Did You Know?

Fall 2015

900 volunteers, 90 programs, 80,000 hours each year

From bears to bagpipes, LHSC volunteers bring their enthusiasm, passion and magic to our patients. Meet three of our volunteers and click on the names to read their stories below:

Volunteer Sue VanDuynhoven, Ventriloquist

Boo Bear is ready for his interview. Sporting a snazzy button up vest, now unbuttoned, he looks at his furry tummy and then up with a concerned tilt to his head. “I don’t have a belly button,” he says. “Can I have one of yours?”

With a quick laugh, ventriloquist and LHSC volunteer Sue VanDuynhoven says that her puppet prefers an ‘inny’ but that there are none to spare at the hospital.

Sue has been bringing her puppets to patients and their families at LHSC’s Children’s Hospital for the past 12 years as an LHSC volunteer.  She does both one-on-one and group interactions and usually takes one or two puppets from her collection of 45 small, unruly friends, as she calls them.

“I believe I was born to do this. My childhood suited me to do this work with children and that's why it's important to me,” says Sue. She describes her childhood as dark and pretty frightening. At the age of 10 she watched The Sound of Music and saw a world filled with love and light, and strived to find that in her own life.

“I found that world as an adult.  I knew that I would be a ventriloquist from a very young age. I have been making things talk since I was a small child, but I needed to heal from my childhood before I could perform for other people,” says Sue. “It has been a lifelong passion to bring light into darkness for others who are suffering, especially children.”

As a professional ventriloquist, Sue performs across Ontario and beyond, and books her shows often a year in advance. Her volunteer work at LHSC is scheduled month by month depending on her professional performance schedule.

Voicing two characters at a time requires a lot of air and brain work, and Sue finds that her voice can get tired after two to three hours with the children. She warms up with tongue twisters to hone the tongue, and by reciting the alphabet in rhythmic patterns to work on word speed.

For professional performances she rehearses the scripts she will use --she has written 46, one for each puppet and Grandpa has two -- as well as the 300 songs in her catalogue. Rehearsal ensures both long and short term memory of the dialogue.

Her volunteer work with children, on the other hand, is essentially improv theatre, which is harder and more fun at the same time, she says.

 “You have to open your heart and soul, see the child, see the room, and open yourself completely. You invest your entire soul,” says Sue. “”There are also rules I impose on myself. For example, I try not to talk too loud in consideration of other children in the adjoining rooms. There are some things I don’t talk about such as sports, swimming, camping, which they may not be able to do for a long time. And I always keep an eye out for doctors or nurses who may need to work with the child while I step out of the room for a moment.”

Sue has been working with some patients for years and has established strong bonds with the kids and their families.

“All the children are incredible, and they have a huge part in my heart. I try to give them some fun and laughter, and help them forget their illness for a while. Joy breeds hope, and hope helps them to survive and helps their parents to survive this hard time in their lives,” says Sue.

“Parents are frequently in more fear than the child because they have a greater understanding of the illness and the prognosis. Often I will include the parents after the child is laughing and relaxed, to give the whole family a break, to lighten part of their day.”

Sue volunteers at Children’s Hospital under Child Life Services. When she is volunteering with seriously ill children, Sue says that the support and advice of Child Life and the LHSC Volunteer Office have helped her to handle the grief and sadness for the children that sometimes comes with doing this work.

And an important outcome of the experience for children is that some will tell the puppet things that they haven’t told adults or their doctors.

“They tell the puppet what happened, or about what they are going through, they get it off their chest, and then they go back to playing and laughing with the puppet,” says Sue.

“There have been so many moments that have stopped my heart. As an artist I have been given an art form to bring joy into people’s lives, and it is a privilege to be able to do that. It is wonderful to work with these children.”

It is why she volunteers.

“I want to bring light into the world. When you help other people it does magic for the soul. By bringing children joy, I get double joy back. It is incredibly rewarding.”

Volunteer Michael Brown, Bagpiper

From the London Olympic Games in 2012 to the halls of London Health Sciences Centre, Michael Brown plays the bagpipes to appreciative audiences.

The 22-year-old LHSC volunteer has been bringing his “small pipes”-- bagpipes that are smaller, quieter and used primarily indoors – to the Sub Acute Medicine Unit (SAMU) and Acute Care for the Elderly (ACE) unit for well over a year.

On a sunny Thursday afternoon, Michael takes his bagpipes to a wing of the SAMU where several patients in wheelchairs are gathered around the television.

