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Hats from the Heart
Karlene chavis

Hats from the Heart

Banner Estrella Medical Center’s newborns get that little something extra

By Tiffany Tcheng

It happens about eight or nine times a day. The loudspeaker crackles, but it’s not a page to a physician or nurse. Instead, a warm voice announces, “Banner Estrella would like to welcome Baby Amy to the world. Again, Banner Estrella would like to welcome Baby Amy to the world.”

Cue the music. A soft, shortened version of “Brahms’ Lullaby” drifts from the loudspeaker overhead. The lullaby is no surprise to physicians, nurses and associates at Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix. But to patients and families in Women and Infants Services (WIS), it’s an unexpected addition to their hospital experience.

In the three years that Banner Estrella has been open, the hospital has welcomed more and more babies. The 2,772 arrivals in 2007 represented a 26 percent increase from 2006, according to hospital officials. And as the Southwest Valley continues to develop, the hospital estimates 3,200 deliveries in 2008.

The newborns begin life with a handmade beanie to keep their head warm—a gift crocheted with love by volunteer Linda Beechler.

Best day of her week

Linda BeechlerKarlene Chavis
Volunteer Linda Beechler crochets a beanie cap for a baby at Banner Estrella Medical Center.

It’s a sunny Tuesday afternoon. She walks in with a light bounce, two plastic bags in hand. She’s petite, just over five feet, dressed in white scrubs pants and an aqua V-neck shirt embroidered with the Banner Estrella logo—a ribboned heart—across the left side of her chest. Her hair is short, wild and white. She’s wearing wire-framed glasses and light blue Crocs swirled with colors.

The badge clipped to her shirt identifies her as a hospital associate. “Coming to volunteer is my best day of the week,” she says.

As one of 150 active volunteers at Banner Estrella, Linda spends her weekly shift “playing with her babies.” “Playing” can range from feeding and bathing to burping or clothing newborns. It might also entail mopping floors or doing laundry. But when her shift ends at 4 p.m., her generosity doesn’t stop when she walks out the door.

The two plastic bags she’s carrying hold the handmade beanies she crochets at home while watching TV. The beanies are made from the heart, taking about an hour apiece to finish. Linda completes about 40 each week. “I enjoy crocheting,” she says. “Now I have someone to do it for.”

Best decision she ever made

When Linda began volunteering at Banner Estrella in September 2006, she asked Drea DeMontigny, director of volunteer resources, if she could crochet beanies for the babies.

DeMontigny told her someone else was already making baby stockings. But when that person left the hospital, DeMontigny asked Linda to continue the program.

The hospital’s growth demanded more beanies than Linda could produce, so she asked some friends in her PebbleCreek community to help. Together, they crocheted nearly 1,000 beanies for the newborns in just two months. “I’m starting to get carpal tunnel syndrome,” Linda jokes.

She has spent the past 10 years volunteering in various Phoenix hospitals “out of boredom.” After Linda retired from her job as a senior administrative assistant to the CEO of an international company, the pace of her life slowed down significantly, and she often found herself sitting on the couch wondering what to do. Her house was clean, the laundry was done and groceries were in the fridge. “[Volunteering is] the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s a great feeling that you get out of doing something for someone else.”

“She loves being here”

Linda BeechlerKarlene Chavis
Beechler has volunteered at Phoenix hospitals for 10 years.

Linda has been known to sing or even tap dance to light up the faces of patients who spend time waiting around at the hospital. Some of the patients she meets each week even look forward to returning because they know she’ll be there.

But of all the departments where she has dedicated her time, WIS is her favorite. “You can’t go wrong with babies,” she says. “To watch the families outside the window [looking in], and the kids jumping up and down...that’s so much fun.”

After a baby leaves the hospital, Linda disassembles the bassinet and disinfects every inch of the surface. If a newborn needs to be fed, she’ll pitch right in. Or she’ll pick up a basket of laundry and put it in the washer.

“She’s amazing,” DeMontigny says. “She loves being here. It’s so awesome to see her so dedicated to our facility. She chose to come [to Banner Estrella], and that’s truly a kudo to the WIS department for creating that atmosphere that brings our volunteers back.”

Linda credits the staff as part of the reason her experience has been so fulfilling. “They’re some of the best people I’ve ever worked with. They say, ‘Thank you for coming in.’ ‘Thank you for the work that you do.’ ‘You did a good job today.’ And that makes it all worth it.”

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