Thursday, January 31, 2019

February Volunteer of the Month

Thank You Julie Nielsen!

It all happened so fast. Too fast actually. The months ran by like a blur as neurologists and other specialists were unable to pinpoint the cause of Connie Brocavich’s weight loss, weakening muscles, and distressed breathing.

Julie Nielsen, Connie’s daughter, needed answers. That’s when she turned to The ALS Association Certified Center of Excellence at PennState Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center  and met Dr. Zachary Simmons.

Finally, the search for answers was put to rest. Dr. Simmons found the cause of Connie’s ailments: ALS. Though far from a pleasant explanation, at least they now had a diagnosis and could plan a course of action—along with the compassion and expertise of Dr. Simmons, his entire ALS care team, and Mary Beth Tomczak, a social worker from The ALS Association Greater Philadelphia Chapter.

As the disease continued to progress, Connie moved in with Julie. As Julie adjusted to the physical, mental, and emotional toll of her new role as caregiver, the Chapter’s Visiting Volunteer Program, run by Chapter nurse Gail Houseman, offered welcome comfort and relief. Gail paired volunteer Sandy Saul with Julie and Connie. Every week, usually over multiple visits, Sandy brought friendship and understanding as the family learned to live with ALS.

“I was so grateful to everyone who was there for us,” says Julie. “Gail would come by and check on Mom, and give us guidance on medication, resources, and mental health. When I remember Mom’s disease, I also think about how many people worked hard to make our days that much easier.  I’m thankful to the Chapter, to family, to friends, and to hospice. It was a real team effort.”

Sadly, Connie passed away in 2014. Julie knew without a doubt that after she had some time to heal, she wanted to give back to the Chapter.

That opportunity arose in 2016 when Gail approached Julie to become a Visiting Volunteer. The coincidence of Gail making this request on what was Connie’s birthday was uncanny. It was meant to be! Julie was soon paired with a gentleman named Francis and, to this day, the two spend every Tuesday afternoon together.

During that same year, Julie formed Connie’s Crew, a team of family and friends that is passionate about fighting ALS. Connie’s Crew participates every year in the Greater Philadelphia Walk to Defeat ALS and so far, has raised almost $7,500 that will help fund ALS care and research.

Julie’s path as an ALS volunteer has brought her great fulfillment and purpose. In honor of her beloved mother, she feels blessed to nurture others impacted by ALS and carry forward a message of hope and resolve. Thank you, Julie Nielsen, for all you do as a Visiting Volunteer and Walk Team Captain!

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