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Making #CLTStrong

Caroline Elliott is on a mission to feed healthcare workers on the front lines

Since the start of the pandemic, Caroline Elliott has raised more than $85,000 to feed front-line workers in the fight against COVID-19. It’s a campaign that has taken on a life of its own since its launch back in March, gaining momentum, attracting volunteers and making an impact.

The first week in May, it also landed her in the Oval Office of the White House, in a group of her fellow nurses, listening to President Donald Trump sing their collective praises in celebration of National Nurses Day.

“It was wild. It was kind of an out-of-body experience,” Elliott said. “It’s such an honor to be a nurse. The fact that I’m considered in the same category as so many people I’ve met who have these incredible stories is just mind-blowing to me. I’m doing what I can, and that’s important. But as I kept saying over and over at the White House, I definitely don’t deserve this.”

The front-line workers she’s been feeding, as well as the restaurants she’s been able to support in the process, would beg to differ.

Elliott is a fertility nurse. She lives in Charlotte but works remotely for a clinic in Washington, D.C. She is not on the front lines, but she has friends and colleagues who are.

“That’s what sparked my initial urge to do something. I just started to think, ‘What can I do to help?”’ Elliott said.

One of her friends on the West Coast had purchased bagels and coffee for a local hospital, and Elliott decided to do something similar. Healthcare workers need to eat to do their jobs. With cafeterias and restaurants shut down, they have to bring food from home or rely on vending machines with limited options. Elliott thought she could take that worry off their plate, while helping them eat well throughout their shifts.

At the same time, local restaurants needed business as the state-mandated lockdown forced them to close their doors and lay off workers. So Elliott decided to try a campaign that would pull double duty: She’d raise money to buy food from local restaurants, giving them a much-needed revenue boost. Then, she would donate that food to front-line medical workers at facilities across the Charlotte region.

She started out taking donations via Venmo. Within 24 hours, she’d raised $8,000.

“I quickly booked some lunches and some dinners, and it took off from there,” Elliott said. “People heard my story and spread the word. It’s been kind of a whirlwind. We’ve raised a lot of money, had some fun partnerships and worked with some generous, gracious people.”

Those people have given life to the campaign, now known as #CLTStrong, and its mission even when Elliott couldn’t. On the day of her first delivery back in March, she found out she’d been exposed to the coronavirus.

“I was heartbroken,” Elliott said.

Soon, her husband, Frank, tested positive for COVID-19, and while Elliott was never officially tested, she fell ill soon after.

“We had to call on our friends and family and strangers to do our deliveries. Now it’s all strangers — people I’ve never met. That’s one thing I’m really grateful for,” Elliott said. “It’s just complete strangers coming out of the woodwork and wanting to do something to help. Nobody has to do anything, but they are.”

Elliott put herself on self-quarantine for six weeks and relied on the generosity of volunteers to continue deliveries. Local businesses, such as jewelry maker Twine & Twig and Glory Days Apparel, have joined the effort to raise funds. Young Plantations filled her car with 600 bags of cookies.

Those donations have gone out across the healthcare community in Charlotte, including Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. Alex Funderburg, chair of the Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation board of directors, has become one of her champions, and the entire team at Presbyterian Medical Center has been tremendously grateful for the support #CLTStrong has been able to provide.

“Caroline knew a lot of these workers were facing tough hours and putting themselves in harm’s way,” Funderburg said. “Now, the campaign has served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort.”

At the same time, the money she’s raised has provided critical support for local restaurants. One restaurant owner told her he was able to hire back one of his employees, knowing that a big order was coming from #CLTStrong.

“Now I’m learning about which restaurants really need the help right now, and we’re doing our best to help those places out,” she said.

Even as we edge our way into a new and less restrictive normal, Elliott plans to continue this work, providing meals, helping restaurants and collaborating with others in the community. It’s not her job, but it is part of what being a nurse means to her.

“When I was a pediatric nurse, there were so many nights when I lay in bed with patients and scratched their backs to help them go to sleep. As nurses, we’re constantly stepping in to do whatever is needed to help,” Elliott said. “Throughout all of this, I have not heard one person complain. Everybody is just so eager to get in there and do what they can do.”

She’s seen that same resiliency throughout the broader Charlotte community, as well.

“Everyone has come together. It’s been pretty amazing,” she said.

You can do your part to support front-line healthcare workers with a donation to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

The fund provides critical resources for those workers so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives.

