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Hospital chaplain helps stage virtual birthday party for 80-year-old patient

IU Health Methodist Hospital

Hospital chaplain helps stage virtual birthday party for 80-year-old patient

When you’ve lived eight decades and you’re in a hospital without family members, you do the next best thing – a zoom party. Hospital Chaplain Donald Stikeleather saw an opportunity and made it a reality for one patient.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes,

She had lived eight decades, raised two children and loved on six grandchildren and four great grandchildren. But on the day Opal Prather turned 80 she was a patient at IU Health Methodist Hospital and her family members were scattered.

Hospital visitor restrictions could have separated Prather from her family on her special day. But IU Health chaplain Donald Stikeleather had other plans. With the help of Prather’s daughter, Deborah Rhodes and son Robert Prather, there was a surprise in store for Opal’s 80th birthday.

Sixteen family members celebrated Opal Prather’s life via a Zoom video. They called in from New York, Indianapolis and California. Prather became ill in July and was moved to an assisted living facility in January. The family initially thought it would be a temporary move, but since February Prather has been in and out of the hospital and a rehabilitation facility.

When she was admitted to Methodist Hospital for her declining health, the family’s original birthday plans changed.

“Before the pandemic we were planning an 80th birthday party for her. But that had to be cancelled. We arranged two window visits with the nursing facility for her birthday and we were taking cupcakes to help her celebrate,” said Deborah Rhodes. When she ended up at Methodist Hospital Stikeleather worked with Prather’s care team to organize a family video celebration.

Stikeleather began working at IU Health in 2008 as part-time ethics fellow resident. He’s been a full-time chaplain since 2016. His wife, Staci Striegel-Stikeleather is also a chaplain with IU Health.

“The nurse made sure she was awake and I explained to her that she would be talking to her family in a ‘Hollywood Squares’ format,” said Stikeleather. “It turned out to be the perfect format for something like this.”

During the minutes-long video chat, family members sang “Happy Birthday” and one grandson offered a prayer. Prather cried.

“It was very special because she didn't remember it was her birthday,” said Rhodes. “She was happy to see her grandkids and great grandkids. I believe she felt all our love and we hoped it made her day special. We were so thankful to Donald for allowing this to happen. We only had 10 minutes on the Zoom call but it was worth every minute.”