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Volunteers get patients in harmony with season

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Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009

An octet of singers broke out in "Jingle Bell Rock" Tuesday at Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Campus in Bellevue. One of them, 66-year-old Patricia Pacey, started dancing with licensed practical nurse Alma Yarborough.

"They make Christmas beautiful," said Yarborough, 54, of Stanton Heights. "It makes the patients feel better. It's good to have volunteers like them."

The singers, most wearing Santa hats and white Silver Sneakers T-shirts, popped into several hospital rooms, strolled the hallways and visited the cafeteria, spreading musical holiday cheer to all.

Among the patients they visited was Colt Zdobinski, 5, of Bellevue, who shyly shook sleigh bells on the lap of his mother, Wendy, during a rendition of "O Holy Night."

"I liked them," Colt said.

"I thought that was a real nice surprise," his mother said. "It was a real nice break from the doctors."

"Being sick is unpleasant," said Dr. John Uribe, who stopped in the hospital hallway to listen to the carolers. "Our patients need all the support we can give them. ... When you get people to raise their hopes, this is part of the healing process."

The volunteers include about 15 people who sing at Christmas, Fourth of July, Valentine's Day, St. Patrick's Day, Mother's Day and other events. They began about three years ago in what Kathy Ferri, hospital manager of community relations and volunteer services, calls "a truly beautiful circle."

The hospital conducts monthly healthy living programs at the Prime Time Senior Center on Lincoln Avenue in Bellevue. Pacey leads yoga stretch and exercise classes at the center for the Silver Sneakers exercise group. Ferri, who accompanies hospital doctors to the center, mentioned several years ago that a school group was going to sing carols at the hospital, and she would like to see more caroling.

Pacey said, "Oh, let us pay back. We'll come and we'll sing."

During Tuesday's caroling, they combined religious hymns with secular standards like "Winter Wonderland" and even military songs for hospitalized veterans.

Some of the group's members, like Peggy Funk, 78, of Bellevue, had voice training and belonged to choirs their entire lives. Sally Malenky, 74, of Avalon sang alto for years in the choir at Assumption Catholic Church in Bellevue.

"I enjoy singing. I think some of the patients enjoy it too," said Judy Szymborski of Avalon. "It lifts them up a little."

Pat Mogus of Avalon worked in the office of the Pittsburgh Opera until four years ago. Though her job was in accounting, she is a longtime opera lover who once had a small onstage role.

"I just love to sing. It's so satisfying to me," Mogus said. "Sometimes I cry a little when I see some of the patients."

Though he was in a hospital bed, Charles Boyle, 78, of Mechanicsburg grinned from ear to ear as he listened to "Silent Night." Boyle wasn't expecting carolers; still, he said, "I'm glad they're here."

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