Join us and make your gift today.

Donate now

Taking action on the front lines of COVID-19

Melissa Morin’s energy is her superpower in the fight against a global pandemic

Melissa Morin doesn’t like to sit still. Over the course of her career in healthcare, that energy has been her signature, her specialty and her superpower.

She started out after high school as a volunteer with a local rescue squad in Manassas, Virginia. She spent some time as a paramedic. Then, she joined the emergency room at Novant Health Prince William Medical Center as a nursing technician. From the beginning, she was hooked.

“I got the bug. This was a fit. This was what my calling was going to be,” said Morin, now a nurse manager in the Emergency Services Department at Prince William Medical Center. “I have a lot of energy. I don’t really sit still well, and I like to fix things. When people are in crisis, they come to the hospital seeking help, and I like being part of the team that says, ‘This is what we’ve got to do to fix you.’”

Solving those problems has become more difficult in recent weeks, as the COVID-19 crisis has taken hold in Manassas and surrounding communities.

“It’s been a challenge only because these are uncharted waters. We’ve not had to deal with anything on this scale,” she said.

But Morin and her team have risen to the challenge from day one.

“In the early days, we walked the unit, figuring out what we would need if we had a huge surge of patients,” Morin said. “We started pre-planning at the very beginning.”

Those walks through the unit continue even now, along with regular meetings to share updates, to ask about needs and to solicit new ideas from the team to streamline processes or operations.

“We want to hear what our team members have to say,” Morin said. “We try very hard to get them involved, and everyone from charge nurses to technicians are sending us emails and leaving notes with ideas about what we could try. Some things work really well, and if they don’t, we try something else.”

They’re all vested in the work because they understand the role the emergency department plays in the health of the rest of the hospital.

“We are the line of defense to hold infections from getting upstairs to the rest of the facility, or from going home to the rest of your family,” Morin said. “We have places to have you shower before you leave. We’re telling people to bring an extra pair of shoes — anything they need to feel comfortable to go home.”

The community has done its part, too, Morin said.

“Every day we have food. There are people who are coming to the door of the hospital giving us boxes of unopened gloves,” she said. “Our community really has rallied around us on this.”

There have been other wins for the team, like the patient who was on a ventilator for 33 days and recovered.

“He was high-fiving people on his way out the door, thanking people for saving his life,” Morin said. “He was one of our great success stories.”

Those moments help with morale and positivity, which is one of Morin’s strengths. But she acknowledges that’s been hard in the midst of COVID-19.

“I am pretty well known to be the positive, Pollyanna kind of person. You throw in that extra spice of an international pandemic, and it definitely gives you a challenge. But you’ve got to stay positive,” Morin said. “There are some days that are more of a challenge than others, but I have a phenomenal team of assistant nurse managers, and we take it as a group approach.”

That’s especially important on the difficult days. The emergency room has implemented a no-visitation policy, which holds true no matter why you have to visit the hospital. People are still having heart attacks or other life-ending or life-altering diseases, and Morin said it’s been hard to tell families that they will be limited in how they say goodbye.

“There are people whose families are afraid to come into the facility because of COVID or aren’t able to get to us because public transportation’s not running,” Morin said. “We do have patients who pass away. Nobody should have to die by themselves, but it does happen, and it’s happened more frequently than I would like.”

Slowly, the hospital is getting back to normal, as the world around Prince William Medical Center reopens, Morin said. Throughout that process, one thing will remain the same.

“Taking care of patients will not change regardless of what the influences are around it, and we do a really good job of it here,” Morin said. “The nursing staff is fantastic. Our senior executive team is supportive, and our community deserves to have the best care.”

Just as our healthcare workers are giving us the most remarkable care, we need to ensure they have the resources they need now.

You can help, with a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

Join us and help those on the front lines of an unprecedented battle.

Donate now

Charting a new path forward

In the midst of a pandemic, priorities have shifted, but this community’s generosity remains the same

Back in February, well before the COVID-19 pandemic created our strange, new reality, Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation hosted a disco party.

More than 250 people turned out, decked out in bell bottoms and sequins, all in support of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation’s A Path Forward campaign, which is raising funds to support behavioral health initiatives and programs in the community. In total, the event raised over $40,000, said Cindy Cheatham, development program manager for Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center Foundation.

“It was wonderful, so fun and such a huge success,” Cheatham said.

Then came COVID-19.