“Something memorable happens every time I’m here,” says Michael. “Last week a patient’s family member took my hand and kissed it. I never would have expected that.”

The patients in the SAMU turn their attention to Michael as he sets down his water and brings his pipes up to playing position.  He asks for requests and the first is Mull of Kintyre.  As he plays the familiar tune there is some gentle joshing amongst the patients about who is up to dancing a jig.

The music fills the hallway and more patients come from their rooms to join in. A staff member stops by to help one of the patients throw a light jacket over her shoulders. Talk turns to haggis and Michael plays My Love She’s but a Lassie Yet, the tune a piper plays to pipe in the haggis on Robbie Burns Day.

Each song garners applause and comments. “Absolutely perfect” and “You could never play enough.”

Michael began volunteering at LHSC while in third year university, and has held a number of volunteer positions before Volunteer Services approached him about the opportunity to play music for patients.

He started to learn bagpipes in Grade 6, “when it was definitely not the cool instrument,” says Michael. But his love for the music and the instrument has taken him from Paris to Holland for the 65th anniversary of liberation of the Netherlands, from playing amphitheaters in London, England during the Olympics to busking on Richmond Row in London, Canada.

In the SAMU a hush falls over the audience as Michael winds down his 20-minute set with the Maple Leaf Forever and Amazing Grace.

“I grew up with Amazing Grace. You would hear it at weddings and at christenings,” says one patient. “It’s beautiful and brings tears to many people’s eyes.”

 And then the teasing begins. Some of the patients already know Michael from previous visits, and ask if he’s going back to school in the fall.

 Indeed he is. The Western grad will be packing up his pipes and heading over to Ireland to study medicine at the University of Limerick.

 “All the girls will be after you,” says one patient with a distinct Irish lilt and a mischievous grin. “They love Canadians.”

Jorge Georgakopoulos, VISIT volunteer

Volunteering at London Health Sciences Centre has inspired Jorge Georgakopoulos as he moves forward with his life and his career.

The 23-year-old university student applied to volunteer at LHSC four years ago while in his first year at Western.

“I wanted to do something that allowed me to escape my hectic class schedule and explore a potential career as a health-care professional,” says Jorge.

He has certainly taken advantage of the many volunteer opportunities offered through Volunteer Services at LHSC.

From his initial role as a volunteer guide, assisting visitors to LHSC with their directional inquiries, he transferred to the Perioperative Care waiting room where he helped patients find their way within the unit and acted as the liaise between families and operating room staff.

Then Jorge had the opportunity to volunteer for the Child Life inpatient program.

“I volunteered with the Child Life Specialists and my role was to entertain the children and come up with creative ways to make them smile whether it be playing video games, doing arts and crafts or simply going for a wheel-chair ride,” says Jorge. “The goal was to provide kids with an emotional escape from the hospital environment and give parents time to themselves for an hour or two.”

Jorge has also volunteered for the Child Life Parental Presence at Induction (PPI) Program, supporting the Child Life Specialist who cares for young children and their parents taking them through every step of the surgery process from registration to the OR.

“We are aiming to minimize the child’s stress and fear before surgery through this program,” says Jorge. “The Child Life team has seen significant differences between those who have gone through the program and those who have not.”

Even things such as knowing the location of the playroom prior to arriving on surgery day is important to the kids.

Now Jorge is volunteering with the “VISIT” program in the Surgical Care inpatient unit, providing social interaction for older patients who have completed surgery and are recovering in hospital.

“I go in each week and talk to the patients, one on one, and see how their day is going. It is a great opportunity for patients to express their feelings and receive companionship from the volunteer,” says Jorge.

“It was a learning curve on how to strike up a conversation. Sometimes patients don’t want to talk because they feel out of their comfort zone in a hospital setting. More often than not however, patients become comfortable enough to tell me stories about their life and family. The most rewarding aspect of the program is that I enter the room a stranger and leave feeling like I have known the patient for years.”

A few years ago, Jorge wanted to specialize in paediatrics. Now that he has been volunteering with older adults, he enjoys working with a broader demographic.

“I’m keeping an open mind. I have many years of study ahead to make that decision.”

Jorge began his first year of medicine at Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University in September and plans to continue his volunteer work with the VISIT program he helped implement at University Hospital.

“I am privileged to speak with patients and staff through volunteering,” says Jorge. “You get different experiences and are given the opportunity to meet people who will inspire you to do more with your career and with your life.” 

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Volunteer Michael Brown