All told, Etha Hegar has logged nearly
25,000 hours at Texas Health Arlington Memorial Hospital, though not a second of it in the emergency room stitching up the 12-year- old skateboarder with the busted elbow.
She hasn’t performed a bypass surgery, poked a finger to draw blood or placed a caste on an arm or leg, either, although she has signed a few of them by invitation.
She has also calmed a frightened little girl about her upcoming surgery, informed a new doctor that, uh, sir, your office is that way, and made countless patients who hadn’t had a laugh all day have an awfully sizable one. (She’s known for her dry sense of humor.)
Few have been at Arlington Memorial longer
than Etha, who has spent half her life there. At age 90 and making her way with a walker, she doesn’t get around as speedily as she did when she began volunteering at the hospital in 1970. She came to Arlington in 1946 and remembers residents turning on porch lights to support the raising of the $250,000 down payment for the original 75-bed facility.
Etha was volunteering in November of 2007 when the hospital celebrated the grand opening of the five-story, $76 million Tom Vandergriff Surgical Tower that added 200,000 square feet, nearly 50 new beds and all sorts of state-of- the- art surgical suites.
“I remember them bringing on a lot more volunteers then, too,” says Etha.
Volunteer Services Manager Mary Jones wasn’t there then, but she can vouch for the boom in volunteers – the hospital utilizes the services of about 220. Some are University of Texas at Arlington students, others are Tarrant County Community College students, and a few are high schoolers with an eye on pre-med college majors. Most, though, are like Etha, a retiree who simply wants to give back – and, she quips, “get outta the house.”
“My kids were older, and I had the opportunity to actually get out and do something for someone else,” Etha says.
She was born in Mississippi
but came to Texas to live with the wife of her brother, who at the time was fighting in World War II and missing in action. When his death was confirmed, Etha headed out on her own, working at the library shelving books, among other duties. “I got married, had kids, worked,” Etha says. “I have always volunteered, even when my kids were younger. I was a Girl Scout leader. I thought volunteering for a hospital would be fun because there is always something happening and people are always coming in and out. And it helps.”
No one knows that better than Jones.
“The hospital couldn’t run without volunteers,” she says. “They save the employees time. It puts the hospital in position to give patients things they wouldn’t normally receive.”
Such as a personal escort. When visitors come into the hospital lobby, the first people they see, huddled around the information desks in their green vests and smiling faces, are senior volunteers who not only can help them get where they want to go, but can actually take them there. Jones says:
“They don’t just give directions and hope they find it. You have to remember that people who come to the hospital generally have anxiety, and volunteers are great at calming them while taking them where they need to go.”
At her peak, Etha was coming in to Memorial a few times a week. She recently cut her days to one, on Mondays, and works mostly in the mail and flower room where she makes sure patients are receiving their gifts. Don’t bother asking how long she’ll hang around. She’s not really sure, but as long as she can get to the hospital and get around on her walker, “I’ll be here,” she says.
“I just love people. What better place to love people than a hospital?”