The pandemic has changed a lot of things in and around Brunswick Medical Center. There are fewer people around the hospital every day, with elective procedures canceled and nonessential staff working from home. Telemedicine visits and face masks are the new normal. Any in-person events have been canceled, and fundraising priorities have shifted to support the hospital’s front-line workers through the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund.

But one thing hasn’t changed: the community’s desire to support Brunswick Medical Center, any way they can.

Cheatham tells the story of a local church that took up an offering recently, which it used to purchase 300 meals from Hwy 55. The donation provided enough hot dogs and hamburgers to feed the entire hospital.

“So many people are buying food for our team, and restaurants have been sending meals. They’re suffering, too, and their willingness to donate to those on the front lines has been a testament to the generosity of our small community,” Cheatham said.

Shelbourn Stevens, president of Brunswick Medical Center, has seen a similar outpouring of support as the community rallies behind healthcare workers.

One community member with a 3D printer at home has been making face shields and delivering them to the hospital as he can, Stevens said. In addition, the volunteer team at the hospital has been routinely making cards and other gifts to thank front-line workers.

“One day, they went out and put them on the windows and windshields of team members’ cars. As people got off their shift, they found a note thanking them for being there,” Stevens said. “I had folks coming up to me after the fact with tears in their eyes. It’s those little gestures that go a long way.”

At the same time, many healthcare workers need more than thanks during this time. Some have spouses who have lost jobs. Others are struggling to find affordable child care or to find temporary lodging to avoid exposing their family members to coronavirus. That’s why Stevens and Cheatham have prioritized raising funds for the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund above all else. The fund was created to ensure front-line healthcare workers can pay for what they need now so they can focus on the important work of helping patients and saving lives.

“We call them our ‘healthcare heroes.’ They are the ones fighting the battles to keep us all well, and this community wants to help,” Cheatham said.

The community has stepped up to support its healthcare workers before, in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence back in 2018. And it will happen again now, Stevens said.

“As a hospital team and as a community, we’re going to rally together and get through this. We continue to grow to meet the needs of the community, and this pandemic is not going to slow us down,” Stevens said. “We’ve proven time and again we’re stronger than that, and we’re going to be even stronger on the other side of this.”

While the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund remains the priority in the immediate future, the Brunswick Medical Center Foundation also believes the focus on behavioral health — the purpose behind the disco party just a few months ago — should not be lost. Brunswick Medical Center continues to offer virtual counseling sessions, and Cheatham said the need for increased access to that care will be more important after the pandemic than ever before.

“There are a lot of people out there who are right on the edge, and who knows what kind of job loss or financial loss has heightened those anxieties and those pressures,” Cheatham said. “On the other side of this, a lot of people are going to see the need for behavioral health services, and we want to be there to help”

You can help, too, by making a contribution

Either to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund or to support the A Path Forward campaign to increase access to behavioral health services throughout the community. More now than ever, our community must come together, for our front-line healthcare workers and each other.

Support our team members     Support A Path Forward


Infection prevention in the time of COVID-19

How Heather Ridge is working to keep patients, team members and the community safe

The COVID-19 pandemic may have taken the world by storm in 2020, but Heather Ridge has been preparing for this moment her entire career.  

As the infection prevention nurse at Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center, it’s her job to keep her fellow nurses, support staff and executive team apprised of the latest developments and best practices so that patients can continue receiving the best possible care.

For Ridge, it’s her way of giving back to society. She began her career with a degree in biology from UNC Charlotte and started off working at LabCorp. There, she performed tests and cultures, and she learned the impact that information can have on a person. One particular weekend, she received a call about a laboring patient awaiting the results of a screening that could impact the patient’s delivery.

“Because her results were positive, she was going to end up having a C-section, which is a major surgery,” Ridge said. “I quickly realized I wanted to be on the other side to help prevent some of the things I was testing for, before serious complications could occur. My honest to goodness goal was to make a difference.”

With that goal in mind, she went to nursing school and began her nursing career in 2004 as a medical-surgical nurse. When she saw a posting for an infection preventionist, she knew right away it was her calling.

“When I saw the job description, I said, ‘Yep, that’s me. That’s all Heather.’”

An infection preventionist is involved in a little bit of everything within a hospital, from developing workflows and policies to being available to units to answer questions to preventing the risk of healthcare-associated infections — all with the overall goal of patient safety. Because infection risk permeates every facet of healthcare, control efforts have a part to play in decisions at the micro and macro levels, from cleaning products to plant engineering and construction.

