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The meaning of Memorial Day

Reflections of retired Gen. James Amos on our national day to remember

Memorial Day is more than just a long holiday weekend. In the Novant Health family, there is perhaps no one better suited to explain its resonance and significance than Gen. James Amos, USMC, Ret.

Amos joined the Novant Health board of trustees in 2018, after an impressive 42-year military career. He served as the 35th commandant of the Marines and oversaw units at every rank from lieutenant colonel to general. He reset the Corps’ combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, shepherding the beginning of a force reduction from 241,000 Marines to 221,000. And he introduced Marine leadership to industry best practices regarding diversity and talent management.

Now, as we head into this important weekend, we’ve asked him to share what it means for our military and our community.

Many Americans confuse Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Could you please explain why Memorial Day is sacred to active military men and women, to our veterans and to their loved ones? 

You bet I can. Memorial Day was established for Americans to take pause once a year and to remember the many sacrifices of men and women who have worn our nation’s cloth and have fought our nation’s battles over the past 244 years. As the word “memorial” tells us, it’s a day for remembering and honoring those who sacrificed their lives in battle and service.

It was first widely observed on May 30, 1868, to commemorate the sacrifices of Civil War soldiers. In the Civil War, an unimaginable 620,000 soldiers were killed, a death toll massive enough to force the creation of national cemeteries. The holiday used to be called Decoration Day because many people would spend the day placing decorations and flags on the graves of fallen soldiers.

On June 28, 1968, Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved four holidays, including Memorial Day, from their traditional dates to a specified Monday to create a convenient three-day weekend. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May.

Many people visit cemeteries and memorials on Memorial Day to honor and mourn those who died in military service. Many volunteers place an American flag on each grave in national cemeteries.

Veterans Day, on the other hand, has a different history. On the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, was declared between the Allied nations and Germany in the First World War, then known as “the Great War.” Commemorated as Armistice Day beginning the following year, Nov. 11 became a legal federal holiday in the United States in 1938. In the aftermath of World War II and the Korean War, Armistice Day became Veterans Day, a holiday dedicated to American veterans of war.

Could you share why you feel Memorial Day should have greater importance to our nation?

I’m kind of a softie at heart. My wife of almost 50 years calls me a mush-pot because I get choked up at most of our national holidays. But Memorial Day has a special meaning for me as it causes me to remember specific names — names of men and women I have personally served with who rest now under those white marble crosses in our military cemeteries. I’ve now buried two of my three closest friends in life, all three being fellow Marines. We entered the Marine Corps at the same time and grew up flying together over decades. Their lives, as well as their family’s lives, come to mind on Memorial Day.

And of course, the countless memorial services I’ve attended over the years, particularly since 9/11 and our combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, come to mind every Memorial Day. As I’ve grown older, many of the names have begun to fade, but the circumstances of their loss have never left me.

It’s simply our sacred duty as fellow Americans to take pause on Memorial Day.

You led Marines in multiple worldwide conflicts. Who are some of the patriots you remember on Memorial Day?

I remember well the CH-46 helicopter crew we lost on the opening night of Operation Iraqi Freedom. They crashed at 2 in the morning in the middle of a huge sandstorm, along with a squad of British Royal Marine Commandos that they were inserting behind enemy lines.

I remember taking the call in my command center at midnight about the loss of one of my attack helicopters just outside of Baghdad.

Then there was the CH-46 helicopter that went down in the Euphrates River, just south of ancient Babylon with all hands lost.

I well remember the Marines I lost on a convoy who were attacked just outside Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.

Years later, I remember the Marines I lost at the battle of Sangin, Afghanistan, one of the deadliest of our time. I remember attending the memorial services back home in Southern California for many of them, while standing by their families and loved ones.

The list is pretty long. My hope is that I don’t ever forget them as I get older. I want to remember as many of them as I can.

On 9/11, your office was destroyed by American Airlines flight 77 when it struck the Pentagon. Can you tell us how that affected you?

This was a defining time in my life. What happened on 9/11 has shaped my approach to many things since that day.

