“My interest in volunteering at Primary Children’s came from my experience of being a patient,” she said. “I was always really grateful for the friends who would come to play with me and entertain me. It was a nice switch from all the nurses, doctors, and needles.”
Like all volunteers at Primary Children’s, each have their own reason for why they became volunteers. Some want to give back to the community, others want to gain experience working with patients in a medical environment, and some were once patients at the hospital.
Volunteers that have been patients bring a unique perspective and a personal understanding. Often times these volunteers have deeper empathy for the patients, and find it easier to connect.
Bryant Sheppard, had his first experiences at Primary Children’s as an infant with a form of eye cancer and returned as a teenager with bone cancer. Now as a college student at University of Utah, Bryant returned to Primary Children’s more than a year ago to become a Patient/Family Liaison volunteer. He talks with newly admitted families and patients about the hospital and helps provide a listening ear for those who may need someone to talk to.
“I have an attachment to Primary Children’s from having been a patient practically my whole life here, and it’s a familiar and comfortable environment for me,” Bryant said. “It’s also a really fun atmosphere to be in.”
Matt Burns, a Kids Crew volunteer for more than three years, is most recognized around Primary Children’s from his appearances on the Wednesday weekly Bingo broadcast, and the funny hats he wears during his volunteer shift. Matt has also spent much of his life in and out of hospitals. Matt was a patient at Primary Children’s as an infant and then again last year for a heart condition.
“I know what it’s like on the other side of the bed,” Matt said. “I volunteer to have fun, to make kids happy, and make things a little more special for them while they are here. I like to wear the different hats each week just to get a smile. You never know when someone is going through a tough time.”
During his last visit as a patient, Matt said, “I felt like I was treated with extra care. Whenever I went somewhere new in the hospital they would say, ‘This is OUR patient Matt and he volunteers here.’ It seemed like I was treated like I was one of their own.”
Additionally, others with whom he volunteers, came to visit him, and other staff who knew him as a volunteer checked in on him. Now as a volunteer, Matt wants to make sure that he does whatever he can to make a difference in a child’s life.
“My goal is to make a difference, even if it’s making myself look weird or wearing a funny hat. The goal is making patients and even staff smile,” Matt said, adding that he noticed how much of a difference it made to others when he walks down a hall wearing a funny hat.
Bryant, who spent so much time in the hospital, understands what both the patients and their families may be going through.
“As a liaison, and because of my own personal experiences in the Immuno Compromised Services Unit, I know a lot of what they are going through, and I’ve been through the same processes they’re going through. When people are having a hard time, I can suggest things that might help, or I can talk to them and try to explain things in a way they can understand.”
Now Bryant’s cancer has returned, and he is again a patient at Primary Children’s. He also has experienced a little extra attention from volunteers and staff who know him as a volunteer.
“The nurses and Kids Crew volunteers have been coming in and pranking me with things.” The last prank was decorating his room with Justin Bieber posters. Another time it was decorated with “High School Musical” after staff found out it wasn’t his favorite movie.
Kristi says, “knowing the difference the other volunteers made in my stay inspired me to want to be like them, and be a positive part of the hospital scene. My mom and I often find ourselves talking about one of the really sweet volunteers (Jim Weeks) who spent time with me while I was in the ICU. We got a kick out of the fact that he was even willing to paint my toe nails! He still volunteers here, today!”
All our volunteers agree, that patients seem to be able to go through a lot and still come out smiling.
“It surprises me how happy they are despite being in pain,” Matt said. “There are times when I’m surprised when a patient wants a visit.” And it’s during those times when these volunteers work to make a difference.