The largest responsibility by far is education. Ridge often roams the floors of the hospital and calls out areas of concern. She takes time to celebrate successes, as well.

“I compliment people on their hand hygiene all the time,” Ridge said with a laugh. “They think I’m crazy, but I truly mean it.”

It’s an expression of her passion for a role that has presented her with amazing opportunities, such as a two-and-a-half-year grant position as a nurse consultant for the Statewide Program for Infection Control and Epidemiology (SPICE) for North Carolina. For more than a year, Ridge and her colleagues traveled around the state reviewing infection control infrastructure at skilled nursing facilities, hospitals, outpatient clinics and dialysis centers. Along the way, she worked to alleviate gaps in community infection control practices.

“It was very eye-opening and very rewarding,” Ridge said. “It felt so good to provide resources, help and education.”

Once the grant ended, Ridge wanted to support her community, so she joined Novant Health as the full-time preventionist at Thomasville Medical Center, where she’s found her team ready to learn, especially as it relates to COVID-19.

“I’ve been so proud of our team here,” Ridge said. “They’re adapting, asking questions, staying focused and remaining positive.”

Ridge has taken on a lot of extra work during the pandemic. She’s been on call all hours of the night, and she’s been a fearless advocate for the use of personal protective equipment (PPE). She has also kept everyone up to date with the latest information and helped to separate fact from fiction.

“There’s still so much to learn about this novel coronavirus,” Ridge said. “We just don’t know, and that’s hard for anybody in healthcare to accept. We don’t have all the facts yet. It’s going to take a long time.” 

Now more than ever, her expertise and buoyant personality have been a welcome boost to Thomasville Medical Center, but Ridge knows the goal of safety is bigger than she is. She sees the team as a family, with mutual respect and appreciation for each other.

“The infection prevention system team, we’re united,” Ridge said. “This is a family — its own little community. We genuinely are. We care for each other, which is special. That’s why I love it here.”

As the country seeks to turn the corner on COVID-19 and with restrictions set to expire, Ridge hopes the widespread effort to contain infection persists. She’s seen such impressive hand hygiene lately; it’s been “a dream.” Above all, she doesn’t want this time to be forgotten.

“I want this to be our habit now,” Ridge said. “I want us to continue this successful journey.”

Whatever that “new normal” turns out to be, she has been grateful for the love and support of her husband, Joey, and three kids during the crisis.

“I have an outstanding husband who really made sure things were taken care of on the home front, so now, it’s transitioned into how I can support him and the children while they’re distance learning.”

The community has also stepped up to show its gratitude to Ridge and the rest of Thomasville Medical Center. Ridge noted that the hospital has received all sorts of donations, from PPE and masks to snacks and cards, and people have left warm messages with sidewalk chalk. 

“Every day, someone’s trying to give a little piece back to us for what we’re doing as a community,” Ridge said. “Any way to be purposeful and give back to the community is greatly appreciated.”

As for the future, Ridge plans to go back to school someday to further her career in public health. In the meantime, she’ll continue her work within the walls of Thomasville Medical Center.

“I get to help people in whatever little way it is, whether I keep them safe because their caregivers have clean hands or I don’t spread a multidrug-resistant organism to someone else because my team members are wearing PPE appropriately,” Ridge said. “I make a difference because I keep people safe. It’s just that basic.”

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as “Year of the Nurse” in celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. We are proud to celebrate and recognize our Novant Health nursing team members this year, and always, for the remarkable care they deliver to our patients and their loved ones every day.

You can make a difference, too.

With a gift to The Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), which provides critical resources to team members like Heather as they continue the fight against COVID-19. Join us and donate today.

Donate now

Grants expand access to breast health services for low-income and uninsured patients throughout the Charlotte region

2019 was a very important year for breast health services in Charlotte.

Last year, Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation was awarded more than $275,000 in grants to support breast health services in Charlotte, Huntersville, Matthews and Mint Hill markets. As a result, Novant Health Cancer Prevention, Education and Early Detection (NHCPED) staff provided 986 low-income, uninsured participants with screening services at 48 community events and diagnosed 14 breast cancers.

NHCPED staff, led by Maria Kuklinski-Long, target low-income and under/uninsured individuals in Mecklenburg, Union, Iredell, Rowan and Cabarrus counties in North Carolina, as well as York County in South Carolina, for grant-funded screening, education and diagnostic services in an effort to improve access to care and reduce breast cancer mortality.

