Thursday, April 8, 2010 | 2:14 p.m.
When Ernie Devald was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2000, he was given a three-year prognosis. In 2003, his physicians predicted he may survive another year or two. When Devald again outlived his doctor’s expectations, the retired postal worker figured he was still here for a reason, and set about to find his purpose.
He didn’t have to look much farther than the pediatrics unit at St. Rose Dominican Hospitals’ Siena Campus, from which Devald lives less than a mile.
“To tell you the truth, at first I sat at home feeling sorry for myself, but then my wife said, ‘Get up and do something – don’t just roll over,’ so I walked over to St. Rose and volunteered,” Devald said. “I started working the front desk, but when I got up to pediatrics and saw the little kids, I knew that was where my heart belonged.”
Besides his regular responsibilities, Devald has taken on a few additional duties, to which he has added his personal touch. Consider, for instance, his morning delivery of the breakfast trays.
“I don’t like other people to deliver the trays because I always ask the parents if they want coffee – that’s one of my things,” Devald said. “I also make up the rooms for the kids coming up from ER, and I always put an age-appropriate stuffed animal in the room. That’s my little schtick too.”
He also writes personalized poems and rhymes for his young patients, starting with a prayer he composed for an infant with an incurable brain disease. He has written some 200 original ditties, and has a pegboard plastered with pictures, letters, thank you notes and poetry the kids have given him.
Always ready to dispense hugs to the children, their parents and even the hospital nursing staff, Devald is willing to go the extra mile to help a child in need.
“One time we had a child who only wanted to eat mashed potatoes and we didn’t have any, so I left the hospital on foot and went to McDonald’s and they didn’t have any, so I walked to Smart N Final, and they didn’t have any, and KFC and Jack-in-the-Box didn’t have any, so I walked home and then went to Kmart and bought her a whole tub,” Devald said, adding that he once conducted a similar quest for Creamsicles.
At one time, Devald was volunteering 72 hours a week before he had to cut his shifts back to 40 hours and finally down to 30 because of his own tenuous health.
“I still sneak in on my days off,” said Devald, who has given nearly 4,000 volunteer hours to St. Rose and won the March of Dimes Nevada chapter’s 2009 Nurse of the Year award in the “Nurses Choice-Support Staff” category. He was also featured in a Channel 13 news segment, “Words That Heal,” which showcased his exceptional volunteer efforts.
“But I’m the lucky one, and I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to work with these kids,” he said. “They’re sick too, and I’ve bonded with them, and they come in looking for old Ernie and see that I can still get around. It gives them hope and it’s given me life.”