February 12, 2021

Our Life Reach Team, 1985

A LOVE LETTER TO PROVIDENCE

Providence Hospital on Forest Drive in Columbia, SC was started in 1938 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine from Ohio. On March 2, 1971, Patrick was born there!  By the time I went to work there as Director of Medical Records at in 1974, the OB-GYN unit had closed—replaced by a state-of-the-art Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory. The hospital’s first cardiac bypass surgery was performed in 1974. A new era began that year—both for me and for Providence Hospital!

In Medical Records, I came to know the cardiologists—and soon, the cardiovascular surgeons—who were launching the ambitious program intended to make little Providence THE heart hospital for South Carolina.  A few like Jeff Brooker, Tommy Hearon, Claude Smith and Larry Schoolmeester were brilliant—and often demanding and impatient.  Others were capable and charming—like Stan Juk (who had been a football star at USC) and John Sutton (who had done a residency at Vanderbilt). The medical records for those early heart patients (all of whom were extremely high risk) were HUGE files, with long and repeated hospital stays.  Everyone was still learning. 

By 1980, I was weary of Medical Records and longed to do something more challenging.  A Chicago consultant hired by the hospital suggested I go to a workshop in Atlanta.  Dick Bolles (author of What Color Is Your Parachute?) changed the direction of my life that weekend.  I came home with a clear vision of my dream job—and discovered that the Providence Public Relations Director had been ousted  while I was out of town.  My dream job was available—and after a few months of campaigning for it, I became the official spokesperson for Providence.  It was an amazing experience!

On Valentine’s Day, 1984, we had a wonderful ad campaign (working with Lee Bussell of an ad agency run by Don Fowler, prominent South Carolina Democrat) to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Providence’s heart program.  There were posters, Valentines, radio and television spots, and a beautiful full-page color ad in The State newspaper.

The most exciting adventure for me was flying around the state on the Life Reach helicopter in 1985 to market this new service to the doctors and hospitals in rural communities.  Now they could make a phone call and a medical team would come immediately to take critical cardiac patients directly to Providence for diagnosis and treatment. 

We developed a slide presentation and would carry a projector, screen and slide tray as well as brochures and other materials with us on the helicopter.  A cardiologist or cardiovascular surgeon, a respiratory therapist, the pilot and either myself or my assistant Diane went on each appointment.  We landed in cow pastures, hospital parking lots, or on dead end streets.  In Marion for a dinner presentation to a civic club one evening, an emergency call came before we began.  The surgeon, therapist and pilot had to leave immediately to pick up a patient for transport—and there wasn’t room for me!  I stayed to give the presentation—and they sent the helicopter back to pick me up at midnight! When the club members called home to say they were waiting there with me, their wives all showed up to check on this mystery woman from Providence. We laughed and talked until the helicopter came back and they all waved goodbye as we lifted off. On a lunch visit to Abbeville, I fell in love with that historic little town with its opera house and antique shops—so much so, that when I left Providence, they gave me a paid weekend for two at the Abbeville inn!  After several months, the hospital learned that insurance wouldn’t cover transporting non-medical personnel—and my helicopter adventure ended.

This Valentine’s Day photo is from our newsletter—a group of us (front row includes Linda Zember, Maxine Bass and me; back row with Carolyn Crockett and Larry Ellis) singing a video Valentine for a beloved colleague John Cathey who took an early medical retirement.  Those were good times indeed!

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