The breast screening and education program is important for patients like Sandra, who is currently unemployed and has no insurance. She is a patient at Camino Clinic, where clinic staff prequalified Sandra for her first mammogram. The NHCPED breast health educator provided Sandra with breast health information as part of the mammogram screening appointment, including information on the importance of regular mammography screenings. Sandra now plans to schedule annual screening mammograms to identify any potential health threats early.

“Without funders who support uninsured people like me, I would not have had the means to get a mammogram,” Sandra said.

Thanks to ongoing grant support, NHCPED team members can help more patients like Sandra, who do not have insurance and cannot afford preventive health care.

To learn more about the Novant Health Cancer Prevention, Education and Early Detection program, click below.

Learn more


‘Leaders are made in moments like this’

From Hurricane Florence to COVID-19, Rob Stumbo is on a mission to help, no matter what

When you ask Rob Stumbo about the most poignant moment in his nursing career, he takes you back to 2018, when he was standing on the helipad of Novant Health Brunswick Medical Center in the hours immediately after Hurricane Florence had battered the surrounding community.

Stumbo had been on lockdown in the hospital with the rest of the medical team for six days while the hurricane raged. The North Carolina National Guard was conducting search-and-rescue missions and then bringing sick or injured patients to the emergency room.

“That was one of the hardest moments, professionally and personally, I ever had to go through,” said Stumbo, a nurse and house supervisor at Brunswick Medical Center. “There was a lot of fear. Everyone has their family in the community and their homes, and we left all that to be at the hospital and to provide for the community.”

Over the course of those six days, a patient came into the hospital who was in bad shape. She had to be placed on a ventilator, and, at a certain point, it became clear that she needed to be moved to a larger healthcare facility. Under normal circumstances, the team would call in a helicopter right away. In a hurricane, they didn’t have that option.

So Stumbo and his team dedicated all the resources they could to stabilize her condition until the hurricane passed. As soon as the storm broke, they sent for a helicopter, which landed at the hospital a short time later.

“I remember being out there when the chopper took her. I remember high-fiving everyone as they flew away. The sun was parting the clouds. It was like a movie,” Stumbo recalled. “It felt like we finally helped her.”

And helping people is all Stumbo has ever wanted to do.

It started when he became an EMT in his early 20s, after a friend had a diabetic seizure right in front of him. Seeing that made him feel helpless, and he hated it.

“I don’t like not knowing what to do,” Stumbo said.

So, he learned. Being an EMT taught him how to respond in a crisis, how to help. Then, when he met his wife, a nurse, she encouraged him to do more. She told him he’d make a great nurse, and he listened. Stumbo got his LPN, his RN, his BSN, and now he’s one month away from receiving his master’s degree in nursing.

“I do feel like nurses are the backbone of healthcare. We’re there for people in their worst moments. These are not experiences those people necessarily want to remember, but we get letters all the time thanking us,” Stumbo said. “It’s been challenging, but we feel a sense of duty. My dad will ask me sometimes how I do what I do, and I tell him, ‘If I don’t do it, who will?’ That’s the attitude that nurses have. We need to step up because we’re willing to be that person.”

Since Stumbo joined Brunswick Medical Center five years ago, he’s had to step up a lot. He’s the youngest house supervisor on staff by more than a decade — a promotion that he considers one of the highlights of his career. But more than that, the past few years have brought some of the most significant challenges the young hospital has ever faced.

Hurricane Florence was one of them. The COVID-19 pandemic is another.

“I was there during several early cases when we suspected COVID-19. It was a very scary time for everyone. We had great backup from our leadership, but no one knew how serious this situation was going to be,” Stumbo said. “When all this was really starting to ramp up, I went to every department and asked if they needed anything. I looked them all in the eye and told them, ‘Whatever happens, we’re going to figure it out.’”

House supervisors are the engine of the hospital, Stumbo said. They ensure everyone and everything stays on track. A big part of that involves making sure team members have a place to turn when they have questions or need assurance.

“I spend a lot of time consoling people,” Stumbo said. “Everything is changing every day, but we’re all in this together. And we really have become a more cohesive unit for the whole facility. It’s amazing to see how we’ve all adapted.”

He’s also been amazed at how different members of his team have risen to the challenge, Stumbo said.

