In 1958, a 2-year-old named Debbie contracted polio. The youngest of six, the toddler was sent from her home in Pinkneyville, Illinois, to St. Louis Children’s Hospital, where she was quarantined from family and friends, as was the practice at that time. It’s a traumatic experience that has stayed with Debbie, even to this day. Always swirling around that bank of memories has been a kind caregiver who would come to her room to give her a bottle and provide some extra tenderness. “She was the one light in my life when I was in isolation from the world,” says Debbie. “That little bit of comfort meant so much.”
Fast-forward to 2017 and a conversation Debbie had with a St. Louis Children’s Hospital Foundation staff member, Jan Rogers, about why she and her husband, Ralph, decided to include Children’s Hospital in their estate plans.
“In listening to her story, I knew the person Debbie remembered so fondly,” Jan says.
Velma Hunt, now 89, just celebrated her 60th anniversary at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. The longest serving employee of the hospital, she works part-time, providing compassion and comfort to frightened patients and their families in the hospital’s emergency department.
Jan arranged a reunion last summer. It was an emotional visit for both women.
“I never forgot you,” Debbie told Velma. “I have always thought about you and wondered who you were.” Velma was gracious, expressing how much it meant to her that Debbie remembers her so many years later. Debbie left Velma with an antique handkerchief with the letter V embroidered onto it, as well as a necklace — a heart within a heart —symbolizing how Velma’s big heart soothed Debbie’s 2-year-old heart at a time she needed it most.
These two women, one whose comforting presence led to a legacy gift to St. Louis Children’s Hospital by the other, now plan to stay in touch as fellow Guardians of Childhood.