For anyone who has not had the experience of volunteering, they don’t realize the emotional elation that it brings. Sometimes we hold back because of a lack of time or we're going through a rough time ourselves, like personal health issues. I can attest to the truth of that statement.
I was born with Hirschsprung’s disease, a condition where missing nerve cells in the large intestine prevented my digestive system to function. Consequently, I am fed by total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to prevent malnutrition, defecate into an ostomy bag attached to my abdomen, and catheterize to urinate four times a day. Having all of this medical equipment took me years to accept and learn how to take care of on my own.
Once I had my independence back, I wanted to give back to my community. I started by attending a local United Ostomy Associations of America support group and then attended their national conference where I met others who also had Hirschsprung’s. We were able to exchange stories which was so empowering and encouraging. After learning more about advocacy, I joined the Digestive Disease National Coalition and was involved in lobbying a bill needed for patients with digestive illness. It was there that I met many advocates and was inspired to join The Oley Foundation, an organization supporting patients on home IV nutrition and tube feeding. After several years of volunteering, I decided to create my own support group which I named, The Weston Ostomy Tube Feeding Group. Our group meets monthly (August through May) to discuss important issues regarding people living with an ostomy and patients on enteral and parenteral nutrition.
When I decided to help my local community, I went to the Jewish Community Center to knit hats for cancer patients. I hadn’t knitted since I was a little girl, but the ladies in the group taught me how to use a loom which I’m proud of because now I can make beautiful hats for patients. One time while I was at my knitting group, there was a senior fair in the ballroom of the JCC. I went to check it out and learned about a service being provided which drives seniors to their medical appointments, shopping, and social engagements. They needed volunteers and it sounded like fun to me, so I signed up. Some senior citizens are lonely because their families live out of state, which is why I take one senior to lunch each week. I met a lady who has lived in Florida since the ‘50s and she enjoys telling me what South Florida was like back then. I learn so much from this group and as happy as they feel, I always feel happier that I could do this for them.
Each involvement is a connection to the next opportunity. For me, there is no greater joy than giving back to others. It’s all a matter of attitude — with a positive mindset I not only overcame my own challenges but also helped others do the same.