One patient at the first Surgery on Sunday session at Saint Joseph Hospital (SJH) had waited a year and a half to have a diseased gallbladder removed.
“Can you imagine being sick for a year and a half?” asked Patty Brandenburg, RN, one of the volunteers who helped that day. “I can’t imagine being miserable for that long, and not being able to do a thing about it.”
Since Dr. Andy Moore started the Surgery on Sunday (SOS) program in 2005, thousands of free outpatient surgeries have been performed in donated space in the Lexington Surgery Center the third Sunday of every month. Patients are the working poor who have no health insurance. The need is great, and the waiting list for patients is long, so SJH is now offering its surgical space and supplies to add another Sunday to the SOS rotation – once a quarter to start. SJH is the first hospital to host the free program. March 13 was the first SOS day at SJH.
For Mike Kershaw, a registered nurse who serves as manager of central sterile processing for SJH, March 13 gave him his first SOS volunteer experience. “I don’t get to have a lot of patient contact anymore in my job,” he said. On March 13 “I pushed a patient back to surgery, and saw the smile of gratitude on his face. That was such a wonderful thing. It reminded me of why I became a nurse – to do God’s work; to help each other.”
Michele LaFave, SJH RN, has been a volunteer at the Lexington Surgery Center since SOS began. The first session at SJH “was very successful,” she said. “It was a very happy environment.”
Working for pay is a different experience, the nurse said.
At SOS, “We get more out of it than the patients do. You volunteer because you want to make a difference.” Sandi Karli, a SJH RN who has worked in surgery for 19 years, is the new SOS coordinator of volunteers for her hospital. SOS at SJH “was a very, very wonderful experience,” Karli said. “We had a wonderful outpouring of interest. We had exactly the right number of volunteers that day. We had a great turnout from Saint Joseph East (SJE). We took people who don’t work at our hospital and paired them with people who could show them the ropes here.”
The SJH Foundation donated the money for breakfast and lunch for the volunteers. There was plenty left to share with the patients’ families. That first SOS Sunday was a tribute to Cindy Kline, an operating room nurse who had volunteered faithfully for SOS at the Lexington Surgery Center until she died unexpectedly. A donation in her name helped pay for supplies.
“Her family ate lunch with us, which meant a lot to the staff,” according to SJH Director of Surgical Services Linda Watt. “We had put up a poster with a beautiful photo of her that greeted the staff that morning.”
Six surgeries were performed that Sunday: two diseased gallbladder removals, a hernia repair, two knee surgeries and one shoulder surgery. Dr. Ross Tekulve and Dr. Trevor Wilkes were the surgeons who volunteered their services. Dr. Phil Hall was the volunteer anesthesiologist. LaFave has tremendous respect for these physicians, she said.
“A lot of our physicians are on call night and day. For them to give up a free day, and time with their families, is huge. There’s also a financial sacrifice. There are a lot of unsung heroes in SOS.”
Laura Ebert, MSW, is the director of the SOS program. She is currently working on expanding SOS to other local hospitals. Dr. Moore, SOS founder, hopes the expansion to SJH will inspire other facilities to step up to the plate. He was excited that SJH was the first hospital to join the Lexington Surgery Center, especially since the hospital’s parent organization, Catholic Health Initiatives, provided seed money for the original program.
“This is giving the other hospitals a push to get their programs up and running,” Moore said.
Watt feels grateful to the patients, the families and the volunteers, she said.
“We all felt so privileged to have had this opportunity to assist those who would normally not get the care. The volunteers are especially grateful to Saint Joseph for allowing us to give this gift toward better health.” From now on, Kershaw intends to volunteer at every SJH SOS. “They would have to physically bar me from the building to keep me out,” the nurse said. “We should be thanking the patients. It’s a blessing to be able to serve them.”
Volunteers are not paid for their services. The following positions are needed: OR RNs, OR surgical techs, anesthesia techs, waiting room receptionist, escorts/transporters, NAs/SWANs, CSP techs, first assistants/PAs and pre-op/post-op/PACU staff.
To learn about the program, visit SurgeryOnSunday.org.