On April 7, Vidant Medical Center (VMC) hosted its Donate Life event, Pause to Give Life, to recognize organ donors and their families. Vidant team members, including the donor resource team and transplant team, were among those in attendance.
During the ceremony, the Donate Life flag was raised on the VMC flagpole at 10:08 a.m., a time symbolic of the ratio of one donor being able to save up to eight lives. Following the raising of the flag, a 30-second moment of silence was observed to honor donors and their families and recognize the more than 3,000 patients waiting for a life-saving transplant in North Carolina.
“It was a record year for organ donors at Vidant. We had 55 donors in 2020 that resulted in saving or enhancing 179 lives by those donations,” said Van Smith, VMC executive vice president of operations. “This is a celebration of the work of Vidant and Carolina Donor Services in partnership to support the community and improve the quality of life across eastern North Carolina.”
Carolina Donor Services President and CEO Danielle Niedfeldt recognized VMC for the record year of organ donations with an Outstanding Service Award during the event. Niedfeldt said in addition to a record year for transplantations at VMC, the hospital performed at a remarkable level in its own right and as compared to others within the Carolina Donor Services area.
Among the speakers at the event was Gerri Ashe, a community health worker at Vidant Health. She shared her story as a family donor – or someone whose loved ones have donated organs after they have passed.
Ashe began working at Vidant in February of 2008. In November of that same year, her oldest brother passed away from a stroke at just 43 years old. She recalled that when she was getting her license her dad told her to sign up as an organ donor and her siblings did the same. After his passing, they learned he would be able to donate three organs – his heart and his corneas.
“At that time, I decided to turn what seemed to be a really difficult situation into a positive moment of being able to share my story,” Ashe said. “It also made me want to get more involved and become more educated so I could help families understand the process.”
Ashe said she completed her studies in health education and promotion this past February.
As a community health worker, Ashe has many responsibilities in educating eastern North Carolina and connecting people to services or resources that they need to be healthy.
She said she also tries to raise awareness for the need of organ donation and stresses the importance of healthy living for anyone who may be interested in being an organ donor.
“No matter what decision a family makes, if I can just help them during that time – even as difficult as it is – I know I’ve done my job as a family donor,” Ashe said. “That’s how I honor my brother’s memory is by spreading the word and helping others realize how important it is to donate.”
The Vidant / Pitt County Large-Scale Vaccine Clinic at the Greenville Convention Center has helped thousands of people get their dose of hope in eastern North Carolina and beyond.
On March 19, the site served as a backdrop for a visit from North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and other state and local officials.
“We see the data of where these vaccinations are going,” said Cooper. “Therefore, we know what we need to do and we know who is being left out.”
“We’re not done,” said Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant Health. “The game is still being played and we have to play all 60 minutes of this football game, and keep our communities safe.”
The site itself has been a monumental undertaking in support of the communities Vidant serves.
With support from team members and volunteers – to date, more than 70,000 vaccinations have been administered here and at other vaccination sites across the region.
“It’s been a tragic and a trying time,” said Dr. John Silvernail, director of the Pitt County Health Department. “It’s also been a time of great cooperation and a chance to learn from one another.”
While much great work has been done, state and local leaders remain focused on the path ahead.
“As Dr. Waldrum and Dr. Silvernail also said, we cannot spike the football too early,” said Cooper. “We know these variants are out there. We’ve seen them flare up in other countries, in other states. We don’t want that to happen in North Carolina.”
Ronald and Vivie Baseford’s hearts of service led them to each other.
Ron began volunteering at Vidant Medical Center (VMC) around January of 2019 and has worked as a patient escort since. Vivie stopped working about two years ago and began volunteering at VMC in October of 2019. It didn’t take long for Vivie to catch Ron’s eye.
“About a week or two after I started, we passed each other in the hall,” Vivie said.
“We were wheeling patients,” Ron said. “Vivie and I passed each other in the corridors a couple of times and smiled and I said ‘Oh boy. I wish everyone had a smile like yours.’ And we just took it from there.”
There were lunches in the cafeteria at VMC before things became a little more formal. Dinners at Vivie’s house and date nights around town became the norm for them. They travel together, love watching movies and both find a piece of joy in spending time serving others.
When the pandemic began to intensify, the volunteering at VMC was halted but Ron and Vivie grew closer together. They decided to move in together and were married on July 7, 2020.
“We’ve been happy ever since,” Ron said. “We have the same interests. We love to travel, we love to go places in the car and visit places around here. We like to go up in the mountains and hike and see some of the waterfalls in that area.”
The time away from volunteering left some quality honeymoon time for the two, and they kept busy while away from helping patients, families and team members at VMC. They returned to volunteering about eight weeks ago, both on Monday mornings but in different areas of the hospital.
Vivie volunteers in the Eddie & Allison Jo Smith Tower and is happy to be back helping serve her community. Her love for the medical field goes back to her schooling days. While her first husband attended medical school, she sat in on classes with him and later worked with the Red Cross for a number of years.
“I always had an interest in that type of thing,” Vivie said. “When my first husband was stationed in Germany, I worked for the Red Cross and I volunteered. When he went into Rocky Mount to start his practice, I worked at the Red Cross also. I’ve been doing stuff like this practically all my life.”
She said she has enjoys interacting with patients and Vidant team members and the opportunity to be involved in health care again.
“When I was working, I worked as a teller at a bank, so I love people,” she said. “Just to be with people and help them, it makes me feel so good. Anything I can do for them, anywhere I can take them is just great. It’s very fulfilling to me.”
Ron, known as Mr. Ron around VMC, said he loves to meet new people and his role as a patient escort gives him the chance to talk to many different people each Monday.
“I like to talk to people,” he said. “While we’re walking, most of them are tense because they don’t know what they’re going to do and I certainly can’t help them with that but I talk to them about the weather and where they’re from and so forth and so on. We both very much look forward to going in on Mondays.”
Another benefit, Ron said, is the exercise he gets while escorting patients during his four-hour volunteering shifts. He said the exercise app he uses says he averages between five and six miles most Mondays while walking with patients and families through the hospital.
“It always pleases me because, all the people there, not only the patients but relatives that go with them sometimes, are all so very appreciative,” he said. “That’s always what makes it worth walking that six miles.”
“The people that work at the hospital are so appreciative of us, too, which really makes a difference,” Vivie added. “They make us feel like part of the team and they’re such nice people.”
Now that the curve continues to flatten, Vidant is phasing in the essential care and services, defined as any surgery or procedure that, if not done within four weeks, would potentially harm the patient. This includes select general and orthopedic surgeries, cardiac, vascular and gastroenterology procedures.
Dr. Michael Waldrum, CEO of Vidant, said eastern North Carolina has higher rates of chronic conditions and diseases meaning these essential care and services play a large role in caring for the region. He said it will be important to take a phased approach over time to ensure safety of patients and team members. He said Vidant is using well-established protocols that reflect guidelines and best practices outlined by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Surgeon General and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.