Through A Volunteer's Eyes

Emeritus FOCOS Board Member and long-time volunteer, Bettye Wright, was recently honored at the 8th Annual FOCOS Gala in New York City this past September.  Bettye has dedicated nearly two decades of her life to FOCOS patients and their families.  To pay tribute to Bettye, FOCOS Volunteer, Elise Geithner, put together this heartwarming anecdote.

One of the many hats Bettye wears at the FOCOS Orthopedic Hospital in Ghana is to act as the liaison between all arriving volunteers and the FOCOS Hospital staff.  Hundreds of volunteers over the years have been touched by Bettye's expertise and her kind heart--no one more so than Elise Geithner.  Elise was lucky enough to spend two whole months with Bettye at the FOCOS Hospital this past summer.  These ladies quickly formed a tight bond.  When it came time to honor Bettye with the FOCOS Volunteer Recognition Award at this year's Gala, the FOCOS staff thought who better than Elise to help pay tribute to Bettye for all of her hard work.

Elise gave a beautiful speech that brought tears to all of our eyes.  We've pasted her speech below for all of you to enjoy and learn more about "Auntie Bettye".

Good evening! I’m Elise and I volunteered with FOCOS for the first time this past summer. I spent 2 months in Ghana shadowing physicians and implementing an art program for the pediatric patients. I have since been in touch with the hospital caregivers on a daily basis and I can confidently say my heart is still in Ghana.  I feel so privileged to be a part of the FOCOS community as it has made me even more excited to become a physician.

I first met Bettye this May. Within minutes of hugging her, her collection of bracelets jingling and jangling around my back, I felt like I had known her for my whole life. I felt like we related to each other as peers - despite our 50-year age gap. Bettye made me feel so welcome and comfortable during my first trip to Ghana and FOCOS. I felt like she really "GOT" the depth of my connections to the patients with whom we worked. She understands the power of love and maternal instincts. I doubt this comes to anyone as a surprise since probably 3/4 of this room falls into the category of Bettye's biological or adoptive "brothers, sisters, children, or grandchildren!!!"  Bettye made me feel so safe because she  took care of me like a grandchild, but took me seriously like a colleague.

When we arrived at the hospital each morning, Bettye greeted every staff member - no matter how small or large their role -with the same respect and attention. This made a huge difference in setting the tone for the morning and the culture of the hospital. 

One of the things that stand out most about Bettye is her overflowing love for the children at FOCOS. As she walks around the hospital grounds, all of the patients greet her. She then asks them, "Can I please have my medicine?" Some of the kids who don't speak English look confused until she shows them that "the medicine she needs is hugs" and the children give her loving hugs. 

Elise with one of the FOCOS patients in Ghana

Elise with one of the FOCOS patients in Ghana

Bettye and Elise leading the FOCOS patients in a hospital talent show

Bettye and Elise leading the FOCOS patients in a hospital talent show

Bettye develops a rapport with individual patients - the adults and the kids. She visits adult patients who have no or few visitors. She knows everyone's name and the country from which they hail. I don't know how she keeps track of the constant comings and goings of patients and staff, but she files it away in her brain and its remarkable. She says "I appreciate you!!" emphatically when she speaks to someone on the phone or in person about implementing a change. 

She follows up with local patients and really means it when she calls to ask how they are doing post-op. For example, an adult patient came to FOCOS for a knee replacement. While she was at the hospital, she became particularly fond of Bettye every time Bettye and I visited her. When she left the hospital, she was going to walk in her non-skid green hospital socks all the way home. Bettye said her signature incredulous "eh!" giving her a loving look with her hands on her hips!!

But Bettye GAVE HER SHOES in which to STAND TALL.  Outfitted with her new shoes, this adult patient smiled widely and waddled home with her walker. A few days later, she arrived back at the hospital in a taxi. She opened the trunk of the taxi and out popped a TURKEY! She had brought a turkey for Bettye as an expression of her gratitude for her surgery at FOCOS. Bettye was overcome with shock and appreciation and didn't quite know how to react. She'd never received a turkey before! She asked her to bring the turkey home – and fatten it up for Thanksgiving,

While at FOCOS, I also got to be a part of Bettye's friendship with a dear patient from Zambia. This patient has club foot and has had countless surgeries and skin grafts to try to repair his feet and maximize his mobility. He has had casts and bandages on his feet for so many months that often his feet become quite smelly. One day, a fellow volunteer, wheeled him into Bettye's office so he could say hello. Bettye was so overcome by the smell of his feet, but she didn't want to be rude. She fetched a giant cotton swab, dipped in in alcohol, and gently, tenderly, kindly cleaned the space between all of his toes. It takes real grace to handle a situation like this without making the patient feel embarrassed. Bettye has this from all of her years as a compassionate clinician. 

Although it was frustrating that the electricity went off every night in Accra and the internet was down for the majority of my stay, I quickly considered it a blessing. Each night, Bettye and I came home after an exhausting and exhilarating day at FOCOS. We'd light a candle, sit down to dinner, and just talk for hours. Who needs internet when you have Bettye and her endless stories? I got to ask Bettye all of my questions and we had the chance to tell each other stories about our families and lives and dreams. Bettye helped me process the intensity of each day in clinic, in the OR, and on the wards. And I know I wasn’t the only one she did this for. We all (point to audience) consider Bettye “our person.” We are so lucky.

To keep tabs on all of us and all of the FOCOS patients, past present and future, Bettye’s office operates like an international command station - one phone in either hand, eyes on the computer screen, Bettye communicates between doctors and patients,  cultures and continents, fluidly and patiently. 

Bettye will be a lifelong friend and mentor to me. Her generous service to her family in the States and at FOCOS is inspiring and makes me excited to become more involved in this kind of work, the way that she is.  Auntie Bettye,  THANK YOU!