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She gives flowers a 2nd life as patient pick-me-ups

Published 5:11 pm, Thursday, August 16, 2012
  • LaVonne Kramer delivers flowers to patients at Norwalk Hospital through a volunteer program she planted the seed for. Photo: Jeff Scholl / Contributed Photo
    LaVonne Kramer delivers flowers to patients at Norwalk Hospital through a volunteer program she planted the seed for. Photo: Jeff Scholl / Contributed Photo

 

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When LaVonne Kramer was 21, she was in a motorcycle accident and nearly had her right leg amputated.

"I had signed papers for the doctors to amputate my leg," the Westport woman recalls. "To save my life, they felt like that was what they were going to have to do.

But when they were pushing the bed to the operating room, the doctors saw a little bit of color come back to my toes, so they decided to try to reattach it."

After an initial bone graft and five weeks in a hospital in Iowa, where she grew up, Kramer had to undergo another bone graft and several skin grafts, after which she spent another two months in the hospital. After she was released, she spent two years in a cast and on crutches.

During her lengthy hospitalization, a seed was planted in her mind that one day she would like to give back and help other patients.

Today, that seed has blossomed into the Flowers for Patients program at Norwalk Hospital, which Kramer spearheaded on a small scale a few years ago and watched grow into a community effort.

Local florists and grocers donate flowers they have not used and would otherwise discard to volunteers, who then create floral arrangements for patients to brighten their day.

"I think it is so fabulous because otherwise these flowers would be thrown away," said Kramer. "And when I see the joy that it gives the patients ... they are just flabbergasted they are able to receive these flowers for free.

"We also make bouquets for the executive office and the (human resources) office and the volunteer office and the chapel. When you are moving through the hospital, everybody comments. They love the bouquets. It makes the whole place more cheery."

Kramer said that she has a friend in North Carolina who is involved in a similar program and thought it would be a wonderful program to introduce at Norwalk Hospital, where she has been a volunteer for nearly six years. Before she started the Flowers for Patients program, she was an ambassador and visited with patients to make sure they were enjoying their stay. She also volunteered in the emergency room waiting room.

"When I decided to take action to start the flower program and see if I could find any grocery stores in Connecticut that would be willing to participate, I was kind of discouraged initially," Kramer said. "Because several of the grocery stores I went to weren't that enthusiastic about it. But then I went to Geiger's Garden Center in Westport. They enthusiastically said, `Yes, it sounds like a great idea.' "

With the support of Geiger's, Kramer got the boost she needed and soon convinced other florists and grocers that it was a great program.

"I kept talking about how much patients were enjoying the flowers," she said. "They realized they didn't have to break down these bouquets and try to dispose of them and that it was easier to hand them over to me rather than destroy them."

The other local florists participating in the project are Trader Joe's in Westport and Darien, Whole Foods in Westport and Darien, Palmer's Market in Darien, Nielsen Florist and Garden Shop in Darien and Balducci's in Westport.

"The staffs at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Balduccis, Nielsen's and Palmer's are all so fantastic, so nice," Kramer said. "It makes the whole project even better. They love it that I am coming and taking the flowers and doing something with them."

Initially, Kramer ran a one woman-show -- she would drive around three or four days a week picking up the flowers, arranging them and delivering them to patients. But other hospital volunteers began showing an interest in the program, enabling Kramer to streamline her system.

She picks up the flowers on Tuesday mornings, and volunteers help her arrange and deliver bouquets Tuesday and Friday afternoons. Among the people helping Kramer is Ron Lampel, of Norwalk, who is president of the Norwalk Hospital Volunteer Board.

"We've had patients who are so touched by this gesture that they fill up with tears," Lampel said in a statement. "Some have told us that the flowers we bring are the only ones that they have received during their hospital stay."

"I pick up lots and lots of flowers," Kramer said. "I have an SUV and many days it is filled with flowers. I typically leave the house at 9:15 (a.m.) Tuesday and I get to the hospital at about noon, and then start making bouquets. Some days I'm not done until 6 p.m.

"A couple of weeks ago, Ron said he'd been to every patient's room. He had enough bouquets that he could go to all the floors and every patient's room, so that made me feel so good."

Other dedicated volunteers who assist in the Flowers for Patients program are Norwalk residents Marge Brandt, Betsy Curtin, Merle Koteen and Linda Rifkin.

Fred Lione, of Norwalk, vice president of the Norwalk Hospital Volunteer Board and his wife, Nancy, also are involved in the effort. Nancy helps make the arrangements and Fred assists in delivering the flowers to the patients.

Kramer envisions the program growing to include other local hospitals and nursing homes.

"My neighbor was just in the hospital for an appendectomy," Kramer said. "He was so touched by the bouquet that he sent me an email.

"The thing I realize with patients is no injury or illness is too small. When you are down and out, and out of your routine, it takes everybody back a bit. They just need a little bit of encouragement, a friendly face. I think these flowers just brighten everybody's day."

As for Kramer's injury, it has a happy ending.

She said she had a slight limp when she first got the cast off, but now you would never know she had such a serious injury. And she met her husband, Lynn, while she was in the hospital recovering from her accident.

"He was starting his second year of medical school," Kramer said. "I would go through it all again because we've been married for 37 years now."

If you would like to volunteer for Flowers for Patients or if you are a grocer or florist interested in donating flowers, call Norwalk Hospital Volunteers at 203-852-2023.