Who: Ricky Dietrich, 53, and his care team on the Medical Surgical Unit at WellSpan Chambersburg Hospital.
What: Ricky, who has an intellectual disability and has been diagnosed with cancer, came to the unit after suffering from seizures. He ended up staying for 93 days.
He was very quiet when he first arrived so the care team worked to get to know Ricky and draw him out. He enjoys coloring and so his caregivers started bringing him colored pencils, drawing pads, coloring pages, and other art supplies. He likes stuffed animals, so they began populating his room with them. He enjoys music so someone on the team brought in a radio, and caregivers walked laps around the unit with him as he recovered, singing and dancing along the way.
Ricky started opening up – drawing pictures that team members hung in the unit and also took home to decorate their refrigerators. Some of his drawings included silly pictures, including one of a nurse and his wife golfing, featuring the wife about to shoot her husband out of a cannon onto the course. He told goofy jokes. Laughter and fun followed him around the unit.
Before he was discharged to a nursing home where he is continuing his recovery, a nurse, Jordan Bowman, gave him a haircut so he looked his best. The team sent him out the door with his mini zoo of stuffed animals, lots of hugs, and a few tears.
In his three-month stay at the unit, Ricky and the team became a staple in each other’s days.
Words to live by: Nurse manager Amanda Dougherty says, “Watching someone go from not talking to interacting and joking around, I think it lifts the team up.
“It was great to come out of my office and see the team sitting at the nurses’ station with him, coloring and having fun. He impacted our lives as much as we did his. To our staff, it’s more than just caring for a patient. They show up FOR the patient.”
His case manager, Deb Heckman, says, “This is one of those stories where a patient comes along and rallies a group of nurses. He changed their lives as much as they changed his.”
“He became such a light to us,” said Cheyenne Burgett, a nurse on the unit. “Even if we were not assigned to him on a given day, we would make it a point to go in and talk to him or check on him.”
Ricky says of the WellSpan team: “They were all good to me. They helped me out. They were like my family. If you needed something, they were there. They cared about me.”
Holly Turner works with Ricky as the director of advocacy for The Arc of Cumberland & Perry Counties, which works to empower, inspire, and educate people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families, and the community. She saw the impact that Ricky’s caregivers had on him.
“The staff went above and beyond, and they treated him with respect,” she says. “I have never encountered a hospital team that was that positive about an individual with intellectual disabilities. They valued him as a person and realized what a fun and engaging person he is. They were advocating as hard as I was, to help him and make sure he got the best care he could.”