Last year, Blaine Lessard and his wife, Darlene Breck, attended the lighting of the Christmas Tree of Life at the hospital in La Plata.
At the time, Breck was chairwoman of the Civista Health Foundation. Two weeks later, Lessard was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer.
Breck attended this year’s lighting of the health foundation’s tree Wednesday with her children, grandchildren, other family members and friends.
This year, the tree, which stands near the front entrance of the hospital, was lit by Breck, her children and grandchildren in memory of Lessard, who died Feb. 23, 2013. He was 55 and was not a smoker.
Breck said all the time she spent as chairwoman of the foundation, fundraising for new furniture and equipment in the hospital, she never realized she would one day use it as the loved one of a patient.
While Lessard was in the hospital for treatment, Breck and her three daughters slept on chairs in his room that were bought with funds she raised.
“There wasn’t any aspect we didn’t touch,” said Breck, who also has one son and 10 grandchildren.
While Lessard received treatment at the hospital, Breck said the staff and foundation members supported her and her family.
“The hospital did. They became our superheroes,” Breck said.
Although the Healing Garden near the front entrance of the hospital, now called the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center, had not been built at the time, it now contains a stone angel dedicated by Lessard and Breck before Lessard died.
“It was great that it got to be placed there,” Breck said.
The Christmas Tree of Life contains lights and angels that honor the living and the dead. For a donation of $15, a light or angel is placed on the tree either to honor someone or in memory of a loved one.
Susan Mudd Vogel, executive director of the CRMC Foundation, said that $4,300 was raised for lights and angels on this year’s tree, as well as luminaries, square plastic lamps that line the Healing Garden during the holidays. She said about 70 to 80 people made donations.
“Right now, the foundation’s focus is preparedness,” Vogel said of fundraising efforts.
The foundation is raising funds for plans to renovate the hospital’s birth center in the spring and to provide the best tools possible so that the hospital can attract the best surgeons.
The University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center enables residents to have local access to medical care.
Vogel said the foundation also is focused on fundraising to prepare for storm readiness to meet the needs of residents and to prepare for the future growth of the region.
Vogel said the Christmas Tree of Life was donated by the Charles Regional Medical Center Hospital Auxiliary, which runs the hospital gift shop, about 20 years ago.
A second tree on the other side of the hospital also is decorated for Christmas.
Renee Miller of La Plata said she donated $30 for two lights to be placed on the tree in memory of her granddaughter and grandson, twins who died shortly after birth just before Christmas in 2011. Jackson and Olivia were born prematurely at 20 weeks, Miller said.
She donated last year for lights to be placed on the tree in their memory, also.
“It does [help],” Miller said of donating for lights on the tree. “Like little angels on the tree.”
Miller said the support of family and friends while she has grieved the loss of Jackson and Olivia also has helped.
Mollie Gieseman, chairwoman of the CRMC Foundation, said the foundation’s mission is to raise awareness to the public of the services available at their local hospital, and to raise funds needed for sophisticated equipment that is necessary to bring the best doctors to the hospital.
Events such as the lighting of the Christmas Tree of Life are a way to bring people together.
“It’s a gathering,” Gieseman said, “of grateful patients, so it’s really a love fest.”
Gieseman said she served on the board when Breck was chairwoman and she learned a lot from Breck.
“The fact that she did it while Blaine was ill really makes her an extraordinary woman,” Gieseman said.