Just months before, I had moved into a newly renovated portion of the E-ring of the Pentagon. My office was on the fourth deck, overlooking the Pentagon helo pad and Arlington Cemetery. I was a young one-star [general] at the time, working as the deputy head of Marine Aviation. I was away from the building when American Airlines flight 77 was hijacked and deliberately flown into my side of the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., killing all 64 people onboard, including the five hijackers and the six air crew. In total, 184 people were killed that day at the Pentagon.

Just 35 minutes before, the airplane had taken off from Dulles and was loaded with jet fuel when it flew into the bottom three floors of the Pentagon. The impact and explosion were so severe that it drove what was left of the plane through the E and D rings, finally stopping at the C ring. My office was three windows just to the left of the point of impact. The top area and roof of the Pentagon burned for five days before the fire department was able to put out the flames.

Our entire country was in mourning. You remember it. None of us could believe that it had happened to us on our own soil.

Here is some of the irony, though:All partisan politics were set aside. Think about that. Partisans became patriots. Everybody flew American flags from the homes, their offices, on their cars. You couldn’t drive under an overpass on the interstate that wasn’t covered in American flags. We became a single body of people. We were all Americans, and we knew we’d come out of this and would see better days.

And you know what? We did, and we have. So while it was truly what I call “the worst of times,” it also became the best of times. Our nation came together. Like the Bible says, “We were in one accord.”

Marines have a proud history of leadership. What are some leadership lessons that all Americans can apply during this worldwide pandemic?

Great question. We need to remember who we are as a country and remember our history. We are overcomers. It’s time to be positive.

Never doubt that we will figure this COVID-19 matter out. While it’s a tough nut to crack, never doubt our ability to crack it.

When you think of all that our nation has been through in its 244 years, we have to believe in ourselves. We can do this.

Focus on what’s important, not the fear of the unknown. Do what’s right in taking care of your health and the health of your loved ones.

Lastly, if you have the wherewithal to help in any way, then do it. It can be financially or materially — just do it.

As our country suffers the loss of more than 90,000 Americans from COVID-19, what message would you like to share with “team aubergine” at Novant Health?

You know, Americans have always applied the term “hero” and “heroes” to our military, our police and our firefighters. I think that we’re seeing a whole new generation of heroes emerge out of the COVID-19 fight. You can’t look at national news in the evening or read the newspapers or scan the internet without reading about our healthcare workers — all of them, from doctors and nurses and physician assistants, to the team members who clean the rooms and ensure that all is sanitary.

This generation of healthcare workers has discovered its true grit. They’ve faced the impossible head on. They’ve stared down death and have overcome. While it’s been terrible, I predict that these men and women will rise from all that they’ve seen and experienced as more dedicated professionals. They have all been tried in the crucible of life and death, and they are stronger for it.

These ladies and gentlemen — selfless in all that they are now required to do — are today’s real heroes.

While the political climate in Washington now remains as partisan as I have ever seen it, we are seeing the goodness of our country begin to shine. Folks are coming forward to help in any way they can. Industry and the scientific communities are as energized as I’ve seen in decades. We’re going to get through this, and we’ll do it as an American people.

And similar to the tragedy of 9/11, while these are clearly the worst of times, I would argue that, in many ways, they will be viewed in hindsight as the best of times because the will and strength of the American people will have defeated the COVID-19 virus.

We are overcomers!

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.

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‘Our humanity is being challenged’

Alex Funderburg on the COVID-19 crisis and the community’s inspiring show of support

A decade before the COVID-19 crisis, Alex Funderburg, chair of the board for the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation, found himself on the front lines of a different and much more personal healthcare battle.

In 2009, when his daughter was 11 years old, she was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, a condition that causes chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. Funderburg started researching everything he could, learning about treatment options and the best places for care. In the process, he learned a lot about the world of healthcare. He saw challenges, as well as opportunities for improvement, and he wanted to help.

