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4/18/12blog post

the heart of a volunteer

Written by Susan Koller, a Dayton Children’s volunteer

Three and a half years ago when I was looking for a place to volunteer, I realized there was one perfect match — Dayton Children’s. After all, my story started there almost 30 years ago.

I was born six weeks premature on June 23, 1982, at Miami Valley Hospital. Weighing just over four pounds, doctors worried that I might not live. In fact, my dad used to tell the story that I was baptized hours after I was born because no one knew if I would make it through the day. My only chance was to be treated at Dayton Children’s.

I spent over three weeks in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Of course, I don’t have memories from that time, but my mom does. She remembers pumping breast milk and taking it to me. She also remembers how caring the nurses and staff members were.

At Children’s, I was diagnosed with Respiratory Distress Syndrome. My organs were not getting enough oxygen. I was put on a ventilator and given antibiotics. Neither one of those treatments worked. So doctors tried a risky procedure known as a double-volume blood exchange.

Basically they pumped out my blood and gave me all new blood. That decision saved my life, but I still have cerebral palsy. Today I use an electric wheelchair. But my disability has not stopped me from leading a wonderful life — a life I owe to Dayton Children’s.

Growing up, I did the same things that my friends and two older brothers did. I took swimming lessons and had sleepovers. I went to school and then to Wright State University, where I earned degrees in Mass Communication and Public Administration. I worked for a while doing publicity for a graphic novel publisher, but lost my job when the company was restructured.

I knew I wanted to stay busy while looking for another job, which is what led me to volunteering — bringing my life full circle, back to Children’s.

I volunteer every Wednesday morning as a greeter at the outpatient information desk. The staff are just as friendly and kind as my mom found them so many years ago. I still remember my first day when Tony Hill took me to the volunteer office. He gave me a wonderful first impression of Children’s.

I love all the interesting people I have met. I look forward to seeing my fellow outpatient volunteers — Karron, John, and Earl. I have such a good time working with them. Above all, I love interacting with patients and their families.

I get to see how saying “have a good day” can brighten someone’s day or how just simply saying “hi” to a child can make him or her a little less nervous.

I get particular joy out of seeing kids who have disabilities like mine come in for a visit. I can tell when a child has just gotten his or her first electric wheelchair. I recognize the excitement in their eyes; I felt the same way.

I love learning how things have changed for children with disabilities. When I was young, walkers only came in a boring silver color. I see kids with bright green walkers. I have to admit that sometimes I wish I had had color choices.

I hope that when the kids and their parents see me volunteering that they will realize that there is a great life beyond all the therapies and doctor visits. Dayton Children’s helped make me living proof of that.

Have you volunteered at Dayton Children’s? What inspired you to do so and what has been your favorite part? Leave a comment or go to www.justrightforkids.org and share your story!