Our Shriner Drivers: Great Ambassadors of Our Hospital and Our Care
Patients and Families Transportation: Why Shriners are Doing It!
It all started in 1996 when Del Dumoulin was Potentate of the Karnak Shriners in Montreal. He and his colleagues decided that transportation of patients would be a great way to help the hospital, while giving Shriners the opportunity to meet patients they were helping through fundraising or other community activities. In 1998, only two years after the beginning of the Karnak patient transportation services, the first car was donated by four of the northeast Shriners chapters. Nowadays, even more Shriners chapters are supporting the transportation services and their names are recognized on the Karnak patient transportation van, as they were on the first car.
When asked if he likes to drive patients, Emile Chaikowsky laughed and replied, "Well, I wouldn't be a volunteer since 1996 if I didn't like it!" Del Dumoulin, Emile Chaikowsky and Mike Olinik are all saying it: It's not a job, it's a joy! These three, and all the drivers that we have yet to meet, have so many stories to tell.
"I remember this one time," said Del with smiling eyes, "I picked up a child coming from Mexico at Mirabel Airport. We were coming down in the snow and he had never seen snow before. Because of the look on his face, we stopped the car and there we were, with this child, his legs wrapped in a barrel, unable to walk, having a snowball fight. But the best part is that two years later, after several treatments, the same child was running up and down in the hospital throwing a football and having a good time."
"This is what it is like to be a Shriner." said Mike Olinik. "Being a Shriner is not just parades and circuses and driving funny cars, it has more to do with doing something that makes you feel good while helping kids." Mike has been picking up children and families at the airport since 2002. He thinks it is a privilege to drive the Karnak patient transportation van. Seeing the complete cycle journey of a patient is rewarding.
Over the years, Mike made a lot of friends, and now, there are families that he picks up exclusively and that request him when they come in. Mike reflected, "I am thinking of this child... Joshua. He was about 3 years old when he first came to Canada with his mom and they were from California. On this particular day, there was a lot of construction going on inside the airport. I waited. I was waiting for more than an hour and a half and I began to ask myself: Should I stay or should I go? I don’t know!"
Mike continued, "Then I saw someone from Immigration Canada. I went and told that person: I am a Shriner, I know you can’t tell me anything personal but, if I show you the name of the family, would you be able to let me know if I should leave or stay? And about 10 minutes later I got paged. I picked up the phone and they said you can stick around a little bit, they will be out soon. Forty-five minutes after that they came out. And there was Joshua and his mom, she was so grateful, because it was their first visit and they got flagged by immigration. I mean this woman never met me before and I was getting hugs from her. 'Thank you for waiting, thank you, thank you.' And I have been picking them up since. Joshua is now 22. He is going to university in Omaha. He has brittle bone disease."
"I remember the best feeling I ever had. He was about 5 years old, he had a couple of surgeries because he wasn’t able to walk when he was young and he was in a walker. But then, this one day, I was picking him up and all I heard was 'Mike!' and he ran to me and he jumped into my arms, saying, 'Mike I am so glad you are here.' And this is when my heart melted like a piece of butter in a frying pan," said Mike.
Mike continued, "Shriners pick up children at the airport seven days a week. In addition, the hospital has daily Shriner volunteer drivers who are scheduled to drive patients and families to outside appointments, their hotel and various locations. It’s something that makes you feel good and people are happy to see you even though they don’t know you. They see the fez and they know that they are safe. It’s reassuring. And then you see them on the next visit. Sometimes you forget the names, but you remember the faces, they look familiar. And they remember you."
Del, Emile and Mike agree: It is a very fulfilling experience. They hope to continue this work for a long time to come. One of the best parts of being a Shriner is meeting new people and learning a lot about life. As many of the Shriners that participate in the transportation services will tell you, their volunteer work gives them an opportunity to reflect on their own attitudes towards life. They often think to themselves, "I thought I had it bad." But after meeting these children who have overcome so many obstacles but are so happy and appreciative, they wonder, "What’s my problem?"
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