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Volunteers help protect patients from life-threatening infections at Alberta Children’s Hospital

Click to play video 'Volunteers help protect patients from infections at Alberta Children’s Hospital' Volunteers help protect patients from infections at Alberta Children’s Hospital
WATCH: Infections can pose a deadly threat to patients at children's hospitals. Now some dedicated volunteers are tackling that problem, offering young Calgarians a bit of hands-on training. Gil Tucker has the story – Jun 20, 2019

Every time they walk into the Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, Grace George and Noor Bhatti are treated like VIPs.

“Everyone assumes, I guess, Very Important Person,” George said with a laugh. “But we’re like, ‘No, it’s Volunteers for Infection Prevention.'”

George and Bhatti donate their time to the program, which involves volunteers visiting patients and their families at ACH and teaching them how to help prevent the spread of infections in the hospital.

One of the focuses is demonstrating effective hand-washing techniques, using soap and hand sanitizer.

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“I’m going to go between my fingers at the front and then again at the back,” Bhatti explained. “And then you want to get your fingernails because a lot of germs hide under there.”

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The volunteers also encourage families to monitor any visitors.

“Ask them if they have a fever, sore throat, runny nose, cough,” George said. “That may indicate that they have an infection, so if you can just ask them to come at a later time, that would be good.”

George and Bhatti were visiting the room of five-year-old Evelyn Shanahan, who’s been a patient at ACH for two weeks.

“Evelyn had a big abdominal infection,” Evelyn’s mother, Marie-Claire Shanahan, said. “So we had to have some surgery.”

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Protecting patients like Evelyn from infection is crucial to a good recovery.

“Especially in children’s hospitals, viruses get spread around quite a bit,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Joseph Vayalumkal said.

“A common cold virus — some of the children in the hospital can get very severe life-threatening illnesses from that, so it’s important to empower families to help protect their children.”

Volunteering with the VIP team is an offshoot of Bhatti and George’s medical careers. Bhatti is a maternity nurse at Rockyview Hospital, while George is working on her master’s degree in public health.

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They enjoy the chance to help families at ACH.

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“Just being able to maybe make their day a little bit brighter,” George said. “It’s great!”

“I love (the patients’) smiles,” Bhatti said. “They’re so resilient. They have a really positive outlook.”

That positive outlook is paying off for Evelyn. She should be going home soon but she and her family are thankful for the volunteers helping keep everyone at the hospital safe.

“It’s really great,” Marie-Claire Shanahan said. “There are so many different signs and instructions around the hospital. It’s really nice to have somebody come and explain and help you through it. We really appreciate it.”