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Full circle: The inspiring journey of a volunteer turned patient

More than 12 years ago, Nancy Reiser picked up the phone and dialed HopeHealth’s volunteer team.

She was interested in learning about the end-of-life experience, she explained. And having recently retired from a successful career in pharmacology, computer programming, and analytics, she was searching for a meaningful way to make a difference.

“She was so giving,” says Nancy’s life partner, Paola Mangiacapra. “Nancy really lived in service to others, sharing her innate compassion and life experiences to help others in need.”

A gift for human connection

HopeHealth’s volunteers are matched with roles that draw on their unique skills and interests. For Nancy, that began with a gift for human connection.

“Nancy was one of those volunteers who focused on listening to patients and their loved ones,” remembers Deanna Upchurch, director of Community and Clinical Outreach Services. “She knew just the right moments to share her losses with others, in a way that helped build trust and a path towards understanding their own grief.”

For over a decade, Nancy channeled that gift into a range of volunteer roles. She sat vigil at patients’ bedsides at the HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center. She facilitated grief support groups in South County, Rhode Island.

Then, her own family was suddenly on the receiving end. Her brother became ill and needed the support of HopeHealth’s hospice care team.

“Nancy rarely talked about herself – she was so focused on supporting others,” says Deanna. “But she shared how grateful she was that HopeHealth was there for her when her family needed us; that we understood the care her brother needed and the loss she was living with.”

Seeing the care he received, and feeling the support that surrounded her family, deepened her commitment to HopeHealth.

She decided to stretch herself even more.

A gift for working with kids and teens

Nancy’s ability to be still and listen closely — while sitting vigil with patients, while helping loved ones share their grief — was matched by other aspects of her personality: She had boundless energy, and impressive leadership skills.

Following her brother’s death, she volunteered to be a group leader working with kids and teens at Camp BraveHeart, HopeHealth’s summer grief support program for young people who have lost someone special.

An avid world traveler and hiker, Nancy knew she would be physically fit enough to keep up with campers on trails, canoes and kayaks. “But she was worried she wouldn’t be able to make an emotional connection with these young people during their group sessions,” Paola recalls.

That concern quickly disappeared. The campers gravitated to her. They saw her complete investment in their experience – and they realized she had deep losses they could relate to.

In 2020, Nancy’s cancer returned after a seven-year remission. After her years of getting to know HopeHealth through numerous volunteer experiences, and then as a family member enduring personal loss, she embraced her final role: patient.

“Nancy had trusted HopeHealth to support her when she was caring for her brother,” Paola remembers. “When she knew her own health was rapidly failing, she called on HopeHealth, knowing they would support her first with palliative care, and when she was ready, with open arms at the Hulitar Hospice Center. HopeHealth gave us such a gift of being able to be together in Nancy’s final days.”

Nancy passed away peacefully last February.

A gift for future patients and families

Nancy’s passion for HopeHealth started with curiosity and questions about the end-of-life experience. Over the years, it grew into a deep appreciation for what the organization does for its community.

Now, 12 years after that very first phone call, Nancy’s generous spirit has come full circle.

In her work as a volunteer, she helped hundreds of patients and families. In her will, HopeHealth was honored with a generous trust to help countless others. Through this bequest, Nancy leaves a lasting legacy of support.

“I know it meant so much for Nancy to know that her final gesture to HopeHealth would be one that would sustain its patients and families well into the future,” shares Paola. “And it means so much to me that, thanks to Nancy’s commitment, HopeHealth will be there for me some day when I need their support.”

To discuss ways to remember your loved one and support other HopeHealth patients and families, call us at (401) 415-4206 or visit HopeHealthCo.Org/Giving.

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