Therapy dog, once abandoned and malnourished, is now one of MUSC's Health Care Heroes
It’s a night dedicated to heroes — not the caped crusading kind — the real-life kind. The kind who save lives. Prolong lives. Add quality to lives. Health care heroes who show up to work every day with purpose and passion and the determination to change the lives of others for the better, regardless of what is happening in their own. Regardless of the fact that the people they care for are nearly always strangers — at least at first. The kind of heroes with a calling, not just a job.
And so they are celebrated. Every year, the Charleston Regional Business Journal honors these extraordinary community health care heroes. The journal held this year’s event on Nov. 28 at the Francis Marion Hotel. With local news anchor Dean Stephens again manning the podium, there was lots of laughter, and tears, accompanied by heart-meltingly cute dogs, humble recipients and stories that touched the heart.
The journal solicits nominations from the health care community in nine categories. In addition to health care provides, it includes categories such as researcher, first responder and construction engineer. This year, MUSC Health had heroes in five categories: health care professional, nurse, physician, volunteer, and therapy/ service animals.
Patrick Cawley, M.D., CEO of MUSC Health and vice president of Health Affairs, University, spoke at the event and presented plaques to honorees. “Heroes are the ones who always manage to get it done, regardless of the hurdles they face.” The best of the best, he called them.
When asked after the event why this distinction is so special, he paused. “We have so many heroes among us. I am inordinately fortunate in that every year, I see our people honored for the countless compassionate, courageous and unwavering acts they perform — not only day in and day out, but year after year year — for our patients, our community, our state. And while we at MUSC see these heroics — small and large — on a daily basis, on one special night every year, our people shine brightly for the entire community to see and thank for their heroic efforts.”
Health Care Professional: Jessica Bullington, program specialist in palliative care
Stephens explained to guests at the Health Care Heroes event that Jess Bullington is a registered nurse who joined the palliative care team at MUSC Health, because she’s passionate about improving the lives of those suffering with serious illnesses. And she is doing just that, he added.
“She recently initiated a complementary therapy program in which volunteers administer a variety of pain relief modalities, such as acupuncture and massage, to promote healing and reduce suffering among patients,” Stephens said.
“It took a year to get the program operational, but Jess never wavered in her persistence. The result? One patient recently called the massage a godsend. Says a coworker about this initiative, ‘It is truly the pinnacle of hard work that was above and beyond what was required, making a difference in patients’ lives.’”
But Bullington refused to take the credit, making it more about her patients and the volunteers. “I love working in palliative care, supporting patients and their families coping with serious illness. Being honored for the work I have done with these patients is something I will treasure always. My work would be impossible without the contributions of the MUSC volunteers who donate their time and skills to make complementary therapies available for free to our patients.”
Nurse: Laura Barlow, clinical staff nurse leader
Stephens also shared Laura Barlow’s story from her nomination, which had the audience in tears. “A young man came to the intensive care unit on the verge of death from cancer. He and his wife shared their concerns for their four children, particularly their youngest daughter, who turned 5 the next day. That’s when Laura Barlow sprang into action,” he read.
Laura Barlow with Dr. Patrick Cawley
“She and the night crew transformed common hospital equipment into pink and purple flowers, leis, streamers and even a princess crown. When the family arrived the next morning, the little girl’s face lit up with joy, and the family was able to forget for a few hours the unspeakable tragedy confronting them. That evening, with his daughter asleep at his feet, the patient slipped away peacefully. Barlow gave that family a gift that will be with them their entire lives.”
Physician: Joshua Lipschutz, M.D., professor of medicine and the Arthur V. Williams Chair in Nephrology
At any given time, you could hear director of the MUSC Division of Nephrology Joshua Lipschutz referred to as Dr. Lipschutz or Col. Lipschutz — his rank in the S.C. Army National Guard. But across the board, people refer to him as warm, dedicated, determined and deserving of being a Health Care Hero.
