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‘Doing the work that I love’: Six recognized as heroes by Carroll Hospice

Carroll Hospice is recognizing some of its Hospice Heroes this year, from left, Bereavement and Volunteer Services Secretary Betty McGuire, Home Team Social Worker Kelly Yudt, Chair of the Carroll Hospice Dove House Expansion Committee Mark Blacksten, Clinical Mentor Lindsay Sisler, R.N., and Facilty Based Hospice Aide Malika Acker. A sixth Hospice Hero, Melissa Bonbrest, is not pictured.
Carroll Hospice is recognizing some of its Hospice Heroes this year, from left, Bereavement and Volunteer Services Secretary Betty McGuire, Home Team Social Worker Kelly Yudt, Chair of the Carroll Hospice Dove House Expansion Committee Mark Blacksten, Clinical Mentor Lindsay Sisler, R.N., and Facilty Based Hospice Aide Malika Acker. A sixth Hospice Hero, Melissa Bonbrest, is not pictured. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Lindsay Sisler said she dreamed of becoming a nurse ever since she was a little girl.

Sisler, 33, was also passionate about education and said she wanted to get an advanced degree in nursing education to combine the two. Her mother, Norma, was diagnosed with metastatic cancer during Sisler’s first year as a nurse and it was the first time Sisler experienced the possibility of losing a loved one.

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Sisler said her mother has been able to manage her cancer, and the support she received from doctors, nurses, and social workers helped her realize how much she wanted to carve out a similar path to caregiving.

“Hospice is the type of nursing where you can be fully supportive and fully caring to patients,” Sisler said. “That is usually the most difficult time for them.”

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Sisler is one of six Hospice Heroes being recognized for outstanding support to Carroll Hospice and for going above and beyond to provide quality care and bereavement services to hospice patients and their families. Malika Acker, Mark Blacksten, Melissa Bonbrest, Betty McGuire, and Kelly Yudt are the others.

The Hospice Heroes are usually honored at the annual Taste of Carroll, but this year’s event will take place in a different format because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hosice Heroes, top row: Malika Acker, Mark Blacksten and Melissa Bonbrest. Hospice Heroes, bottom row: Elizabeth McGuire, Lindsay Sisler and Kelly Yudt.
Hosice Heroes, top row: Malika Acker, Mark Blacksten and Melissa Bonbrest. Hospice Heroes, bottom row: Elizabeth McGuire, Lindsay Sisler and Kelly Yudt. (Carroll Hospice)

The fundraiser will be held from April 26 to April 25, 2022 as a one-year road trip to explore the tastes and delicacies the Carroll County culinary scene has to offer, according to a Carroll Hospital news release.

A Community Cuisine Passport Book will go on sale March 8, allowing participants to take advantage of a range of special offer certificates from participating restaurants, breweries, wineries, and more. Participants will receive discounts on exclusive foods, beverages, and other delicious delicacies, according to the release.

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All proceeds from Taste of Carroll benefit the uncompensated care Carroll Hospice provides, including end-of-life care costs not covered by a patient’s insurance and the vast array of grief support services offered to patients’ families and the community at large. A mobile silent auction will also be held Friday, April 30 through Monday, May 3. To sponsor the event or to purchase the Taste of Carroll’s Community Cuisine Passport Book, please visit TasteofCarroll.org or for more information, call 410-871-6200.

In addition to Sisler, this year’s Hospice Heroes:

Malika Acker

Position: Carroll Hospice aide

After working in nursing facilities for more than 15 years, Acker was ready for a change.

Acker, 44, has been working as a hospice aide on the facility-based team at Carroll Hospice for about a year and a half and said joining the team was the best decision she ever made.

She provides day-to-day care for patients in her role, including companionship.

When the pandemic hit, the facility stopped allowing hairdressers to visit and Acker paid for a patient to receive a haircut with her own money. She said building relationships with patients and their families is equal parts rewarding and challenging.

“To be a Hospice Hero is a great honor,” Acker said, “I have to give credit to my entire team because without great teamwork my job wouldn’t be so easy.”

Mark Blacksten

Position: Community Hospice Hero

Blacksten is a proud advocate, promoter, volunteer, and longtime supporter of Carroll Hospice.

He first got involved with Carroll Hospice in 2006 as a volunteer member of the Board of Trustees. He is a member of the Carroll Hospital Foundation’s Board of Trustees and serves on several committees. As the administrative vice president, Business Banking Regional Manager of M&T Bank, Blacksten has been successful in advocating for charitable donations in support of Carroll Hospice for many years.

Blacksten most recently chaired the Dove House expansion committee that raised $4.3 million, exceeding the $3.5 million goal.

