Irene Mekker embraces giving spirit at Cleveland Clinic in Twinsburg

by Conner Howard | reporter Published:

Twinsburg -- Patients of the oncology infusion department at Cleveland Clinic's Twinsburg Family Health and Surgery Center are receiving holiday cheer and fellowship from a faithful and dedicated volunteer.

Hudson resident Irene Mekker, 78, is a familiar face for patients of the Clinic's cancer center as she visits routinely for hours on end every Tuesday and Friday, spending time with patients and keeping them company during their treatments.

Mekker also spends the year knitting and crocheting hats, scarves and afghans by hand, which she gives out to patients during the cold holiday season.

A medical volunteer with many years of experience, Mekker has worked with organizations such as the Red Cross and Corning Hospital in New York. However, with several family instances of cancer, she has more personal reasons for volunteering at the cancer center.

"When I drove by and I saw this gorgeous building, I said, 'I would love to be part of that,'" Mekker said. "The reason why I'm working in the infusion department is my mom passed away with cancer, my uncle and also my brother last year. I just thought maybe I can help somehow, even if it's just for a few minutes or an hour."

With her commitment to easing the burden of cancer treatment however she can, Mekker has made a noticeable impact on the well-being of the patients at the Clinic, according to oncology department nursing team lead Carolyn Lawrence.

"It's great to have somebody like her, because the nurses deal chiefly with the medical things," Lawrence said. "Irene comes in and helps with the comfort part of it. She brings them coffee, cookies, pillows and warm blankets to make their time in our center better.

"Some people are here just a short amount of time, some people are here six or seven hours. It's a long time to be sitting in a chair. Sometimes she just sits and talks to the patients, she finds out about their family and about their interests and just helps them feel like this their retreat."

Lawrence said Mekker, who has been volunteering at the Clinic for more than a year, has painstakingly crafted gifts for patients two holiday seasons in a row.

"She brought in about 40 [afghans] last year that she gave away," Lawrence said. "This year, she made 53. The patients are just overwhelmed that somebody would use their own resources. She uses her own time, her own money, to make all of these things and she just brings them in and wraps [patients] up in love."

During her time at the Clinic, Mekker has formed bonds with the many patients. Aurora residents James and Margine Hanson have been coming to the Cleveland Clinic of Twinsburg for James' infusions for more than a year. The Hansons said they treasure Mekker's company and assistance during the treatments.

"It's like coming home," James said. "It's like coming to see an old friend. I know when I get here, Irene's going to have a cup of coffee for me. She's always on the spot, she's there to help however she can help you. She'll just come in and we'll talk like old friends. She's quite a lady."

"She makes you feel at home," Margine added. "She's just always so welcoming. It's above and beyond. And then to do all this crocheting and knitting and showering it on people, it's awesome."

Mekker works in tandem with the oncology department's nursing staff and doctors to provide a complete healthcare experience.

"It's such an important part of patient care that sometimes nurses don't have time to do with all the other medical things they're doing," Lawrence said. "She brings that calm, that comfort and the warmth that the patients need while they're going through this difficult time in their lives."

"We shouldn't forget about the nurses," James added. "The nurses here are just fabulous. They treat you like you're someone very special to them."

Mekker, who plans to move to Twinsburg in the near future, said she is happy to be making a positive difference in people's lives.

"I'd like to be here all day, all week," Mekker said. "I feel very lucky that they accepted me. Not everybody gets to volunteer. It just makes me feel wanted and that I can actually do something."

As she chats with nurses, keeps patients company and passes out hand-made gifts, Mekker doesn't ask for a parade or a medal. All she wants is to help.

"I just hope they keep letting me come," Mekker said.

Email: choward@recordpub.com

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Twitter: @connerhowardRPC

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