By LEIGH C. MERRIFIELD
News & Journal Editor
Local Wings of Hope volunteers are ecstatic to have received a sizable donation this week to help them in their quest to lend support to cancer patients and their families who are being treated at United Hospital Center.
Debbie Thompson, spokesperson for the area’s Wings of Hope group, related that she was contacted a few weeks ago by Vanessa Piala, a lady from Chevy Chase, MD, who wanted to know a little more about Wings of Hope. Ms. Piala lost her mother to a form of blood cancer (myelodysplastic anemia) in late March of this year, and she was considering where memorial contributions might bring benefit and please her mother most. Her decision finally rested with this local Wings of Hope group!
Her mother, Madelon Maxwell Piala, was born and raised in Salem, WV but left the Mountain State to attend college. She was a graduate of the University of Maryland School of Nursing in Baltimore and spent ten years as an operating room nurse at University Hospital in Baltimore, a position she left to marry Dr. Joseph J. Piala, which necessitated a move to New Jersey. At the time of her recent passing at the age of 93, Madelon and her husband of 64 years resided in an assisted living apartment in Washington, D.C.
Her daughter Vanessa described her mother as a very caring woman who was a friend to everyone she met and always managed to find good in everyone. She was a beautiful woman, yet genuinely modest about her appearance. “She was a lot like Melanie Hamilton (Scarlett’s friend in ‘Gone With the Wind’), with a little bit of Edith Bunker, Ellie Mae Clampett, and a dash of Katherine Hepburn mixed in,” Vanessa stated.
There were several reasons why Vanessa and her family decided to suggest that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions could be made to Wings of Hope.Madelon spent all of the formative years of her life in West Virginia and was proud of her roots; Madelon was a devoted nurse;
andfour of Madelon’s six siblings,were victims of cancer.
“Helping Wings of Hope to help others seemed like a perfect way to honor our mother and what she represented. Money would be used in a hospital situation which would make her proud since nursing was her vocation. Money would be helping patients with cancer and their families, which was something that had touched her life as well as many of her family members. And money would stay in West Virginia, a place she loved,” Vanessa added. “So it seemed to fill every bill! Families struggle enough just with the diagnosis of cancer, and so many families’ strugglesreach far beyond that. We are happy to be able to help them and wish we could do more.”
Wings of Hope volunteer Debbie Thompson noted, “We received about $6,500 worth of checks last week as memorial contributions for Mrs. Piala! You really can’t just send a ‘thank you’ card for something like this!”
Thompson noted that the Wings of Hope volunteers hold fundraisers and rely on donations to help support their mission. “We are just a small group but we try to raise ten to twelve thousand dollars each year to keep in our account to meet the needs of these patients, and that money all stays right here locally. United Hospital Center serves cancer patients from 14 counties in the vicinity, so we are fulfilling needs – both large and small – for a significant number of people,” she stated.
Linda Carte, Vice President of Cancer Services and Post-Acute Care at UHC, said, “Wings of Hope is an official committee of the United Health Foundation of UHC, and monies benefit people with a cancer diagnosis receiving care at UHC. After diagnosis of cancer, people have physical, emotional and psychological changes, and they need support. Additionally, there is often a financial impact. This factor may affect someone’s ability to work or perhaps only work part-time. And the patient’s spouse may need to take more time off, so it can be financially burdening for some folks for a time. Our goal is to help people focus on getting better and reduce that financial burden.”
Perhaps their need is a gas card to help them with transportation to and from the hospital for doctor visits and/or treatment visits. Or illness may bring new expenses that are not within their budget and a grocery card may help them. Funding may help to provide a medical supply or extra medications, a prosthesis, a wig … or even help with a utility bill that has fallen behind.
“Families are very respectful of the Wings of Hope organization and typically they are careful not to ask for more than what they truly need because they know how hard these volunteers work to make sure the money is there for their needs,” Carte added. “Through the application process, we may also be able to suggest resources through some other community service to help them. Although we can’t take away all of their financial burden, we do what we can to contribute to reducing their financial barriers.”
Unfortunately, many people may only come to know about Wings of Hope when cancer touches a member of their family. Such was the case for Melissa “Mickey” Taylor of Fairmont, who recently lost her brother Kevin Swearingen to cancer.
“My brother had received information on the Wings of Hope program and wanted to get involved in it,” Mickey stated. “Sadly, we lost him before he could make that happen. So we decided that in lieu of flowers when he passed, that he would love the idea that Wings of Hope might benefit from contributions in his memory.”
Mickey stated that she had lost both of her parents to cancer as well, so the Wings of Hope program truly spoke to her too. “I have asked a lot of questions and have learned a lot about what it does for patients facing a cancer battle,” she said. “I love that it gives right back to local patients and their families who need help, and I plan to join the group as a volunteer. In fact, I’ll be participating in my first “walk” this Friday for Wings of Hope.”
Thompson concluded, “Our Wings of Hope members work full-time jobs and we do this totally as volunteers because we care. Our motto is ‘An individual doesn’t get cancer – a family does’, and our goal is to do everything we can to help those families while they are going through this.”
Carte agreed, saying, “These volunteers do what they do with a joyful heart, and their only pay is knowing that the community benefits from their hard work. If only contributors to Wings of Hope could see the relief on the faces of families that have been helped through their donations, they would realize what a huge difference they have made.”