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Volunteer gives back to hospital that helped save her life
La Grange – Every Wednesday and Friday, Harriet Vlna comes to Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital to volunteer at the front desk.

Though she’s come to the hospital every week for six years, she never thinks about skipping a day. Once she makes a commitment, she always follows through, she said.

But there’s more than a sense of duty bringing Vlna to the hospital’s doors every week.

“It’s a way of paying people back,” Vlna said. “They were all there when I needed them. Every one.”

The La Grange resident remembers the night in February of 2011 when the hospital staff and doctors were most there for her. Her husband was making dinner. She remembers standing there, looking at him, and saying, “Something is wrong.” Then she collapsed.

She does not remember much after that. The rest of the story she knows from everyone else.

“I ended up with massive pulmonary embolisms, one in each lung,” Vlna said. “My husband had to call the paramedics, and they took me to Adventist La Grange Memorial.”

While there, she had to be resuscitated not once, but twice. She spent three weeks in intensive care, where doctors also discovered an enlargement of her heart. At one point, she was put into a medically induced coma. In all, she was immobilized for two months.

She remembers pieces of coming out of her coma, but not everything about waking up.

“I thought I could hear my husband and my adult children’s voices,” Vlna said. “I couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t come and get me. That’s a weird feeling. They must have been in the room.”

Once she had come out of her coma, Vlna spent a week at a local health center recovering before going home and rehabilitating with Adventist Health Care at Home through Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. On April 1, 2011, she returned back to her volunteer duties, five months after her medical journey began.

“I trotted myself down to the ER to talk to Dr. Geoff Crabb, who was the doctor who saved my life,” Vlna said. “I walked in, stood in front of him, and said, ‘I’m here.’ He said, ‘Oh my, I never thought I’d see you upright again.

“I said, ‘Can I come around and hug you?’ and we both started crying.”

Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital Chaplain Colleen Narbone sees Vlna often at the hospital. The devotion of Vlna’s husband and family, remaining at the bedside with her at all times, is a testament to God’s love, Narbone said.

“We’re reminded of how powerful it is, to see these dedicated loved ones supporting her,” Narbone said.
Vlna’s support circle reached beyond her family. Her neighbors and friends visited as often as they could. Local churches prayed for her, came to her bedside to conduct prayer circles with her.

And the volunteers at the hospital did their part to keep her husband company during the long days he spent there.

“John said he has never hugged so many people in pink smocks that he didn’t know, because almost every volunteer in the world stopped by there to see how I was and to offer him love and prayers,” she said.

This show of love speaks not just of the people who came to her, but of Vlna herself, Narbone said.

“Her room was always full of love and prayers,” Narbone said. “It only goes to show what kind of person she is, that so many would come out for her in those moments.”

Vlna has shown her appreciation for all the hospital and community offered by returning to the hospital, giving back in any way she can, Narbone said.

“It is such a gift,” Narbone said. “She doesn’t have to do it. I think that’s what makes it so special.”

Before she took ill, Vlna was always active, she said. She had to return to her volunteer duties, to know she would be OK.

Another chaplain at the hospital during her illness suggested she made it through her ordeal because God had something special yet for her to do.

“The only thing I can do is be a better wife, a better mother, a better grandma and the best volunteer I can be,” she said.

So she returns, every week. When she walks patients to the ICU, she gives them a truncated version of her own story, to assure them. “It kind of puts them at ease,” she said.

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Adventist Midwest Health includes Adventist Bolingbrook Hospital, Adventist GlenOaks Hospital, Adventist Hinsdale Hospital and Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital. To find a physician, visit www.keepingyouwell.com.

Physicians on the medical staff of Adventist Midwest Health Hospitals are independent contractors, and are not agents of the hospitals.

Media contact: Chris LaFortune, public relations specialist, Adventist Midwest Health, christopher.lafortune@ahss.org; (630) 856-2354