Family Center a calm space during anxious times

Froedtert staff, volunteers do utmost for those awaiting news of loved one

April 27, 2010

On a typical shift, Stephanie Todd dons a huge smile as she either answers the phones or assists families waiting for news of a loved one at the Family Center at Froedtert Hospital.

Todd, 37, at one time was a patient at Froedtert, receiving treatment for a brain tumor. Her family waited anxiously in a private room in the Family Center while she had surgery.

Now, she finds it essential to volunteer there once a week.

"I am willing to put in the time because Froedtert and the Family Center mean that much to my family and I," she said.

She can empathize with the people gathered in the Family Center, not just because of her own surgery, but because she's also been the one waiting for news of a loved one.

Five years ago, her husband underwent surgery and a monthlong hospital stay due to a serious condition.

"This is why I love the volunteer work I do in the Family Center, because I too have lived through these situations," she said.

10 years of service

The Family Center, located on the hospital's second floor, is open 24 hours a day. Flowers and smiles greet visitors as they walk in. The windows offer a great view and getaway for the families. It is a place where family members can wait for a patient who is in the intensive care or trauma departments, or going into surgery.

"We are pretty much the heartbeat of the hospital," said Gundy Walton, Family Center coordinator.

Cookies, coffee, chairs and a television make this space a little more like home. Looking outside, benches sit among the trees in a space that will be converted into a healing garden come mid-August.

The Family Center celebrated its 10-year anniversary of serving people last month. Some of the services offered there are:

• support to families,

• a place to stay while waiting,

• information about their loved one as it becomes available, and

• when requested, chaplain services.

Carolyn Bellin, public relations chief, had a hand in the center's development 10 years ago.

"It is an emotional time for these families, and we try to make them as comfortable as possible," she said.

Around the clock

The Family Center has paid employees on staff at all times. It also has about 30 volunteers who regularly give their time.

Bellin said they understand that things happen at all hours of the day, and that's why they have 24-hour visitation.

Small, cozy private rooms are available for families that have had family members med-flighted in and don't have anywhere to stay.

Although she doesn't remember much about the time of her surgery, Todd said she is aware that Family Center took care of her family. They have told her that even in the midst of the commotion and stress of the surgery, the center was there to make them smile.

The Family Center also offers individual open-air cubicles that create a more secluded atmosphere. These cubicles allow the family to be together.

It is a stressful and anxious time for the families who wait at the center, Todd said.

"If we can help them, even if it is for a few hours, it is worth it."

There are answers

The Family Center staff and volunteers are there to provide support and answers.

"A lot of our volunteers are there because they have had a personal experience with Froedtert, whether as a patient or family member in the center," Todd said. "It helps us better serve the family because we understand what they are going through."

Bellin mentioned that if the family has questions the staff and volunteers try to answer them or find someone who can, and they have doctor biography sheets available to help the family feel more comfortable with the doctors working with their loved one.

As Kari Bieri waited for her husband while he was in surgery she said, "The Family Center makes you feel so comfortable. It is just very calm and peaceful."

Todd said that while volunteering last week a gentleman said to her, "In the middle of our stressful and tiring situation you have been a bright, shining star that lifted our spirits and soothed our souls with your smile and heart of compassion."

At a glance

WHAT: Learn more about volunteering in the Family Center at Froedtert Hospital


PHONE: Carolyn Bellin, (414) 805-2057



Local Crime Map



Latest Photo Galleries