Firelands nurse was a friend in need

SANDUSKY Nurses at Firelands know when times get tough, you have to take care of your own.
Sandusky Register Staff
May 24, 2010



Nurses at Firelands know when times get tough, you have to take care of your own.

When fellow nurse Kim Willis lost her Perkins Township homein an October fire, unit coordinator Mary Frances Haas said it affected the entire nursing unit sheworked on.

"She's so hard-working," Haas said. "She's working and going to school full-time, helping her mom and dad to raise her teenage nephews, plus she has a little girl of her own. We just couldn't believe it was happening to one of our own."

The Willis' first-floor bathroom erupted into flames Oct. 25.

Officials believe the culprit may have been a plugged-in hair dryer.

The bathroom was gutted, and smoke and water ravaged the remainder of the home -- leaving the family homeless.

Luckily, the home next door was for rent, and the family was able to move right in.

Willis' mother, Alice Willis, said the insurance company iscovering the cost to rebuild. But what used to be a home full of memories has been "ripped to the studs."

Knowing the family had lost everything, from toys to clothes and basic necessities, nursing director Sharon McDowell said the unit had to be strong for their coworker.

"We didn't know what to do, but we knew we wanted and had to do something," she said.

The idea dawned on her a short time later, when e-mails requesting sponsors for the annual Volunteers of America Christmas Cheer program began circulating.

"They were asking us to sponsor a child or a family," McDowell said. "When we saw it, we thought, 'she's a good person and she has a little one and family,' and (we) decided this would be just as good of a family to help out as any."

More than 50 employees on Willis' floor pulled together to ensure there were gifts under the tree on Christmas Day.

A few employees leaked the secret, so the family was aware of their efforts -- but they didn't realize the extent of them.

Willis, her 4-year-old daughter, Savannah, and her mother visited the unit Thursday, where Haas and McDowell presented them with the assorted gifts, individual cards and well wishes.

"When I heard, I was so overwhelmed," Willis said. "It was so unbelievable that they were doing this for me, for my family. I wasn't looking forward to Christmas because we had not only lost all of our personal stuff but we lost our decorations too. We had a huge tree and now, because the place we're staying (in) is so small, we have sort of a Charlie Brown tree."

"After you lose everything, you have to buy the essentials first," Alice said, coming to herdaughter's side.

The family stood together, gaping at the desk filled withpresents.

"Oh, wow," Alice said. "Wow, look at all of this."

As Savannah took in theexcitement, her big brown eyes glistened with tears.

The child, who appeared timid and completely focused on her pink, light-up shoes, smiled for the first time when a large box with a red bow was placed in her small hands.

"This is unbelievable," Willis said, struggling to hold back tears. "To lose everything and have people step up to help someone they work with -- I just don't know what to say."

"Tragedy is when you find out who your true friends are," Haas said, reaching for Willis after McDowell released her from a motherly hug.