In the earliest days of the pandemic, a man came to the emergency room at Brunswick Medical Center in cardiac arrest. Stumbo and his team didn’t know if he had tested positive for the virus. They just knew he needed help.

“This was very early on, when we were still figuring everything out, and there was no hesitation. Everyone jumped in. We fell right back into our practices of helping, even though at the same time we were taking a huge risk compared to what we were taking two weeks before,” Stumbo said. “The charge nurse risked his life to try and save that patient, and we see that every day with our people. They just care, and that’s the biggest thing that we’ll take away from this. Leaders are made in moments like this.”

Stumbo, too, is among those leading the charge. He’s on the front lines every day, so when he comes home to his wife and four dogs, he leaves his clothes on the front porch and heads straight to the shower. To protect others, he tries not to go anywhere except work and home. And he hasn’t seen his parents or his grandmother, all of whom live nearby, in a month.

He acknowledges that it’s hard, but at the same time, he doesn’t complain. He loves what he does, no matter how difficult the job can be.

“Helping people is all I’ve ever really wanted to do,” he said. “This job gives me an opportunity to make a difference, and I can see it every day.”

The World Health Organization has designated 2020 as “Year of the Nurse” in celebration of Florence Nightingale’s 200th birthday. We are proud to celebrate and recognize our Novant Health nursing team members this year, and always, for the remarkable care they deliver to our patients and their loved ones every day.

Nurses like Rob Stumbo need our support more now than ever.

You can make a difference, too, by contributing to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund, which was established to help nurses and other team members on the front lines of the pandemic with rent assistance, child care services and more.

Donate now

‘There’s always room to give back’

The unique way underwear company Tommy John is supporting healthcare workers on the front lines

Since the global pandemic took hold in the U.S., there has been an outpouring of support for front-line healthcare workers. People have purchased pizzas for hospital staffers. They’ve made face masks by hand. They’ve written messages of gratitude and hope in sidewalk chalk.

Tom Patterson and Erin Fujimoto wanted to help, too. They decided to give underwear.

It may not seem like an obvious way to give back, but it made perfect sense for Patterson and Fujimoto. They are the husband-and-wife team who founded Tommy John, a popular national underwear company. They are also problem solvers at heart. They launched their company 12 years ago after Patterson grew tired of struggling with ill-fitting undershirts. And they’ve chosen to give new underwear to those on the front lines because they understand the unique issues that medical workers face.

“At the end of the day, it all boils down to comfort,” Fujimoto said. “These nurses are moving, moving, moving and doing so much physical work. If we could help them avoid a wedgie, why not do that?”

Fujimoto laughs when she describes the issues her company’s products were designed to solve. “Underwear is a funny business,” she said. But the impact Tommy John has made over the past two months is no laughing matter. Since the start of the pandemic, the company has contributed more than $500,000 in product to healthcare workers across the U.S. — including a recent gift of more than $85,000 worth of undergarments to Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center. These items will be distributed to front-line team members during Nursing Team Member Week, May 6 to 12.

“We’re still a pretty small company, and obviously every business is struggling right now. But at the same time, there’s always room to give back,” Fujimoto said. “We have this amazing product. It’s premium. It’s kind of a splurge, in some cases. And if we can use that product to deliver a bit of comfort to nurses on the front lines, then it’s well worth it.”

While Patterson and Fujimoto live in Hoboken, N.J., they have a strong connection to the Charlotte community. Patterson has family in the area, and there is a Tommy John store in the SouthPark Mall. As they looked for hospitals to partner with for their donations, Presbyterian Medical Center was a natural choice.

“It’s an area we love and a community that has been so supportive of us and our business as our brand has continued to grow,” Fujimoto said.

Given the limitations imposed by a pandemic, Patterson and Fujimoto haven’t seen their donations go out firsthand, but they have heard some wonderful stories.

“Some of the nurses who have seen our efforts have reached out and asked for donations. They’ve told us about the stress and how hard-hitting this pandemic is and how happy it makes them to know that people are willing to give back,” Fujimoto said. “To be able to help them feel like they’re appreciated goes a long way.”

It also alleviates discomfort, which is a problem not necessarily talked about, but one Patterson and Fujimoto know exists. They survey their customers often, and even before the pandemic, they found out the brand has a sizable following in the medical community. These are professionals who work long hours, who have physical and demanding jobs. 

“Because they are moving all the time, it makes sense to invest in products that perform,” Fujimoto said.

