By Michael Campbell, News Editor
12:52 p.m. | June 28, 2017
PETERSBURG – It’s not uncommon to see a fire engine or ambulance at a busy hospital on any given day but when that fire engine is bright pink and carries handwritten messages of hope and survival, it signals that something special is happening for patients in need.
Wednesday, Southside Regional Medical Center served as host to the Pink Heals organization as part of their national tour, setting up shop outside the hospital’s Medical Arts Pavillon with their pink fire engine and a team of volunteers, offering smiles and words of comfort for those who are fighting major illnesses inside the hospital’s walls.
“Today, we are here to honor those who are battling cancer or any other type of major illness,” remarked Pink Heals National Tour member Seth Kallick, who also serves as president of a local Pink Heals chapter in his hometown of northwestern Arkansas.
The Pink Heals organization started in 2007 to help people battling cancer with a focus on women and has since evolved into a mission to keep fundraising and donated dollars local to support women and their families within those communities.
“The Pink Heals Tour is designed such that we don’t want to have ribbons and labels,” Kallick said. “We are here to support women and their families, so we call ourselves ‘The People’s Charity.'”
A lifelong fire-paramedic outside of the Pink Heals organization, Kallick added it’s their goal to help other organizations make their fundraising events bigger by offering support and resources and when they have raised those funds and know who they are going to donate 100 percent of those funds to, the Pink Heals will come out with their iconic pink fire trucks to help deliver those donations to a patient’s home.
During Wednesday’s stop at Southside Regional Medical Center, members of the Pink Heals dressed in standard firefighter attire, save its pink fabric, matching the fire engines outside, visited with patients inside the hospital, offering a kind word and emotional support, an important element on a patient’s road to recovery.
For Kallick, SRMC’s willingness to allow them to visit patients inside the hospital speaks to their commitment toward the complete treatment of their patients.
“Very few cancer centers open enough to let us go in and give the patients some love and hugs, but they are all about it here,” he said. “It appears they are addressing their patients’ care, not only on the medical end, but on the emotional end as well, and I think that is going to make a big difference.”
Looking on as people made their way around the pink fire engine and tents set up by the Pink Heals organization was Tracey Lee, a registered nurse, and SRMC’s Trauma Program Manager, who spoke about the hospital’s efforts to treat cancer patients in the Tri-Cities and surrounding communities.
“Our Medical Arts Pavillon houses our cancer treatment center, with the first floor being where our infusion center is located and where we perform mammographies,” she explained, noting that a reconstructive physician will be coming to the hospital in the fall to aid in breast reconstruction for their breast cancer patients.
With SRMC being named an accredited cancer center by the American College of Surgeons Commission on Cancer and an accredited facility for breast ultrasound, CT, mammography, MRI and ultrasound by the American College of Radiology, Lee said it shows the hospital’s commitment to the community they serve in Southside Virginia.
“Our main goal is patient care here,” she remarked. “It’s very important for us to help our community as they are the basis of why we are here, to better their care and outcomes.”
With organizations like Pink Heals stopping by to show their support to the patients and staff, Lee said it further bolsters the efforts the hospital is making in patient care.
“It has been amazing working with them,” she said. “These guys are all volunteers, giving their time and trucks to come out here and support cancer patients. We have multiple nurses who are cancer survivors so it was very important for us to support this cause as we continue to reach out to the community to make sure we are meeting their needs.”
Aside from the pink paint, the fire engines piloted by the Pink Heals organization serve a second, but equally symbolic purpose, a memorial for those impacted by major illness to share their stories. A walk around one of the engines will find messages of survival, words of hope and support for those still fighting, and reflections on those who fought bravely but may be no longer with us, with each vehicle telling its own story.
“Our 250-plus vehicles in the United States, whether they are part of the national tour or a chapter tour in their hometown, is a rolling memorial,” Kallick remarked as men and women, young and old took a black permanent marker to write messages of their own wherever they could find space.
Parked alongside the Pink Heals was the Carson Fire Department, bringing their own fire engine to the special event at Southside Regional Medical Center, where firefighter Carson Merricks shared his thoughts on representing the department and local first responders during their visit.
“It is definitely an honor to be here for a great cause, to be able to help out cancer research and as they help brighten people’s lives as they go to people’s houses and make a difference,” he remarked. “They are really giving people hope in life through their work.”
The event also gave hospital staff the chance to praise the Carson Fire Department and the entire region’s emergency response crews for their work throughout the year to serve the community.
“Our EMS system in the Tri-Cities is just wonderful,” Lee remarked. “I cannot say enough about them as we work with them in the community, with education, or anything else because they are always there when we need them. It is just a great resource made up of a great group of people.”
“The message today is, whether you are paid or volunteer, we are all here for the same reason, to help the citizens of this area and nationwide,” Merricks said, echoing Lee’s comments.
As the national tour prepares to continue its trek up the East Coast before moving through the Midwest, Kallick reflected on how his years of first responder experience fuels his drive to help those battling illness around the country.
“I have always seen people on their worst day, usually when they are at their worst point, and then we drop them off to a doctor and we really never know what happens after that,” he shared. “So, when we get the opportunity to go on the other side of that, we see you, we know you, we are here to tell you we love you, we are in this battle with you, and they tell us their stories about how they are getting better, about how they are improving and their life is getting better, how this organization, with the communities, can help make their life a little easier.”
“It’s simply a rewarding experience,” Kallick closed.
The Pink Heals National Tour will travel to Maryland, New York, and Rhode Island before heading west toward Kansas City, with the tour ending in southern Texas in November.