By Stew Slater
The last two decades of Janet van Koot’s career have closely mirrored those of St. Marys Memorial Hospital Site Administrator, Shirley Veenendaal. After all, van Koot — currently Clinical Resource Nurse in the hospital’s Emergency Department — came to the facility just three months after Veenendaal arrived in 1990 as the evening/night nursing supervisor. Shirley then advanced into the SMMH Clinical Site Leader position, then, with HPHA, was successful as the SMMH Site Administrator and HPHA Program Director of Emergency Services which entailed not only the four Alliance ERs, but also the Stratford site Cardiorespiratory Department including the W2W Ambulatory Clinics, the Stratford site Orthopedic Clinic and the Stratford site Scheduling Department.
Janet and Shirley have been close friends for 22 years, and it’s understandable that van Koot, when she learned that her long-time friend and colleague was facing a health-related battle of her own, would immediately begin thinking about what support and encouragement she could offer.
It’s clear from speaking with van Koot, however, that a large number of other Huron Perth Healthcare Alliance (HPHA) employees, not necessarily as closely tied to Veenendaal either professionally or personally, would also jump to support the St. Marys administrator.
Besides Veenendaal’s St. Marys responsibilities,and as Program Director for all four HPHA Emergency Departments (St. Marys, Clinton, Seaforth and Stratford), and other portfolios, van Koot says her thoughtful, reasoned approach to leadership has led to a high level of respect for Veenendaal throughout the Alliance.
On the afternoon of Oct. 11, Veenendaal began a medical leave of absence after being diagnosed shortly after Labour Day with colon cancer and metastases to her liver. Her first chemotherapy treatment began the morning of Oct. 12, with a planned conclusion on Dec. 21. In mid-to-late January, Veenendaal expects to enter surgery in London for a liver resection.
According to van Koot, staff at St. Marys Memorial and other HPHA sites were stricken by the severity of the news. But many of them were also moved to action.
“We’re such a close bunch here,” she said of her St. Marys colleagues. “And I think initially, everybody here felt helpless because there wasn’t anything we could do.”
But after seeing and hearing the optimism expressed by Veenendaal as she continued working up to the day before the commencement of her chemotherapy, the attitude soon changed. Staff throughout the HPHA began envisioning a campaign of awareness and fundraising for cancer treatment and cancer screening, all in honour of the well-liked and well-respected hospital administrator.
The result is the “Go Bald or Go Blue” campaign, which will culminate in a day of fun and awareness on Friday, Jan. 11, at which hospital staff and community volunteers (with the help of a handful of expert hairdressing volunteers) will have their hairdos dramatically altered in one of two ways (hence the “Bald” or “Blue”), and at least one “celebrity hospital personality” will be asked to do the same, based on public voting.
Go Bald or Go Blue will take place at St. Marys Memorial Hospital. In conjunction with the Jan. 11 event, complementary fundraising efforts will be held in other HPHA facilities.
“We hope to make it big so we can raise awareness for cancer treatment and screening,” explained van Koot. Funds raised will go to the Canadian Cancer Society.
Leading up to the event, organizers are encouraging people to step forward to either “go bald or go blue.” To do so, they’ll need to pick up pledge forms from van Koot (call St. Marys Memorial at 519-284-1330) and gather up financial commitments from their friends, family members and co-workers.
Additionally, in the next few weeks, organizers will begin selling blue ribbon pins (blue is the colour of the campaign to fight colon cancer), blue bracelets and blue toques.
“It has been amazing what has already been done in honour of Shirley,” van Koot said. “Our organizing committee has grown to about 30 people already, from across the Alliance. They all want to help make it a success.”