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Tearful reunion is déjà vu for 1958 SLCH patient, caregiver

Debbie Schrader was a young polio patient on isolation at St. Louis Children's Hospital in 1958. At the time, parents were discouraged from staying with children on infectious disease wards.

The unforgettable compassion Schrader experienced from an SLCH employee in 1958 made a lifetime impact. On July 10, 2019, she saw that caregiver again.

Fifty-five years after her life was saved at SLCH, Schrader and her husband donated to the hospital in 2017.

"She told me her gift of gratitude was specifically because there was one person here she remembered," says Jan Rogers, SLCH Foundation planned gifts manager. "Debbie's mother would have to leave her here. But it was summertime and windows were open, and hearing her daughter cry out for her mother must have been a horrible feeling for a parent. Other people would try to take care of her, but Debbie would have nothing to do with them.


From left are, front row, Debbie Schrader, Velma Hunt and Arie Bennett; and back row, Stacy Herndon, Jessica Zurmuehlen, Sarah Goymerac, Karen McGrew, Jan Rogers and Heather Forrest. 

"But one person was like a parent, and she wasn't even a nurse. She provided bottle feedings and helped her during a traumatic time."

At the time of the donation, in 2017, Schrader told Rogers she wished she could find that person who meant so much to her. Rogers assumed it was someone who left or retired long ago.

The only description: Debbie remembered the caregiver was black.

The only person matching that description who had worked at the hospital in 1958 and was still around was Velma Hunt. It was a long shot, but Rogers asked her where she worked years ago.

Hunt started working at SLCH in 1957 as a secretary, and her next position was in the polio ward. The only other women working in the ward were white.

Bingo.

The pair reunited in 2017, and the 2019 reunion was powerful as well.

"I'm just so grateful that I found her," Schrader says emotionally. "She was like a mother to me then, and I still feel that way about her today."

Says Hunt, "I'm pleased that God sent me here. To have people remember something that you did 50-something years ago, it's remarkable. It's amazing what life has to offer. You think you're doing something just to be working, but you never know what kind of impact you have on others, even years later."

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