It started with a bare and lonely hospital room, 10 years ago. While visiting a friend in the Complex Care unit at London’s Parkwood Hospital around Christmas, Lisette Kingo asked how many patients had to remain in the facility over the holiday.
What she learned about one bedridden resident left her shocked and shaken. “They told me he had no family members to speak of, and basically hadn’t left not only the hospital, but his room, for many years,” she says. “I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It seemed inconceivable.”
That encounter led directly to Kingo creating The Angel Project, a charity designed to assist patients who will often spend decades in hospitals, never to return to a real home again. Their circumstances can range from accident victims with spinal cord or brain injuries, to those suffering from MS and ALS.
Regardless of their histories, all have been left without the tools and finances to fend for themselves, either because they have no families, their families cannot afford the expenses, or, in the worst case scenarios, families have simply walked away from the burden of responsibility. “Basically many of these patients have been forgotten. They are discarded people,” says Kingo. “They are in Complex Care units, often for decades because they simply have nowhere else to go. When I tell this to people, they either can’t believe there’s a program like The Angel Project, or they can’t believe there’s a need for it. And unfortunately, there definitely is.”
Most people don’t realize that hospitals do not provide basic hygiene necessities for long-term Complex Care patients such as shaving cream, soap, deodorant or shampoo, and there are no funds set aside for recreational activities, haircuts or even a cup of coffee.
The Angel Project’s vital Slush Fund provides money for the latter, and their ongoing fundraising efforts help with the rest, but the organization does much more than that. “We work to provide money for co-payments on vital pieces of equipment that can often mean the difference between a patient being trapped in silence, or finding a voice to communicate with those around them,” says Kingo, noting that they have raised funds for co-payments of up to $19,000 in the past.
The charity also raises funds for outings for patients who would never be able to leave the hospital on their own. It also provides gifts at Christmas and even clothing for those who have none. “There was one young man with a spinal injury who basically lived in a hospital gown because there was no family to buy him clothing,” says Kingo. Heartbreaking stories such as this are just a few of the reasons why this organization’s work is so imperative.
Funds also assist in at least one outing per eligible patient per year, and when possible they assist with the purchase of items such as wheelchairs, voice boxes and speech computers, and even simple comforts such as stuffed animals, soft blankets or gifts at Christmas.
The charity prides itself on being one of the very few organizations that operate with minimal overhead, run by a volunteer team and a board of directors. All money raised goes directly to patients at the Complex Care Unit at both the Joseph Brant and Parkwood hospitals. For personal stories and videos from those directly affected by the project, visit the Facebook page at facebook.com/TheAngelProject.
Just a few of the items The Angel Project has raised funds for to date include approximately seven customized wheelchairs, iPads with retina displays, SMART boards for patient use, hundreds of hand-made quilts, chair lifts, outdoor gardens, BEPAP machines, TVs and DVD players, stroke walkers and treadmills.
While some of these items can cost more than $10,000, in the end, says Kingo, it’s often the little things that make the biggest difference, providing dignity, a sense of worth and purpose to those in need. “We try to give a voice to the voiceless,” she says. “These patients often can’t speak for themselves, so we speak for them.”
by Alison Dempsey
The Angel Project