“A year after my daughter was diagnosed, she was getting better, and out of gratitude, I asked her doctor what I could do to get more involved. I ultimately was asked to rebuild the Carolinas Chapter of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation in the midst of the Great Recession,” Funderburg said.

It wasn’t his job, but it became his passion.

“The power of philanthropy — not just the power of giving, but the gratitude that comes when people rally and support a cause — really moved me,” Funderburg said. “It made me want to become more involved locally. With Novant Health, their focus on healthcare quality aligned perfectly with my interests.”

That rebuilding experience gave Funderburg the opportunity to pursue a philanthropic mission in a time of economic crisis — experience that is proving particularly valuable now, as Funderburg shepherds the board through an unprecedented time in healthcare.

“In rebuilding the chapter, I went way outside my comfort zone. I recruited board members. I called on individuals and corporations to build support,” Funderburg said. “The sense of purpose and the mission orientation was something I’d never experienced before in my professional life.”

He’s seeing it again now, as the COVID-19 crisis has taken hold and the community around Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center has risen up to support healthcare workers on the front lines, Funderburg said.

In April, Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation launched a fundraising campaign with the goal of matching up to $1 million of unrestricted funds to support the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund). So far, the campaign has raised almost $1 million from donors across the Charlotte community and beyond to fund critical resources, such as rent and child care assistance for healthcare workers in need. Following an initiative begun by fellow board member Emily Harry, Funderburg teamed up with several other board members to launch ribbon campaigns in their respective neighborhoods, asking their neighbors to donate to the fund and then hang purple ribbons in their yards as a show of support.

“I would say virtually every member of my block has donated, and it’s spreading throughout a number of neighborhoods,” he said. “Just like when I organized my first walk for the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, people come out of the woodwork to do incredible things, and it’s always inspiring. I just spoke with a couple who will be launching a ribbon campaign in their subdivision of over 1,400 homes.”

That inspiration is coming from all across Charlotte. Funderburg has seen a local nurse put together a GoFundMe campaign to purchase food for healthcare workers from local restaurants.

“They’ve served thousands of meals to our healthcare workers, and it’s been an entirely grassroots effort,” he said.

Students at Charlotte Latin School, with the help of a few parents, have designed and are producing face shields for medical workers. Brewers are switching from brewing beer to making hand sanitizer. There’s been a rebirth of chalk art to share messages of love and support, Funderburg said.

The country is now beginning to open up, but that doesn’t mean those efforts should stop. Healthcare workers will continue to be on the front lines, testing, treating and managing cases of COVID-19. And many of them will need support to do that work. Some have spouses who have lost jobs, putting them in financial hardship. Some need access to child care. Some can’t risk taking the virus home to immunocompromised family members and need temporary lodging away from home.

The current circumstance facing each front-line healthcare worker calls to mind that of a soldier, Funderburg said, someone putting him or herself at risk in support of the greater good.

“Unlike a soldier, I don’t think they signed up for what they’re in the middle of right now, but like a soldier, they’re stepping up and answering the call. And they deserve all of our support,” he said. “Our humanity is being fundamentally challenged right now. This disease is forcing us apart from each other. And figuring out ways to stay connected, to show that humanity to each other, that gratitude, that’s so important right now.”

You can do your part, too, by making a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund).

It’s an opportunity to make a difference for those doing everything they can to bring our community and our world out of crisis. And a little goes a long way.

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The story of ‘sweet baby Luke’

After the most difficult day of their lives, this family is on a mission to support Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital

His name was Luke, but more often than not, his family didn’t call him that. The 1-year-old boy with the infectious smile and joyful personality was better known as “sweet baby Luke.”

“We would call him that because he was so wonderful and sweet all the time. He loved people and dogs and playing with his brother. He was an absolute joy,” said Arliss Day, Luke’s mother and store manager of the Kendra Scott jewelry store in SouthPark Mall.

Then, one day in December of 2019, Luke had to be rushed to the emergency room at Novant Health Mint Hill Medical Center. One moment, he had been laughing and dancing; the next, Day and her family were watching Luke fight for his life.