While he’d always wanted to serve his country, after 9/11, Lipschutz joined the military as a doctor. Deeply wanting to help, it was something he felt compelled to do, he said. During his four deployments, twice to active war zones, he cared for thousands of troops. Passionate about improving the lives of those who served their country, Lipschutz also treats veterans at the Ralph H. Johnson VA Center.
Dr. Joshua Lipschutz and Dr. Patrick Cawley
A devoted kidney specialist and renowned researcher, Lipschutz is never idle. In the lab he established at MUSC, he and his collaborators continue their pioneering polycystic kidney disease work. And in addition to his clinical, research and National Guard responsibilities, he lectures around the globe on the subject of PKD, a leading cause of kidney failure. So how in the world does he get it all done? Hard work, persistence and a good sense of humor, he said.
Five years ago, when he was recruited from University of Pennsylvania to join MUSC, he wasn’t quite sure what to expect. “I hadn’t spent any time in the South, except for officer basic and pre-deployment military training, prior to my tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had heard of ‘Southern hospitality,’ and, after coming to Charleston, I can confirm that it exists. Everyone at MUSC, and indeed in Charleston, has been so welcoming to my family and me, which we have really appreciated. I have tried to pay that forward, which is why receiving the honor was so rewarding.”
Volunteer: Sandy Bennett, volunteer at MUSC Children’s Health
Another honoree, Sandy Bennett, described her role as rewarding as well. “Being the volunteer Health Care Hero for 2018 is an immense honor and joy for me,” the MUSC Children’s Health volunteer said. “I adore what I can do for the children and their parents, no matter how small, bringing a little comfort and fun means everything.”
Volunteering her time with children was natural for Sandy Bennett, her nomination read. After all, she was a schoolteacher for 35 years. Stephens read just a handful of the countless things Bennett has done that made her stand out as a health care volunteer.
“Bennett began her service in the Born to Read program and now assists nurses in a variety of ways, including sitting with families during difficult times and playing with children to help create a positive memory of their experience. She began hosting meals to serve families who were staying inpatient and has begun to serve as a peer mentor for new volunteers,” Stephens read.
He explained that the staff says she has the utmost compassion for patients and families, and she never stops smiling. Bennett said she’s smiling, because the experience is so rewarding. “Volunteering with enthusiastic, selfless people brings me joy and satisfaction.”
Service/Therapy Animal: Reba – MUSC Health therapy dog
Sometimes the best therapists have tails and four legs. With soulful brown eyes and a gray muzzle of wisdom, the affectionate bluetick coonhound makes her way into patients’ rooms. They love to cuddle with sweet Reba, who has the ability to empathize with the patients and touch their lives.
Her handler, Don Austin, said she had a pretty rough time of it after giving birth to a litter of puppies. She was abandoned and malnourished when he rescued her. But now, he said, Reba rescues others who are in pain or suffering heartache.
Reba and Austin are staples at MUSC, listening to people’s hopes and fears. “Dogs have a calming effect on people and are able to open doors of communication not available through other means,” Austin said. Opening those doors is work they both seem to love.
Receiving this honor means the world to Austin. “It was an honor to represent MUSC at this prestigious event,” he said. “Reba and I don’t do this job for the glory, but because we love what we do. However, it was nice to be recognized and get to tell our story. This was a wonderful conduit for exposing the masses to the work that therapy dogs do every day.”
Cawley said these Health Care Heroes demonstrate the enterprise values of compassion, collaboration, respect, integrity and innovation.
“As I always say, leading health innovation means that MUSC is out there in front of everyone else, leading everyone in clinical care, research and education. And it’s through our people that we accomplish this. We can have the greatest technology, cutting–edge equipment, the latest drugs, but without our dedicated care team — our shining stars who care and deliver and then go above and beyond — those things don’t make a difference. Leading health innovations for the lives we touch is not just something we say. It’s how we live. Our health care heroes embody that vision every day.”
Health Care Heroes selected for 2018 awards (Charleston Regional Business Journal, Oct. 4, 2018)
These heroes are no longer unsung (MUSC Catalyst News, Dec. 8, 2017)
Suggest a story to MUSC Catalyst News
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