June 2015 Volunteer of the Month
For most people involved with The ALS Association, Lou Gehrig’s Disease is thrust upon them, turning their life upside down and drastically changing the trajectory of their lives. The Greater Philadelphia Chapter’s June Volunteer of the Month, Page McGavisk, didn’t have ALS pushed onto her life. Instead, she chose ALS as a cause to support and her love, compassion, and patience have made a lasting impression on all who have met her.
Page’s ALS story started in Connecticut. One of her core values is to go out and help others, something she hopes has made an impact on her three daughters, and one of the ways she found to support people was to volunteer at the local Hospice. At the encouragement of a friend, Page began to volunteer her time at the hospice on a regular basis, visiting with people who were facing insurmountable health challenges and giving them much needed comfort. One of those people was a man named Dennis, who was living with ALS. He let Page know the seriousness of his prognosis.
Volunteering with hospice is something that people do not take lightly. Page received training and learned to be a caregiver. She was not a nurse, though she had worked in a hospital setting, but what mattered most was her temperament and ability to give of her time and of herself. That mindset was clear to Dennis. At the time that he met Page, he has been living with ALS for a couple years. He was now on Hospice as his disease continued its devastating effects.
While ALS made life increasingly difficult, Page was there to provide comfort and friendship. Dennis stayed with Hospice longer than most of the people that Page had met at the program. They became close and their families even became friends. Throughout it all, Page learned a lot about Dennis, his family, and the realities of ALS. Her friend lived with ALS for two years from the time they met and she was there all along the way, providing some patient care, helping with daily routines, and talking and listening to him. Dennis had a doctor. He had family. What he wanted was a friend to make life just a bit easier. Page was that friend.
When Page’s husband got a new job back in York, PA, she left Connecticut behind, but ALS had made a strong impression on her mind and her heart. She contacted the local ALS Treatment Center at Hershey Medical Center and got in touch with nurse Maureen Reid. Page and Maureen got along right away. They had a lot of mutual friends and shared a sincere desire to help others. When Maureen learned about Page’s experience and training, she explained the Greater Philadelphia Chapter’s Visiting Volunteer program to her. It was the perfect fit.
From there, Page became a visiting volunteer with a new friend named Peggy. The friendship started right away. Peggy’s husband is a musician and while he is out playing on Tuesdays, Page comes and helps to be her companion. Each week, they sit together, chat, and watch Chopped, their favorite television show, even though they both know they’ll never make the food they see on TV. Page also helps her friend with chores and helps her Skype with her sister so that they can remain close.
More than anything, Page offers an open ear and a sense of normalcy for a person whose life has been turned upside down by ALS.
Peggy communicates with an eye gaze device, which is usually slower than a regular speaking conversation. That is where Page’s background and history with Hospice and ALS come into play. She assures her friend that she doesn’t have to rush. The computer may be speaking her words for her, but Page sees Peggy as a person first. It’s the words, ideas, and emotions that are communicated that matter, not the way they are said. That patience and kindness can mean everything to a person who can feel frustrated by ALS and all that comes with it.
“I know what a horrible disease ALS is,” said Page. “I can’t imagine being in the other person’s shoes, so it feels good to know that I’m helping the family out however I can.”
It also feels good for Page to know that she can be a role model to her daughters. While in Connecticut, they all became friends with Dennis. They understand ALS, even if it hasn’t come crashing into their own family. Through their mom, they see why it is important to help others and have all gone out of their way to volunteer at things in their community.
Peggy and her husband are not the only ones who appreciate Page’s time. The staff at Hershey Medical Center know that caring for a person with ALS does not end when they leave the clinic. They also know that it’s not always easy to find someone who can devote their time to giving care and comfort to someone with ALS, especially on a regular schedule. Having Page by their side gives them hope too.
“The amazing thing about Page is that she chose us,” said Maureen Reid, RN. “We can give people the best care in the world, but sometimes people just want a friend. Page is the kind of friend we all want to have…and the kind of friend we all want to be.”
Thank you to Page McGavisk, our volunteer of the month, for choosing ALS and choosing to be that friend.