“He was happy and healthy,” Day said. “As we anxiously waited in the ER to figure out what was going on, we had no idea we would later be saying goodbye to Luke.”

The medical team admitted him immediately, working feverishly to determine what was causing Luke’s rapid and devastating decline.

“He passed away in my arms, and they revived him,” Day said. “The entire emergency room team was at the door with us. They were doing everything in their power to help us, but nobody knew what was wrong.”

Soon, the family was transferred by ambulance to Novant Health Hemby Children’s Hospital Emergency Department, where they met Dr. Emily Nazarian and the team of medical professionals that would be there with them through the most difficult day of their lives.

“We knew they truly loved Luke. They asked what he liked to do, what his personality was, and we appreciated that they never gave us false hope,” Day said. “They were very upfront with what was happening, but they delivered it in such a sincere way and they were there for us as much as possible.”

The doctors were eventually able to pinpoint what was happening to Luke: He had volvulus, a twisting of the intestines more common and treatable in newborns. It is rare in children Luke’s age, and four hours after he was rushed to the ER, it took his life.

“We never had to leave Luke’s side. I was able to stand over the hospital crib and hold his hand and kiss his head. They could have easily sent me out to the waiting room, but they never did. They let me continue to love on him,” Day said.

The past few months have been hard, to say the least, but Day has found bright spots. Kendra Scott gave her three months off after Luke passed away, and she threw a fundraiser to help cover some of the family’s expenses. Day and her husband have a 3-year-old son named Adam, and as he adjusts to his new reality, he has taken to making LEGO creations to leave next to Luke’s grave every time the family visits.

The family is also turning its energy toward giving back. Day and her husband , Kelvin, have started the Luke Day Foundation to help other families who lose a child unexpectedly. And they want to continue to honor and recognize the staff at Hemby Children’s Hospital.

That work began in January. Day was eager to show her support and gratitude to Dr. Navarian and all the nurses who had cared for Luke and her family, so she worked with her team at Kendra Scott to orchestrate a delivery of lunches and jewelry, giving each team member in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) a piece from the Kendra Scott collection.

“It was a bittersweet day. I didn’t know if I would make it through the doors of the PICU,” Day said. “When we showed up, we saw so many familiar faces. They told us this wasn’t necessary, and we said, ‘Yes, this isn’t even enough.’”

Kendra Scott has since made Hemby Children’s Hospital part of the Kendra Cares program, which brings the company’s signature Color Bar to pediatric hospitals to allow patients and families to design their own complimentary pieces of jewelry. And, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Day is planning a return trip to the hospital to deliver lunch and Kendra Scott face masks during Nursing Team Member Week.

“I think about them a lot. I pray. They’re the true heroes in it all, and I know it’s not easy for them. They all have families of their own, as well. Being able to balance that, it’s really hard, and they are put into such difficult situations. My heart has gone out to them. You worry about them,” she said.

Day has also been working with Kendra Scott’s nonprofit partners to orchestrate other events to benefit the team at Presbyterian Medical Center. Typically, the Kendra Scott location in SouthPark Mall hosts five philanthropic events per week. With the pandemic, those events have all been canceled, but Day has been working with organizers to take them from in-person to virtual and to have the proceeds benefit front-line healthcare workers.

“We have a lot of things in the works, and hopefully we can gear it all toward the Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center Foundation and have a big give after all of this,” Day said. “The team at Hemby made the most horrible situation that anyone could possibly go through bearable for me and my family. They’re there for a reason. We look back, and we look at Novant Health, and we’re just thankful.”

If you’d like to show your support to those on the front lines.

Consider a gift to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), which provides essential healthcare workers with the resources they need now so they can focus on the important work of saving lives. It’s the work they do every day, but the work we all need more now than ever.

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‘We’re beating this’

How Cindy Little and her team have been a force for calm amid COVID-19

It sounded like a burglar alarm.

Cindy Little was at her former church in Charleston, South Carolina, when she heard it. She wasn’t sure where it was coming from, but she knew something was up.

Then, she saw the defibrillator cabinet. The door was open. Someone needed medical help, and they needed it fast.

