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Palos Heights veteran volunteers more than 11,000 hours at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital

Northwestern Medicine celebrates volunteers during National Volunteer Week, April 16 through 22

PALOS HEIGHTS, Ill. -  As 89-year-old Jack Heafey pushes a cart through the hallways of Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital he is quick with a joke, a pleasantry or a pat on the back to every person he encounters. He knows the hallways well. Over the past 24 years, Heafey has volunteered more than 11,200 hours at Palos Hospital.

Palos volunteer Jack HeafeyHeafey is one of 1,100 volunteers Northwestern Medicine is honoring during National Volunteer Week, April 16 through 22. Ranging in age from 16 to 93, volunteers touch the lives of patients, families, visitors and staff. A friendly smile, a helping hand and a warm heart can make a real difference in the experience people have in a hospital when they are visiting or receiving care.

“Jack is an all-around unique, interesting, intelligent man. A  veteran, photographer and a teacher, he is also  a comedian when visiting us in the volunteer office,” said Donna Nadelhoffer, manager of Volunteer Services at Northwestern Medicine Palos Hospital. “His life stories are endless, and he always brings his upbeat and positive attitude when volunteering.”

Heafey, of Palos Heights, Illlinois, retired in 1997 after 31 years teaching English and journalism at Leyden Township High School. He felt restless and first began volunteering at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. A gallbladder surgery at Palos Hospital piqued his interest in helping others during what is often a very stressful time.

“Volunteering at a hospital is a lesson in humility and a chance to learn about life and yourself,” said Heafey. “You’ve got to love yourself to take care of others. It feels good to do a service.”

In his early years of volunteering, Heafey was a transporter bringing patients where they needed to go for testing, procedures, appointments and back to their rooms. While he recalls many joyful moments, one memory sticks with him.

“A patient had received some bad news, and she asked if I could just sit and talk,” said Heafey. “You can’t change the inevitable, so instead of thinking about what was to come, I asked her to look backwards, and we reflected on all the good she accomplished in life. It helped and I felt good about that.”

Many years ago, Heafey started the ROMEO (retired old men eating out) club of fellow volunteers. They’d head to Hackney’s after a shift and rib one another for hours. Since then, many of that group have passed on or are unable to volunteer anymore. He misses the old crew but is excited every week to come back to Palos Hospital to meet new people.

“The hospital is full of well educated, very bright people. Volunteering offers a wonderful opportunity to talk with nice people, stay physically active and get a free cup of coffee,” Heafey adds with a laugh.

Due to a sore back, Heafey no longer transports patients. Now, twice a week he works in Sterile Supply Processing where he delivers supplies and equipment to units throughout the hospital. He notes that it is a job that could probably be done with a robot, but then who would tell the staff jokes? 

To learn more about volunteering at Northwestern Medicine visit Volunteer | Northwestern Medicine.