Favors of love

Gayle Fister

This Christmas Eve, as she has done for roughly the past 17 years, Gayle Fister will go door to door at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital, delivering more than 100 dinner tray favors to patients as a way of wishing them a merry Christmas.

No one likes to spend the holidays in the hospital. But for those who must, Fister's holiday mementos bring a spot of joy.

"When they get their tray favors, their eyes just light up," said Fister, 64, who began volunteering at Cardinal Hill more than 20 years ago, after her father, aunt and sister all received successful treatment there following strokes. The patients "are just so eager to get something (for the holiday). Most of them end up with tears in their eyes."

This year, Fister will hand out a small ornament with Santa on a sleigh along with a small card she's made for every patient.

But her tray favor program isn't just for Christmastime. Working with the Cardinal Hill Auxiliary and its gift shop, which purchases the favors, Fister also distributes favors at Halloween, Valentine's Day and the Fourth of July.

This past Halloween, Fister passed out hand-size squeeze balls in the shape of pumpkins, which patients could use during therapy.

Fister, a longtime member of the auxiliary, coordinates the group's bake sales. She also volunteers at her church, Cathedral of Christ the King.

"Cardinal Hill was started 57 years ago by volunteers, so it's fitting that Gayle demonstrates the caring philosophy that has continued in this hospital since its inception," said JoAnne Burch Burris, volunteer coordinator at Cardinal Hill. "Like all the members of our auxiliary, she is very dedicated to our hospital, and we are forever grateful for her service to our clients."

Fister's visits with the patients are by necessity brief, but nonetheless meaningful.

"With the privacy laws, we cannot ask patients any personal questions about their illnesses," Fister said. "But I can just go in and say, 'Happy Holidays.' And we can encourage them, and say, 'Oh, you're doing great today.'"

Photo by Joseph Rey Au   , article by Robin Roenker,  published Dec. 12, 2007 at lexington.com and Lexington Herald-Leader