Tommy John prides itself on making products that perform. In fact, that’s how the company got its start back in 2008. At the time, Patterson was a medical device sales rep who had grown frustrated with all the ill-fitting undershirts on the market. He was constantly adjusting his shirts and tucking them back in multiple times a day. He couldn’t find anything on the market that performed the way he wanted it to, so Fujimoto suggested he take action. The couple had something designed from scratch.

The resulting product was so good, it developed a fan base among Patterson’s friends and colleagues. When Patterson lost his job in 2008, he decided to pursue Tommy John full time. Before long, he had sold products into Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom, and it grew from there. The company has since expanded its product line to include men’s and, more recently, women’s underwear, and it has built a reputation for prioritizing comfort and fit above all else. 

Beyond the donations to front-line healthcare workers, Tommy John is now feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Two of our primary selling channels — wholesale and retail — have been shut down, so we’ve had to pivot our business strategy entirely,” Fujimoto said. “We’re lucky that we’ve always had a heavy ecommerce business, but we have to lean into it much more.”

These days, Patterson and Fujimoto also have the added complexity of being parents to two young children, ages 3 and 5. Juggling the full-time work of running their business with the full-time work of raising their kids has presented a new challenge, but they’re leaning into that one, too.

“It’s hard, but it’s so rewarding to find new things to do with the kids. Our daughter, who is 5, is really into finding ants right now, so as long as it’s not raining, we are going out ant hunting. And it’s awesome,” Fujimoto said. “If you find the little moments to appreciate and cherish, there are some things to really enjoy about this time.”

If you can’t give underwear, not to worry. You can support front-line workers with a contribution to the Novant Health COVID019 Disaster Relief Fund.

All gifts to the fund go to provide healthcare workers with the resources they need — from housing assistance to child care — so they can focus on the important work of helping people and saving lives.

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Defying the odds

A life-saving gift from a man who wasn’t supposed to live past the age of 5

When Bradley Hill was born, doctors told his family he wouldn’t live past the age of 5.

He was born with spina bifida, a condition that occurs when the spine and spinal cord do not form properly in the womb. At birth, he also had a cleft palate and lip and hydrocephalus, more commonly referred to as water on the brain. His prognosis, doctors said, wasn’t good.

Since then, he’s had over 75 surgeries. He has a shunt in his brain and a rod in his back. But he has defied the odds: On Sunday, April 26, 2020, he turned 19 years old.

“He’s the sweetest boy ever with the best outlook on life,” said Sarah Sweatt, Hill’s cousin and a professor in the Department of Nursing at Catawba College in Salisbury, N.C.  

A motorized wheelchair takes him all over his family farm in Gold Hill, N.C. He loves to eat Frosties from Wendy’s and pureed bananas. He traveled to California to meet his idol, Steve Harvey. Last year, he graduated from high school, and his family hosted a big party, where he sang karaoke all night.

He’s the kind of guy who sings “Happy Birthday” — his favorite song — to total strangers when he learns it’s their special day. He’s also the kind of individual who donated his stockpile of medical supplies to help medical workers battling the COVID-19 crisis at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center.

“He likes helping people,” Sweatt said. “He was happy those supplies could be used instead of staying in storage.”

Although Hill has far surpassed expectations when it comes to his health, he still requires a great deal of medical care, so his family had large quantities of medical supplies on hand — some of which they knew they would not need and that would be better served protecting doctors and nurses on the front lines. The stockpile included boxes of sterile gloves and catheter kits that each contained a few pieces of personal protective equipment.

Sweatt also lives on the family farm, near Hill and his grandparents. She had already planned to deliver snacks to the nurses at Novant Health Rowan Medical Center in Salisbury — a gift coordinated through the Catawba College Nursing Department. When she learned about the contribution Hill wanted to make, she borrowed her husband’s truck and loaded it up with supplies, too.

“This pandemic is scary, and it’s overwhelming. I know a lot of the nurses working in the ICU and the COVID-19 units who are staying in campers, so they don’t expose their family members,” Sweatt said. “I have coworkers and friends who are on the front lines, and it’s got to be very difficult.”

Donations of personal protective equipment, like what Hill and his family were able to provide, make it easier for these front-line heroes to continue that work, while keeping themselves and their families safe. That’s what prompted Hill to act.

Apart from the donation, the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t changed life all that much for Hill. Given some pre-existing lung issues and a compromised immune system, he is considered “high risk,” so even under normal circumstances, he does not leave home often.

