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Sharp Health News

Unexpected partners in care

Aug. 11, 2016

Unexpected partners in care

At center: Larry Owen (left) and Gil Harrison (right) with Larry’s care team at Sharp Memorial Hospital.

“You don’t get paid monetarily, but you get paid in something that is worth a lot more — making a difference in the lives of others.” 
—Gil Harrison, Community Care Partner volunteer lead and trainer

Your life can change in the blink of an eye. That’s what happened to 43-year-old Larry Owen on a winter’s day near Alpine, California.

Owen was enjoying a leisurely ride in a golf cart around his friend’s property when the driver, his friend’s son, lost control of the vehicle. Owen, who was thrown from the golf cart, was taken by emergency helicopter to Sharp Memorial Hospital’s trauma center for immediate care. He had suffered a traumatic brain injury, in addition to dislocated bones, cuts, scrapes and bruises.

After four weeks in the hospital, Owen met someone who would change his life forever — Sharp Community Care Partner volunteer Gil Harrison. These volunteers serve as companions to patients when family members or friends aren’t available. They provide comfort and support; talk with patients about their interests; listen to their personal stories; and coordinate requests for spiritual care, integrative healing and art or music services.

“I took three weeks off work, but I had to go back,” says Eunice Owen, Larry’s mother. “Gil would spend time with Larry during the day — walking with him around the hospital, going on scavenger hunts, talking to him — which helped his mind and body heal.”

When Harrison first meets with patients, he asks questions about their life to learn what they like to do and discover their interests. Through conversation, he gets an idea of how he can work with patients to improve their overall well-being in the hospital. Harrison is not medically trained, but has experience as a caregiver, and likes to find ways to help people.

Harrison discovered that Owen had over 22 years in heavy construction. He decided they should do an activity that would build on those skills. They played with plastic brick toys to help Owen’s mind relearn how to focus on objects and details.

Harrison credits his ability to help Owen from his experience caring for his brother, who also suffered from a traumatic brain injury.

“The injury delayed my brother’s mental development, so I learned to approach him differently,” says Harrison.

With time, Owen and Harrison developed a strong connection. “Gil is like a brother,” says Owen.

Harrison agrees. “Yeah, we bonded. My brother isn’t alive anymore, but it’s like Larry filled that gap.”

Owen steadily started to show improvement and was discharged from the hospital after three months. Owen’s mother credits all of her son’s caregivers with his progress, but feels Harrison may have made the most profound impact. “I think every patient should be able to have a Community Care Partner if they would like that. It is a gift — Gil gave his whole self to helping Larry.”

Learn more about volunteer opportunities at Sharp.

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