RALEIGH — Retired New York City residents Wendy and Kevin Thorbourne never expected to be in the hospital on Christmas Eve, but after Kevin’s dialysis access burst in the parking lot of their hotel in Raleigh on Sunday afternoon, they found themselves in a recovery room at Rex Hospital on Tuesday.
Enter 3-year-old Joe Gillespie, sporting a red and green striped shirt and holding a white teddy bear. He handed the bear to Kevin Thorbourne, and whisked back to join his family.
“Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays!” the Gillespies said, smiling and waving as they turned to continue down the hall.
The Gillespie family had joined the Rex Healthcare Guild to help with its annual teddy bear giveaway, a tradition that seeks to brighten patients’ holidays.
Members of the guild gathered Tuesday morning at the hospital volunteer services office to pick up bags of bears – 350 total. Many brought their families with them and, armed with lists of room numbers, dispersed among the hospital wings to hand the bears to patients.
One small, white bear with a red and green scarf meant a lot to Wendy Thorbourne.
“It’s just...,” she started to say as tears welled up in her eyes. “It just reminded me of the holiday, and the kids, just the giving spirit. I was touched.”
The Thorbournes had come from New York to a friend’s wedding in Charlotte, during which Kevin had given away the bride. They were getting ready to leave for the airport when the access broke. Their stay at the hospital had gone “so smoothly,” Wendy said, and the bear made it extra bright.
The Rex Healthcare Guild, established in 1936, works to make patients’ stays as pleasant as possible.
“Anything we can do around the hospital to help,” said guild member Sandy Page. “The mission of the guild is to help the staff and the patients.”
Each year, the guild makes about $100,000 selling items from the hospital’s Korner Gift Shop, and that money goes toward projects at Rex, Page said. The guild keeps fresh flowers in the chapel, provides money for medical equipment, and maintains the Maude Grimes Garden near the hospital cafeteria.
“This is just one little fraction of what we do, is the bear delivery on Christmas Eve,” said guild member Marlene Bachelor.
Bachelor learned of the guild when she was in the hospital on Christmas Eve, 2005. She had shattered her left elbow, and as she lay in a hospital bed, a guild member walked in with a teddy bear for her. To this day, she has kept that bear on a shelf.
“Ironically, it’s kind of come full circle,” she said.
Now, she brings her husband and her three sons.
“This is just a little bit of cheer in the hospital for people that probably didn’t want to be here,” she said. “It’s a fun time.”
Some patients, such as Raleigh residents Lauren and Sean Parker, enjoyed the bear for other reasons: They had just welcomed their first child, Abigail Parker, into the world three days ago.
After a guild member handed him a bear, Sean, who was holding Abigail, smiled and looked at his daughter.
“There,” he said. “It’s your first little teddy bear.”