He prefers to spend his days on the family farm, riding around in his grandfather’s truck or on the John Deere Gator. He collects keys to everything, all gathered in a gallon plastic bag, and can tell you what each one opens just by looking at it. His entire extended family lives on the same 200 acres of land — people in the community call it Hill Farm — where there are four ponds, goats and chickens to tend to, and no shortage of vehicles to ride around in.

Still, there are things he’s looking forward to on the other side of the pandemic.

“He can’t wait to go to church. Our church has probably 80 members. He’ll come down the aisle and light the candles. He used to sing in church,” Sweatt said, turning her attention to Hill. “I haven’t heard you sing lately, though. That’s going to be first on your list.”

He does have one outing to look forward to in the near future. Sweatt recently brought one of the family’s horses to a local nursing home and walked it through the parking lot as part of a parade of cars full of families trying to bring some joy to the residents.

“There were cars honking everywhere, and the residents were very grateful,” Sweatt said. “I told Bradley I’m going to take him next time I go.”

Bradley Hill is one of so many generous people who have heard the call to support our healthcare workers and responded.

You can make an impact, too, by making a gift to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund.

Contributions to that fund allow us to provide everything from financial assistance to life-saving personal protective equipment to our workers on the front lines, and every dollar counts.

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Novant Health unsung heroes inspire gift to aid COVID-19 response

The Good Fellows Club contributes $50K to help those who keep our facilities safe

For the past century, The Good Fellows Club has provided working families with emergency assistance — help with rent and utilities when those families find themselves struggling to make ends meet.

Most years, the club’s 1,800 members contribute some $900,000 to that work. This year, with a global pandemic bearing down on our community, they wanted to give more, said Stick Williams, a former Duke Energy executive and president of the club’s board of directors.

To that end, The Good Fellows Club recently made a $50,000 gift to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund to support front-line clinical and environmental services team members. That includes not just those actively fighting COVID-19, but those who do the critical, behind-the-scenes work of keeping our healthcare facilities up and running every single day.

“Even in normal times, we take for granted that our healthcare facilities are going to be clean and sterile. We take for granted that the needs of all patients are going to be taken care of. We’re not mindful of everything that needs to happen to make sure we can have the best healthcare in the world,” Williams said. “It takes people to do that. It takes people to do every phase of work to have the facilities and the equipment we need and that hand that comforts us and encourages us. COVID-19 has highlighted just how incredible the people are who care for us day in and day out. So what an honor it is for us to recognize them and to provide these dollars for their care.”

These families may be under increased financial pressures as the coronavirus continues to impact our community, Williams noted. While there have been sweeping moratoriums on evictions and the shutdown of utilities, that relief is only temporary.

“We know that once the community opens up again and those moratoriums end, there’s going to be a deluge of need,” he said.

The $50,000 donation will go toward helping with rent, housing or other pressing financial needs. The Good Fellows Club is also pulling together a pool of volunteers to help determine who to support and how to provide this care through the pandemic and beyond, Williams said.

“There is nothing that compares to COVID-19 and the impact. I’ve never seen anything like this,” Williams said. “Businesses were strong. They were profitable. They just had to close. And now all of a sudden, all these people are out of work. You just don’t turn the switch on and everything goes back to normal.”

Among the members of The Good Fellows Club, that’s what resonated most about this effort, which is part of a $100,000 gift across both major health systems in Charlotte. The organization was founded to help those who have fallen on hard times find solid footing again.

“This gift was right up our alley. Those environmental service workers, those who cook and so forth, they’re struggling during this period of time,” Williams said. “I’ve never been so proud to be a Good Fellow.”

In recent weeks, Williams has seen other powerful examples of leadership throughout the Charlotte community, with people and organizations rising to meet the needs of those hit hardest by this pandemic.

To get through this, we’ll need to see more individuals and organizations step up. 

“We recognize that nothing compares with the impacts we’re seeing with this pandemic. That means every sector of this community will have to extend Herculean efforts to get us back to where we were,” Williams said. “Everybody’s going to have to eat that can of spinach and find amazing strength to do everything we can to get us back to where we were.”

One way to do that:

Consider a contribution to the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund to support those working in all areas of our healthcare facilities.

We must remember all healthcare heroes, including environmental services and other critical behind-the-scenes team members, and your gift will go a long way toward ensuring they have everything they need during a difficult time.

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