Being in the hospital during Christmas can be tough, but Matt Smith of Alpharetta and an army of volunteers helps make the season brighter for staff and patients at many of Northside Hospital’s locations. His mission began when his wife Teresa, also known as “T,” was admitted to Northside in 2013. She had been diagnosed with cancer years before, and after performing surgery for another issue, her doctors found that her cancer had returned.
“She had a pretty lengthy hospital stay. We were basically in the hospital that Thanksgiving through January,” Smith said.
He stayed with T nearly all the time, returning home only briefly to take a shower or get more clothes. During a trip home, he pulled into the neighborhood and saw people putting up Christmas decorations. This routine, normal task gave Smith an idea. Even though T couldn’t be home for Christmas, he decided he’d take a bit of Christmas to his wife.
“I brought lights and Christmas decorations, and the next day I brought more,” he explained. Over the next three or four days, he brought more decorations until T’s room “was really very cool.”
“It was very beneficial to her,” Smith said.
And in addition to giving T some Christmas cheer, the decorations also helped brighten the hospital for nurses and other patients.
“Nurses came in, and you could just see them brighten up,” he said. And as patients passed by her open door and saw the decorations, they would do a double take.
“We made the best of a horrible situation,” Smith said. “It’s no fun to be in the hospital on the prettiest day in July, and it’s definitely no fun on Christmas.”
T was discharged in the middle of January in 2014, and by that time, the staff on Northside Hospital’s 4th floor had become like family. Smith took the family’s decorations back home but said he’d come back next year to decorate if they’d let him.
T entered hospice care at home and passed away on March 19, 2014. Instead of focusing solely on grief, Smith looks back on the journey as an incredible experience.
“We were lifted up by people in so many ways,” he explained. And even though T felt horrible, she still ministered to others to help lift them up. One of the ways she did this was by ordering small crosses made of olive wood from Israel to share with those who could be comforted by them. T had been given one previously and it meant a great deal to her.
“During tough times, she would just hold on to it,” Smith said.
Some of the family’s friends wanted to start an Angel Fund for them, and after T passed away, Smith established a nonprofit organization called T’s Angels. They ordered more crosses to share, and they brought some to Northside nurses for them to share with patients.
Smith also kept his vow to return to Northside and re-create the joy he’d brought with lights, trees and holiday decorations when T was a patient there. Although he couldn’t decorate patients’ rooms since items brought in either had to be thrown out or taken home with the patient, he and about 9 or 10 volunteers decorated Northside’s 4th floor in December 2014.
“We had a ball with the staff,” Smith said.
After Christmas was over and T’s Angels put the decorations away, a hospital administrator called Smith and told him there was a problem. Although he anticipated an issue with the team’s decorating, the problem was just the opposite. Smith said he was told, “The problem is some of the staff from the other floors saw what y’all did and were jealous.”
As a result, T’s Angels spread their decorating to six or seven floors in their second year of decorating and now bring cheer to over 40 different departments at five Northside Hospital sites. More than 170 volunteers help over the course of five days to decorate, and some also take down the decorations after Christmas. In addition, the group has shared over 4,000 crosses through the years.
“It gets bigger every year,” Smith said. “Everybody really enjoys it.”
Home Depot has helped the nonprofit organization by supplying some free décor and offering discounts on others. The group also bargain-hunts by shopping at Dollar Tree.
Some nurses and other staff members are holdovers from T’s days as a hospital patient, and Smith will stop to talk to them as well as members from other departments.
“I always joke with them, ‘The professional installers that are decorating the lobby, that’s not us. Our decorations are kind of cheesy but done with a lot of love,’” Smith said.
For more information about T’s Angels, visit www.facebook.com/tsangels123/.
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