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Physician finds a way to help

November 25, 2002|by ANDREA ROWLAND

andrear@herald-mail.com

After narrowly surviving the cerebral hemorrhage that ended his medical career, Dr. Edmund Stapleford searched for another way to help others.

He found Hospice of Washington County.

Hospice is a nonprofit organization made up of health-care professionals, support staff, spiritual care workers and volunteers who provide comfort and support to terminally ill patients and their loved ones.

Stapleford, 73, of Waynesboro, Pa., was recently honored for 20 years of volunteer service with the Hagerstown-based organization during Hospice's annual staff recognition dinner.

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"He's such a gentle soul," said Mary Foor, volunteer coordinator for Hospice. "He gets on board very easily."

Hospice of Washington County hadn't been founded in 1978 when Stapleford - a native Canadian who began practicing as an obstetrician/gynecologist in Washington County in 1960 - suffered the cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding within the brain) that left him in a coma for 12 days, he said.

During the six months of therapy it took for him to recover from the hemorrhage - a trauma from which less than 20 percent of patients survive - Stapleford realized that he could no longer practice medicine, he said.

"I just closed the book and began to look for other meaningful work. I searched for something to do with the rest of my life," Stapleford said. "I knew there must be some reason that I was spared. "

Then he and his wife read a newspaper article about the fledgling Hospice of Washington County, which was founded in 1980. Stapleford's wife immediately enrolled him in Hospice's second patient caregiver training class in 1982, he said.

At that time, the grassroots organization was made up entirely of volunteers. Hospice didn't have administrative offices, a volunteer coordinator or its own nurses. Patient care volunteers met once a month in a basement room at a Hagerstown church to share their experiences and try to solve problems together.

Stapleford's primary task was to spend time with patients to relieve their primary caregivers, he said. He found his ability to listen, a skill honed by his years as a doctor, to be his greatest asset, he said.

He had the time to commit to the job and enjoyed the work.

"You have to want to do it to do it successfully," Stapleford said. "You have to have a calling for it, I think."

He provided companionship for Hospice clients and support for their loved ones for about 15 years, until his travels to spend time with his growing family - five children and 17 grandchildren - left too little time to satisfactorily fulfill his caregiver obligations, Stapleford said.

Yet he continued to serve on the organization's governing board of directors, a post he has held since starting his volunteer service with Hospice. Stapleford now serves on the board's personnel committee, he said.

Stapleford, who also does volunteer work with chemotherapy patients at the John R. Marsh Cancer Center in Hagerstown, has no plans to retire.

"I have so much to be grateful for that I can't stop giving back," he said.

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