Little is a nurse — one who has spent the bulk of her career in critical care — and immediately sprang into action. She started looking around and found a man lying on the church steps. Not only was he having a heart attack, but he’d fallen backward and suffered a head injury, as well. Little rushed to his side and started administering emergency care until an ambulance arrived. Sure enough, the man survived.

“When those things happen, you just go into nurse mode,” Little said.

That’s just one of many stories Little has collected in her 36 years as a nurse, which has since brought her to Charlotte. She is now nurse manager for Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center’s Intensive Care Unit and Rapid Response Team. In recent weeks, she’s led her team through their toughest challenge yet: COVID-19.

It’s been a hectic time with plenty of highs and lows. The influx was swift and daunting. Information was changing by the day, but Little’s team stayed focused.

“It almost got to be overwhelming,” Little said. “It got to the edge there. We had to do a lot of work to support each other, and that’s what we did.”

Together, the team took it day by day. They reviewed the latest verified information and kept track of accomplishments, like when patients stabilized and transferred. Soon, they had empty beds.

“We started looking for any kind of celebration that said we were conquering this. It probably took us the first four weeks before we could get to that place where we were making headway and we were adjusting to this new norm.” 

By the second month, the unit started going days without a new coronavirus admission.

“We didn’t want to say it out loud,” Little said. “We wanted to whisper it at first.”

Through it all, Little has remained a stabilizing presence. Whether she’s talking with nurses about their fears or answering families’ questions in a slow, thoughtful manner, experience has given her poise.

“It does provide this calming environment for staff, patients and families,” Little said. “I had to learn it over the years. I came in as a new nurse getting all excited about everything going on with my patients, but it’s a maturing experience.”  

Healthcare is what Little was born to do. She grew up in a family with many medical professionals. Early on, she was drawn to the biological sciences and earned a degree in biology before becoming a nurse. For most of her career, she focused on leadership and critical care until the birth of her grandchildren lured her to Charlotte and to the ICU at Presbyterian Medical Center.

An important part of Little’s role is keeping her team rested and free from approaching burnout. ICU nurses are known for being so focused on caring for patients, they sometimes struggle to look after themselves. Little makes sure her team takes time for “self-care.” She’s created a “lavender room,” where nurses can relax and catch their breath. It has a diffuser with lavender oil, healthy snacks, soft music and low light.

“I have a line that I use: ‘Panic serves no useful purpose,’” Little said. “It’s something I share and demonstrate with my team all the time.”

Little has also encouraged her team to cherish the little victories, like when one patient who had been on a ventilator and with a machine oxygenating her blood finally pulled through.

“The day that the patient got to leave the ICU, the staff did a celebration walk and cheered and clapped her on as they took her to the stepdown unit,” Little said. “That was such a big win for the staff because we did not expect it to turn out like that.”

The community has also done its part to celebrate the hospital’s effort.

“We’ve had a wonderful outpouring of support from the community,” Little said. “One of our jokes is COVID-19 is really the 19 pounds we’re going to gain from all the food we’ve received. The fact that we can laugh about it is a lot of progress right there.”  

There have, of course, been difficult moments, and Little and her team have adapted quickly, finding new ways to shine a light and show compassion. For instance, when one patient was at the end of his life, family members couldn’t visit due to restrictions in the ICU. Instead, Little’s team used videoconferencing so family members could be there in spirit.

“These 20 family members were singing to this patient as he passed, singing that patient to heaven,” Little said.     

As the nation tries to turn the corner on COVID-19, Little has felt honored by the resiliency of her staff and to be a part of the team.

“The attitude is changing from fear to being resolute to now, ‘We’re beating this,’” Little said. “And it’s not that we’re beating COVID. We’re beating our own fear.” 

You can join the fight against COVID-19, too.

By contributing to the Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 Disaster Relief Fund), you can help our team members as they care for those in need. 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


‘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 Hope for Remarkable Team Aubergine Fund (formerly the Novant Health COVID-19 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.

Do your part and make a gift today.

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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.

Donate now