Grateful ex-patient volunteers

October 22, 2006|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

Stan Williams was hospitalized in 2000 at Harford Memorial Hospital with Legionnaires' disease -- a bacterial pneumonia caused by an infection from a contaminated air conditioner, cooling towers or stagnant water supplies -- and spent 20 days in a coma.

His family was told repeatedly that he wasn't going to wake up. When he did, the hospital staff thought it was a miracle. He attributes his recovery to the care he received at the hospital.

Although he recovered from the coma, the illness left him unable to feel his feet at times, rendering him permanently disabled and unable to return to work as a firefighter. "You don't want to be on the third floor of a burning building and not be able to feel your way around," Williams said.

The disability forced the 60-year-old to retire early, and he decided to spend his time showing his appreciation to the hospital by volunteering three days a week. Mostly, he visits patients in their rooms and lends an ear or provides comfort at their bedside.

"What I do is go visit new patients, mostly elderly ones who are scared ... that they are going to die," he said. "I go in and chat with them for a few minutes, or I have lunch with them.

"Old people have a lot to say and they know a lot, but oftentimes they are forgotten, or they have no family to visit them, so I do it. I stay with them until they are comfortable."

The nurses call him the "Miracle Man" -- when they get patients who are critically ill, they call on him to try to help calm the fears of the family, even the patients.

"Stan was not supposed to survive," said registered nurse Judy Billings. "But he did. He's such a compassionate man. His personality belies his size -- he's about 6 feet 4. We call on him to talk to the families of patients and give them hope. Even though he was sick in 2000, I still get emotional thinking about it."

Billings said he goes into the ward and asks whether anyone needs him; they stop him then or call upon him to give a patient's family needed pointers.

"If you haven't been through a serious illness, it's hard to understand what they are going through," said Billings. "When our patients' families are struggling, Stan is always eager to do anything."

Lisa Jennings, the director of guest services at the hospital, said Williams is amazing.

"When Stan was hospitalized, he bonded with the entire hospital team that worked with him," she said. "He always makes a positive difference by being outstanding, warm and energetic."

Jennings said what stands out most about Williams is his dedication to his volunteer work:

"He comes to the hospital on his scheduled days and he visits the patients admitted the prior day. Then he visits all the other patients in the facility. He's an ambassador [for] the hospital."

When he isn't at the hospital, he's volunteering aboard the skipjack Martha Lewis as a crew member or he's on the football field as a volunteer assistant coach at John Carroll High School. According to Tim Perry, defensive coordinator and assistant athletic director at John Carroll, Williams is an invaluable part of the coaching staff.

"He has been with us seven years, and his job is to work with our kickers," said Perry. "He's so good with them. He knows his stuff, and he's tough with them. But the thing he does the most for the team is keep us all loose.

"For example, he'll come down on the sidelines during a game when I am looking pensive and ask me if I want to go six rounds. I'll tell him, `Yes, let's do it now,' and he'll get a look and say, `Ahhh, maybe later.' And I smile."

Williams said it's much different working with kids on the field than patients in a hospital:

"For one thing, you never know what will come out of the kid's mouth. Coaching is almost like being a parent. With the patients, I lend a helping ear and give them someone to talk to. I just like to help when I can. I don't miss being a firefighter. It would just get in the way of my volunteering."

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