“I am incredibly humbled and honored to be recognized as a Community Hospice Hero,” Blacksten said. “I am just so proud to play a small part in this is amazing organization. Being part of the Carroll Hospice Board of Trustees was one of the highlights of my life. I look forward to continuing to be there for Carroll Hospice, to advocate, to support and to assist in any way.”

Blacksten was introduced to Carroll Hospice in 2001 when his brother unexpectedly died. While he was not a patient requiring hospice services, the bereavement team provided Blacksten’s family with comfort and resources to use during the grieving process. In 2016, Blacksten’s mother reached the end stage of a cancer diagnosis and Carroll Hospice was there to aid once again.

“I firmly believe that the staff, nurses and volunteers of Carroll Hospice are angels on Earth. They work with patients facing end-of-life illnesses and equally as important their families. They do so with love, genuine compassion and often provide those unique special experiences to a patient or family member in a comforting and dignified way.”

Melissa Bonbrest

Position: Carroll Hospice aide

Bonbrest has been working at Carroll Hospice for almost three years and said she has always enjoyed taking care of others.

One of her good friends, Oren Miller, died of Stage 4 lung cancer in 2015 and was a catalyst for Bonbrest to get her hospice career underway. She started out as a Carroll Hospice volunteer and still volunteers while working as a hospice aide in the inpatient unit.

“The most rewarding part is just being there at the end of life,” Bonbrest said. “It’s caring for people, even though they may be dying. They still deserve the respect and dignity that any other human does. I’m an introvert, so the most challenging thing for me is explaining the dying process to families and what they may be seeing during that process.”

Bonbrest, 51, said working at Carroll Hospice as a hospice aide has been a rewarding experience and the focus of her role is patient care. The pandemic halted the ability for patients to have a lot of visitors, so Bonbrest and the other aides work diligently to make sure their needs are met.

“It’s very hard to tell someone they can’t be there with their loved one, their friend, whomever at the end of life,” Bonbrest said. “On the other hand, I’m glad I can be there so there is some reassurance that the person hasn’t died alone.”

Betty McGuire

Position: Carroll Hospice volunteer and bereavement secretary

When McGuire’s mother was diagnosed with dementia, she quit her job to care for her.

Her mother suffered a stroke while living in McGuire’s home and was taken to the emergency room, where the situation progressed. From there, she was taken to Carroll Hospice and McGuire was able to say her goodbyes.

“That night was extra special,” McGuire said. “She only lived another hour, but they had taken such tender care of her within that hour and it was just beautiful.”

One of McGuire’s friends is a hospice nurse and was working at the Dove House that night. She approached McGuire and told her there were a few job openings with Carroll Hospice and encouraged her to apply.

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McGuire, 57, has worked at Carroll Hospice for a year and a half as a hospice volunteer and bereavement secretary. On the bereavement side, McGuire provides support for families who have lost loved ones. This support, which consists of phone calls and mailings, lasts for at least 13 months.

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“I do a lot of data entry, but every person and every family member is different,” McGuire said. “I see a lot of names every day when I’m preparing mailings, but I still feel like my job is important. It’s still touching the people with a sympathy letter or a mailing that has to do with grief and how it affects you.”

Kelly Yudt

Position: Social worker, home hospice

Yudt fell in love with the idea of hospice care when she worked in the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center from 2002-03.

Talking to families about death and dying has never made Yudt uncomfortable and her ability to have those hard conversations has helped her career progress. She works part-time as a social worker for hospice care providing therapeutic and emotional support for patients.

“Sometimes it’s about routine visits of going in and visiting patients,” Yudt said. “Sometimes it’s assessing new patients and what their psychosocial needs are and coming up with a plan with the patient and family of how we can best support them.”

The unexpected is certainly possible in hospice care and Yudt said her schedule can change swiftly if it means meeting urgent needs of a patient at home or visiting a family who lost a loved one.

Yudt, 41, said it’s an honor to be one of six Hospice Heroes, but she doesn’t necessarily feel like a hero.

“It was unexpected,” Yudt said. “I feel like I’m doing the work that I love so that feels great to be called a hero.”

Carroll Hospice is recognizing its Hospice Heroes this year, from left, Bereavement and Volunteer Services Secretery Betty McGuire, Home Team Social Worker Kelly Yudt, Chair of the Carroll Hospice Dove House Expansion Committee Mark Blacksten, Clinical Mentor Lindsay Sisler, R.N., and Facilty Based Hospice Aide Malika Acker. Hospice Hero Melissa Bonbrest is not pictured.
Carroll Hospice is recognizing its Hospice Heroes this year, from left, Bereavement and Volunteer Services Secretery Betty McGuire, Home Team Social Worker Kelly Yudt, Chair of the Carroll Hospice Dove House Expansion Committee Mark Blacksten, Clinical Mentor Lindsay Sisler, R.N., and Facilty Based Hospice Aide Malika Acker. Hospice Hero Melissa Bonbrest is not pictured. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

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