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Just a heads up, you might want a few tissues while watching these YouTube videos.
When I think of Shriners I think of men in little clown cars working a parade crowd and throwing beads. Well, that’s what I used to associate with them, now I see them as heroes without capes. I met my first Shriner, Richard Drosin, at a press event for the Chinese New Years Parade (he was gonna be goofing it up at the parade, my mental stereotype was not off base). He’s young, personable and super jazzed about his work with the Shriners. We’ve kept in touch and it’s because of him that I came to know about the hospitals that the Shriners created. I’m writing this piece because one, their work is incredible and free of charge to those who cannot pay and two, you never know who will come across your writing and benefit from it. So let’s dive in!
So what happens at these Shriners Hospitals?
But first a little history
The Shriners are a group that belongs to the Freemasons, a fraternal group with global reach. All Shriners are Freemasons, but not all Freemasons are Shriners. The Shriners were formed in 1872 within the Freemasons and they existed to have a good time. In 1922 the Shriners decided that they needed to give back to the community and the first Shriners hospital was opened, they focused on curing Polio.
Ok, back to modern time
From that one hospital that opened in 1922 there are now a total of 22 with locations in Mexico, Canada and the United States. Patients come from around the world to be treated. The hospitals treat only children and focus on four key areas in which they are expert: orthopaedics, burn care, spinal cord injury and cleft lip and palate.
The one thing that I’d like to highlight is that all care given at Shriners hospitals is given at no cost to families. If you have insurance it will be accepted, but if you cannot pay your child will still be treated. To date 1.3 million kids have been treated at Shriners Hospitals and 700 million dollars is spent yearly by those hospitals, 34 million going to research.
A conversation with Gary and Anne Bergenske (Thank you Richard for facilitating this interview!)
Money comes from an endowment, donors and the Shriners themselves. I was able to speak to Gary J. Bergenske and his wife Anne (fun fact, they and their six kids are referred to as the “Bergy Bunch”- that’s pretty great). Gary is the Chairman of the Board for the Shriners Hospital and he and his wife will spend about 340 days on the road campaigning for their hospitals. I was able to catch them in Washington DC and had a quick conversation before they left for Baltimore.
“That one word hope seems to really stick out with us and that hope turns into good care that changes the life of their child” says Gary. He is one of 240,000 Shriners but he and his wife are one of the highest ranking couples in the organization. He and his wife campaigned for this volunteer position and they were elected this year. As First Lady of the Shriners, Anne has the honor of selecting a cause to patron.
Pioneering medical care
And on to future advances
Anne pulled upon a painful family experience when choosing her cause, she lost a grandchild a few months before birth. Anne decided she wanted to carve out space for researches to focus on fetal surgeries. A call for researches was put out and money was set aside so this will become an area of continued study.
Already, an unborn child was treated for a case of spina bifida and return to the uterus for a healthy birth. The surgery can also be applied to those with cleft palate and malformed limbs, treating a child with plenty of time for scars to heal.
Creating a family
While touring the county the Bergenskes have walked into dozens of Shriners hospitals and seen happy, supported families. Children enjoy their visits to the hospital, and families are fully supported. In some cases staff from the hospital will go ahead of a child to their school. Victims of burns may never look the same, but the support staff will go into the schools of these children, preparing friends for the new appearance of their friend, coaching them on how to behave.
What do our local Shriners do?
Shriners in Washington DC are involved in our local community, I met Richard at a press event. I was able to meet with Chairman of the board Gary Bergenske because he was in town visiting this local group. While he was here he presented a local Shriner, Don Holliday, with an award to honor his service, he had made over 500 trips to drive children to hospitals.
Getting in touch with the Shriners
I was told by Gary and Anne that most of their patients had never previously heard of the hospital network. That Shriners usually hear of sick children “through the grapevine” and would send information to the family. For a hospital which is able to be the last stop for stumped parents, whether it’s a novel disease or a severe case of burns- I think we should spread information of this network far and wide. So if you feel compelled to share this article, please do!
The nearest Shriners Hospital is in Philadelphia and you may learn more about that and other locations, here.
If you or a loved one would like to reach out to the Shriners network you can go to beashrinernow.com
If you would like to donate to the hospitals and the research they do you may do so, here.
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