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Just about everyone knows “Miss Teddy.” When she pushes her coffee cart through the waiting area of IU Health Simon Cancer Center, receptionists, nurses, doctors and patients smile and call her by name. Not only does she know them, she also knows how they take their coffee before they even tell her.
“She’s bubbly. You know when she enters a room,” said Sharita Tanner a receptionist. Porter greets everyone the same. “Hi sweetie. How you doing today?” she asks a nurse. “I like your hair like that she tells a co-worker.”
She’s been volunteering as the coffee lady for almost a year. The role is one conceived by oncologist Dr. Nasser Hanna.
“He had this vision of how we could become a concierge service for our patients,” said nurse Kim Card, Ambulatory Clinic Manager. “He wanted a coffee cart and one of the first things I did when I started as manager a year ago was make that vision a reality.” The HEM clinic purchased the cart; the cafeteria provides the coffee and volunteer services brought Miss Teddy on board. Before coming to the Simon Cancer Center she volunteered at both Methodist and Riley Hospital where she was presented a Red Shoes Award recognizing her outstanding accomplishments with patient care.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about what’s best for the patients. Teddy is phenomenal. She’s very dedicated and the patients love her,” said Card.
It’s not all about the coffee. “When women are talking about losing their hair to chemo, I tell them it will grow back and talk to them about where they can get fitted for wigs. When someone is cold, I find them a blanket,” said Teddy, who grew up in Detroit, Mich. retired seven years ago as a dietary cook for the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. and moved to Indianapolis to be closer to her best friend. She’s been single for the past 20 plus years and has no children but is an Aunt to many.
“I used to oversee the whole cafeteria at Beaumont– cooking food for stroke and cancer patients. I did everything from running the grill to working the pizza station so I think I can deliver coffee just fine,” said Teddy. She attended the University of Detroit’s Mercy College for a time and also worked in retail. Both her parents and one sibling are deceased; she has one brother still living in Detroit.
“I’m a people person. My mom and one of my brothers died of cancer so I know a little bit about what the patients are feeling,” said Teddy. “I just want to make people smile.”
Working three to four days a week, Teddy pushes her coffee cart, stopping often to exchange recipes with staff members, talk about the patients’ families, and offer up a kind word. Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays are her busiest days. Many of the patients come several times a week, some come once a month. They look forward to seeing her.
“How many Tom Collins did you bring today on your cart?” asks Ross Raines who is sitting with a patient. Teddy fires right back at his joke telling him it’s not 5:00 yet. The two hug and Teddy jots down the date when Raines and his friend will return for the next appointment.
“I’ll tell you what,” says Raines with a laugh, “when I become president Teddy’s going to be on my cabinet. She’s the best.”
But at 63, Teddy has no interest in running for political office. She serves as an usher for her church – House of God – and helps organize special events at the church. With her background working in a hospital cafeteria, she still loves to cook. Her nephews love her homemade lasagna and cheesecakes.
But some of her biggest fans are the nurses and staff members. Adding a long pour of cream to a cup of hot brew, she hands the steaming liquid to Lucinda Marshall-Dowdell. “We just love her. She brightens the day and lights this place up like a ray of sunshine,” said Marshall-Dowdell. “I call her ‘the bomb,’ because there is nobody who could serve coffee like Teddy serves coffee,” added Candy Brown. “She’s so good to the patients. She really goes above and beyond to help out.”
In the middle of her shift, Teddy gets a call from a church friend. Teddy talks to the caller as if she is in the room, offering the same warmth that she serves to patients. “You’re filling my heart with joy just hearing your voice,” she says. Before she hangs up she offers another familiar sign off: “God Bless.”
When she’s not busy with church functions and friends, Teddy enjoys attending concerts. “I’m from Detroit so I love all kinds of music and I love to dance – classical, jazz and even a little hip-hop,” she says.
Few people would guess that she suffers from arthritis in her feet and had a double knee replacement a few years ago. Some days she estimates she walks about five miles throughout the hospital.
“There are some very sick people here,” said Teddy. “I can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s the best place in the world for them to get care and if I can do a little something to make them feel better then that’s what life’s all about.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.