The Irish Medical Times - Don't Wait for the Draft: Volunteer!


In my youth, I thought volunteering was something retired people did. During my time living in America I came to understand volunteering as a cultural norm. As part of their schooling, from a young age, some form of volunteering is expected from the students and the parents alike. As time goes on, it is definitely seen as a favourable trait when it comes to US college applications. Later, when Americans leave college and get a job, volunteering is part of the corporate scene with lots of options such as; outreach programs, painting community centres, fund raising, etc. Pretty much any way in which a corporation can invest its time and people into the local communities.  


It was common among friends of mine in San Francisco to align themselves with local initiatives, joining boards of charities or non-profits. One of my friends, Shannon, was my social conscience, every so often she would rally a group of us together to go to the food bank in downtown San Francisco. One time she sent a text asking us to show up at a teenage homeless shelter to help put together treat-bags, which would be distributed later that night to kids sleeping on the streets. It was a hard text to say no to, the usual “Sorry, I’m getting my nails done. C U l8r gator” didn’t seem appropriate.  

It was a bonding experience to pull together and spend time getting to know others, as we bent our heads, not in prayer, but working on something for someone more in need than us (which is its own sort of prayer). 

Volunteering means different things to different people. And you certainly don’t have to go to America to do it. 

The Irish Heart Foundation held a Volunteer Conference recently and I was blown away by the types of volunteering and the people who volunteer. There were drivers and data miners, policy negotiators and administrators, every form of local champion was there. In fact, becoming a Patient Champion is a form of volunteering the IHF offers, with training provided in advocacy and communications (led by the legendary advocate and real live patient, Pauline O’Shea, contact -

The age range of volunteers at the conference appeared to go from twenty-something up to eighty-something, with some folks skipping up to the stage and others taking to the ramp with their rollators. It was astonishing to hear people’s different contributions and how they all devote so much of themselves to helping others. One story that stuck in my head was about Paddy, an elderly dapper gentleman from Cork, who had been hosting a weekly over 65s charity talent show since 1977! The year I was born, I have a lot of catching up to do. 

Whether you are into shaking buckets or shaking your tail feathers, there is something for everyone if you decide to volunteer. For a lot of us who go through a diagnosis or a life changing event and ultimately find a helping hand, we often feel an urge to give back. Some of us can no longer hold down the jobs we once had but we have an undiminished skill set still raring to go. 

That is how I found my path to ‘giving back’. 

Patients are people too, we have skills just like everyone else. We might not be able to use the skills anymore as they were conventionally intended, but we can now repurpose them for the greater good. I worked for 20 years in Finance in portfolio construction and compliance. Since I could fit a pencil in my hand I have been writing. So give me data, information, regulations, policies, words, more words, projects, reports and a deadline - and I can whip things into shape. 

I first joined the ranks of the IHF volunteers when we were fighting for heart failure patients' rights to higher priority for the Covid vaccine. A battle we made belated progress with and one we are still looking for answers and justice on (if anyone reading this is from NIAC or NPHET would like to respond on why heart failure patients are still not a priority, that engagement would be most welcomed). 

Friendships were forged in those patient advocacy trenches that take on an extra significance. From that group of 8 soldiers, 2 of them are now dead. You are bonding with people that you know could fall ill and disappear - forever. If someone misses a meeting you don’t assume they are on the sofa catching up on The Crown, you assume they are in hospital or… 

After Covid, other issues came up for our band of warriors and more battles have since been waged. New troops have joined, new friendships forged, and we find ourselves in more alliances now than conflicts. Finding allies is our secret weapon and this we have done well. 

Receiving a life altering diagnosis can feel like the beginning of the end, but it actually can be the start of something truly worthwhile. From this sense of worth comes a renewed purpose that can build your confidence back up. 

Being a patient, or watching a loved one battle a disease, can feel disempowering. Stepping into a volunteering role can give you agency over the disease. It’s a way of shifting the power balance in your favour.   

My ‘heart friends’ (as I call them, to differentiate them from the rest of my friends who are heartless, I’m kidding, the joke just wrote itself) come from all over the country. So it is rare to get us all physically in person in the one room. That was another reason why the IHF Conference felt exciting, all of us were able to sit down to lunch and converse like we hadn’t a care in the world. It helped our sense of optimism that the conference was hosted by Meta so our surroundings were suitably cool and futuristic. A gigantic ‘thumbs up’ hung on the wall beside us as we ate, perhaps subliminally sending out a positive pressure. 

The IHF very kindly acknowledged me at their conference for my contribution to the cause of heart failure patients. Not least of which was the space in this publication each month which affords me a platform to raise the patient's voice - thank you Ed!

If you are looking to turn up the good in your life, try your hand at giving back through volunteering or donating to the cause that tugs on your heart. If you are looking to turn up the patient voice in your life - watch this space.

Read original article here - Don't wait for the draft - Volunteer!