Long-time volunteer's giving started with loss

Mary Lou Johnson’s whole-hearted giving started with one of the biggest losses of her life.  Her bittersweet story started 23 years ago when her only son, Chris, was diagnosed with leukemia.  During the year he spent in Community Regional Medical Center’s oncology unit, Johnson learned everything she needed to know about the disease, became well-acquainted with the staff and built several relationships with other patients.  When Chris passed away in 1988, she saw a way to make a difference for those who were continuing to fight on.

At the time, Johnson worked in the Registrar’s Office at Fresno State.  Shortly after Chris’ death, she received a phone call from Community Regional asking if she would be interested in taking charge of the volunteer staff in the oncology department.  It was a time in her life when she felt she needed to make a change and after giving much thought, took a retirement from Fresno State to become part of the Community family.

“It has been a wonderful opportunity working with family, patients and staff.  Part of living is giving and if you want to feel and move on, you have to continue to give,” said Johnson, who has been named as one of Community’s 2010 Ultimate People.

The “Ultimate People” program, in its second year, was launched by Community Medical Foundation to honor those who have distinguished themselves with service to Community’s health care network and Community Medical Foundation.  This year’s “Ultimate People” will be recognized at the upcoming Foundation’s Alliance “Ultimate Party” on Friday, July 16 at Weber BMW in Fresno.

Every Monday and any other day, depending on how much help is needed, Johnson starts on the floor by 6 a.m and turns in at 4 p.m.  She is the only volunteer that is assigned to a certain area because she is the only member left from the original volunteer program under Service Alliance which she served two years as president.  “The oncology department is where my heart is,” said Johnson.

Johnson does whatever the department needs.  In previous years, Johnson ordered educational material, kept files up-to-date and arranged entertainment and special programs when the hospital had its day-room.  Now, she spends her time decorating the floor for every holiday and makes fun and festive calendars every month for the patients.

Johnson says patients and their families often tell her, “Mary Lou, we knew you would be here today.  You are the constant in our lives.” Her compassion and dedication gives them a sense of trust and comfort, they tell her.

As a volunteer in the oncology department, Johnson has logged close to 27,000 hours, but it does not stop there.  Through her volunteer efforts, she has also been a regular donor-investor to Community Medical Foundation and has donated the Bible that is located in the hospital’s chapel in memory of her son.  She continues to volunteer because she feels she is doing something for them, reaching out and serving people by doing what she can. 

Antonio Nieto, Community Regional’s service delivery supervisor, describes Johnson’s giving style,  “Her passion for the oncology unit and the desire to help out staff, patients and Doctors wherever she is needed stems from both her faithbased beliefs and personal family experience.  She is a quiet-spoken person but her heart and her desire to help people in need is exceeded only by her kindness and warmth as a human being.”

Johnson always tells people, “If you say you will work, you should be there. Volunteering is a commitment.” She believes that people need to reach out to others and give of themselves. She states that wherever your heart is, is where you need to be. Because of her son, her heart is here at Community.

For information on employee giving or becoming a Community donor-investor, please call Community Medical Foundation at (559) 459-2670.

This story was reported by Kaelin Ng. She can be reached at medwatchtoday@communitymedical.org .