Children’s hospital volunteer’s drive comes from a personal place

Barbara Bernard’s journey at Norton Children’s Hospital began years before she became a volunteer when her son received a scary diagnosis.

Barbara Bernard grips the handle of a red wagon and, with a smile, looks over her shoulder at the toddler seated behind her. “Here we go!” The little girl’s eyes light up and a grin grows across her face.

A nurse wheels her I.V. pole alongside the wagon as Bernard pulls the toddler through the halls of Norton Children’s Hospital. The little girl has spent several days in the hospital, receiving care for a heart condition. This distraction is just what she needed.

Hours earlier, Bernard helped two other girls decorate an activity room at Norton Children’s Hospital in preparation of a party for their brother to celebrate his new kidney.

Commuting from Grayson County

Just weeks earlier, preparations were being made to celebrate Bernard. Hospital staff members surprised her with a cake and gifts, all in recognition of her more than 10 years as a Norton Healthcare volunteer.

“It was an awesome week — let me tell you — I was very surprised,” Bernard said. She was selected as Outstanding Volunteer of the Year by the Children’s Hospital Foundation.

When you break it down, Bernard has volunteered more than seconds of her time to help patients and their families at Norton Children’s Hospital. Many of those days, she made the trek from her home in Grayson County, more than one hour away.

Ways to help

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“Her service is selfless,” said Taryn Johnson, child life therapist at Norton Children’s Hospital. “She doesn’t do it to get her hands on cute babies; she does it because she genuinely cares and wants to help, even if that means cleaning or organizing a playroom.”

A scary diagnosis

Bernard’s drive to give back comes from a personal place. In 2003, her then 14-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

“I will never ever forget hearing that devastating news and seeing the expression on my son’s face,” she said. “I was a basket case when Garrett was diagnosed. Your children depend on you to fix things and I couldn’t fix this.”

Fortunately, Garrett’s medical team at Norton Children’s Hospital was able to fix it. His tumor was removed, and today he is a healthy 29-year-old.

Years after her son’s experience with the hospital, Bernard made it her mission to help families facing similar hardships when she signed up to become a volunteer.

“Being able to convey to families that we have gone through a similar situation and relate to them can help,” Bernard said. “It is both physically and emotionally draining when your child is sick, and I understand that.”

Armed with an infectious smile

Bernard brings peace of mind for parents whose children have been in the hospital for a long time and they’re faced with the difficult task of leaving to go back to work.

“I will go be with the child so they don’t have to be alone,” Bernard said.

Each day she steps inside Norton Children’s Hospital, she comes armed with her infectious smile. Her mission: to brighten someone’s day.

“I truly enjoy the kids and their families, as well as the people I work with,” she said. “I have a lovely group of people I work with.”

It’s an added bonus that she gets to work under the same roof as the doctor who performed brain surgery on her son years ago.

“Oh, yes, I see Dr. (Thomas) Moriarty quite often. We run into each other every now and then and say hello,” Bernard said. “God truly blessed us.”