Keeping her husband's memory alive

Three of the four years that Debbie Geffen was married, her husband was terminally ill.

"Last fall when Scott passed away, I knew I would volunteer to the Visiting Nurses Association, which had given us much support. I also knew I had to establish some kind of memorial to keep his memory alive," says Mrs. Geffen.


For several months now she has volunteered to the VNA, working on fund-raisers and in the office. "And, when I can deal with it, I'll visit and help patients," she says.

The Visiting Nurses Association of Baltimore was founded in 1895 by Evelyn Pope, a young graduate nurse, with less than five people on staff, in offices on South Charles Street. Today, more than 300 staff members provide skilled, hands-on care to the homebound, frail elderly and terminally ill out of its offices at 6000 Metro Drive.


The VNA is Maryland's oldest and largest non-profit home health care delivery organization, says Denise Wheatley Rowe, the volunteer and bereavement coordinator.

"Our services" she says, "include our VNA Hospice for the terminally ill who want to stay at home and which responded to the Geffens, plus short-term home health care, IV therapy, rehabilitation therapy, medical social work, which is a form of information and referral to help patients identify any additional help available. Our staff gives nutrition consultation and a pharmacy medication evaluation. And, we have medical equipment, supplies and more," she says.

Mrs. Geffen says her husband had nine surgeries in three years. "His was a very rare hereditary disease called Turcot syndrome tumor, which involves the brain, colon and the jaw. A specialist at the Wilmer Eye Clinic at Johns Hopkins diagnosed it originally by some pigment in his eye," she says.

For many weeks, a male nurse from VNA came to Mr. Geffen. "I talked with him about volunteering to VNA and told him I didn't want my husband forgotten.

"And, when I went in to the VNA, I was welcomed with open arms and they have helped me establish the Scott B. Geffen Memorial Fund, which is to be used for care of the terminally ill. Donations can be sent to the VNA," she says.

Mrs. Rowe says that the VNA fund sources include Medicare, Medical Assistance, major private insurers, private pay and donations plus United Way and Baltimore City and Baltimore County grants.

Patients are referred through family, physician, hospital or a health maintenance organization.

Mrs. Rowe says volunteers are needed as friendly visitors to give the care-giver an opportunity to get out to shop or to have time away. They also read to patients, run errands or take them to a physician's appointment. Volunteers also offer spiritual fellowship and bereavement support. "We are in need of volunteers for all areas including clerical help and for fund-raisers," she says.


Mrs. Geffen, who works for the Eureka Company and goes all over Baltimore to set up displays of the company's vacuum cleaners and to train demonstrators, says she is giving every spare minute to working on the VNA spring festival, which will have a flea market, crafts, antiques, health screenings, entertainment and face painting.

The event will be from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on May 2 in the VNA parking lot at 6000 Metro Drive.

"We hope to have a large crowd for the festival, and we also hope to have some offers to volunteer, which we need so much," says Mrs. Geffen. "I want to give my parents, Angie and Guy Vitellaro, and all of my family and friends credit for my emotional survival and to the Visiting Nurses Association, which has helped me heal."

The VNA director is Janet Melancon. To volunteer call Denise Wheatley Rowe at 358-7300.