an integral role in the daily operations of HSC," says Evelyn Casey, manager of volunteer services at HSC. Casey says HSC is looking for volunteers available to give of their time from Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., in roles such as hospital ambassador, greeting patients and families and helping them find their way around.

"Oftentimes, patients, families come into this big building already feeling a bit anxious, and it's nice to find a friendly face to help them out."

For Brandt, volunteering at HSC has been both rewarding and personal. "Even though Morley's death was very difficult, I have chosen not to become bitter about it," says Brandt.

She says her abiding faith has given her hope. "I know that death separates us temporarily but there is hope that I will see my son again someday. I've left a piece of my heart here at the hospital, so for me to come back here again, this is my way of giving back. I really feel like this is where I am supposed to be."

To learn more about volunteering at HSC, visit www.hsc.mb.ca/volunteers .

If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn at carolynshimmin@gmail.com .

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2012 B2

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