Wheels keep turning for Cabrini volunteer

Date: 25/05/2018

Mark Wheeler, 76, is one of the army of ordinary people who donate their time and skills to help others, in the Cabrini tradition of ‘compassion, integrity, courage and respect’.

Speaking at Palliative Care Victoria’s (PCV) volunteering conference in Melbourne on Wednesday 23 May, as part of Australian Volunteers Week (21-27 May 2018) Mr Wheeler says being able to give back to his community through volunteering reflects his personal motto of carpe diem or ‘seize the day’.

“When I volunteer at Cabrini Palliative Care, every Friday morning, I sit by people who are dying, giving them companionship and listening… or disappearing if those are the vibes,” he says. “My approach is bubbly and positive.”

But it’s not simply that, or his decade of service that makes Mr Wheeler stand out. His beloved wife Leonie was diagnosed with cancer (acute leukaemia) in February 2017. The team at Cabrini Palliative Care in Prahran, where Mark has been a volunteer for more than a decade, were their side to help her have the best quality of life during her illness. She died five months later.

PCV Project Manager Mike Kennedy says many volunteers don’t come back for a year or so after bereavement, because, as we recognise, it’s important people take the time they need before returning to some of their normal routines.

But Mr Wheeler is an exception to the rule, shaking tradition by returning to his volunteering soon after his wife died. He says he was able to do this because of his faith and his approach to death.

“Death has never been a taboo topic in our family,” says Mr Wheeler. “We’ve been blessed with six children of our own, and 12 grandchildren, and around our family tables, death and dying with respect is discussed just as easily as who will win the footy next week.”

Mrs Wheeler worried that dying in the palliative care hospital where Mark worked as a volunteer would affect his willingness to return. He told her not to worry.

“Lonz, that’s what I called her, asked me: ‘Wheels’, that’s what she called me, ‘how will me dying at Prahran affect your volunteering?’ “

“It will make it even more special,” Mark replied.

“How about the room I die in?” asked Leonie.

“It will be my favourite room.”

At this special time of year, National Volunteer Week, Cabrini recognises and thanks every one of our volunteers for their contribution of time, skills and passion. They show in everyday realities what it means to represent Cabrini’s tradition of helping others.

For more information on volunteering with us: https://www.cabrini.com.au/patients-and-families/volunteer-with-us/ or call 03 9508 1084 or email volunteers@cabrini.com.au

About Cabrini volunteers
  • Cabrini has 232 volunteers who provide value-added services to our patients and residents – they provide more than 26,000 hours of service annually, working in a diverse range of services and departments such as our Alan, Ada and Eva Selwyn Emergency Department at Cabrini Malvern, the Cabrini Wig Room at Bayside, our biography service and helping to guide visitors to their destinations in our hospitals
  • In 2016-17, more than 35,000 hours of value-added service were provided by:
    • Heartbeat Cabrini patient visitors
    • Catholic Ministry volunteers
    • Cabrini Gift Shop volunteers
    • Patient and Resident Services volunteers
  • We received approximately 1000 hours of pro bono support from psychiatrists, general practitioners and psychologists at the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub (2016-17)
  • We estimate that the volunteer time contributed to Cabrini is worth more than $950,000 annually
  • More than 1600 hours were provided to our partner organisations through a diverse range of services such as governance and administrative support for St Mary’s Hospital in Ethiopia, participating in primary health checks in a service program with Cabrini Ministries in Swaziland, providing a pathology service for Modilon Hospital in Papua New Guinea, volunteering for medical evacuation surgery or as a mentor for visiting overseas clinicians

Media information: contact Christine Elmer ph (03) 9508 3551 or 0459 811 693, Cabrini marketing and community relations department.