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Updated 10:00 AM November 24, 2008
 

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Spotlight: Chief Elf gives holiday spirit

Susan Blaisdell proudly shows the work of the sewing elves: stockings decorated with Michigan logos, multi-colored lights and moose.

Photo by Austin Thomason, U-M Photo Services

Tubs of Play-Doh, hand sanitizer and notebooks overtake the counters of a room in the Division of Hematology/Oncology at the Department of Internal Medicine, where Blaisdell works as an administrative specialist. The items are neatly organized and ready for stuffing into stockings to hand out to cancer patients.

Walking down the corridors of her office she can point out who is an elf, referring to them as “lieutenant elves” or “shopping elves,” devising a general rank amongst them for their contributions to the cause.

“(The program) changes lives,” she says, “because the patients know that there is someone out there who is thinking of them as a human being, not just as a patient.”
Blaisdell’s organizational skills came to great use in the U.S. Navy, when in 1973 she served at Pearl Harbor. She worked in a sheet metal shop for a year before serving as an administrative assistant at the naval base. Blasidell would serve the Navy four more years as a recruiter in Salem, Mass., and an administrative specialist at Norfolk, Va. In 1995 she accepted a job at U-M.

At the Division of Hematology/Oncology she supports faculty and staff members by arranging travel, placing calls and preparing correspondence. Yet, her favorite part of the job is working with patients on the phone.

“You develop relationships with them,” Blaisdell says, “especially the clinical trial patients. I’ve known many of them since I’ve been here.”

She serves as managing editor of two quarterly newsletters: HemOnc Happenings and The Internal Medicine Connection. She’s also involved with VOICES of the Staff as part of the Health Benefits and Well-Being Panel.

Nearly three years after Blaisdell came to U-M, a co-worker was diagnosed with breast cancer. Other staff members started a lunchtime sewing club to help the woman pass the time during treatment. Group members made holiday stockings that they filled with items for children undergoing chemotherapy in the hospital. Thus the HemOnc Holiday Elves were formed.

“We stuff the stockings in December and then deliver to the different infusion areas,” Blaisdell says. “We let the medical staff hand them out, because they know their patients.”

At the urging of their co-worker, the next year the group chose to include adults.
The effort has grown from the initial 75 stockings to, after 10 years, 100 stockings for children and teenagers, and 600 for adults. The stockings now are sewn by more than 20 groups. There also are mittens made for those of different faiths who would rather not have a Christmas stocking. The items are donated or purchased with contributions.

On top of the effort is Blaisdell, who serves as the organizer, garnering the status of “Chief Elf.”

In celebration of 10 years of the program, the HemOnc Holiday Elves invite members of the public ages 10 and over to stuff the stockings with them from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Dec. 6 in the University Hospital Cafeteria, Rooms C and D.

For more information e-mail Blaisdell at sblaisde@umich.edu or go to www.med.umich.edu/stockings/index.htm.

The weekly Spotlight features staff members at the University. To nominate a candidate, please contact the Record staff at urecord@umich.edu.

 

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