Gratitude Stories

Gratitude is expressed all across MedStar Health-from our friends,families, caregivers, community, and patients. Thank you for sharing your experience.


No Longer Afraid to Stand on His Own

Willie and his physical therapist, Valerie Rucker
Willie and his physical therapist, Valerie Rucker

One night, Willie McKnight Jr. woke up and couldn’t breathe. It was difficult to move, but he did his best to push himself off the bed in order to call 911.

“It was a scary feeling,” he recalls, “especially when you live alone.”

He was treated for pneumonia and heart failure. Unfortunately, that was just the start of his health complications. Due to his diagnosis, he developed persistent neck and shoulder pains.

McKnight suffered a cerebral stroke a year later. “Now, I can’t run or do things fast anymore, he says.” His health complications forced him to quit his security technician profession. It was a career he had been building for 30 years. He is now unemployed.

Despite these challenges, he found hope in receiving outpatient therapy care at MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. He didn’t expect much from the outset.

“I didn’t think I could get rid of this pain. I’ve learned to live with it for so many years,” McKnight says. With a determination to beat the odds, he is now, miraculously, pain-free. “I can’t believe it. They got the job done!”

He is, first and foremost, grateful to his care team. “My physical therapists, Valerie, Cliff, and Alicia were courteous, knowledgeable, and patient with me. They explained my condition and treatment in a way that I could understand. After seeing what feels like thousands of doctors, most wouldn’t even listen to me or take my concerns seriously. My team at MedStar NRH did. They asked me questions and did their best.”

Now discharged, McKnight has a therapy regimen he must stick to in order to keep improving his body. “I’m very excited for the progress. For the first time in a long time, I feel hopeful.”

"My grandson saved my life."

Kelly Cloman tells her story of how she caught a cold from her grandson and ended up discovering she had cancer.

Hungry Harvest: Healthy Eats for Patients’ Plates

Becky Illingworth pictured with her two kids, Emily and Brian.
Becky Illingworth pictured with her two kids, Emily and Brian.

Becky Illingworth knows firsthand the struggles that some of her patients face. “I was a single mother. I worked full-time and when I went to social services for extra help, they turned me away because I made thirty-something dollars over their limit. Outside of social services, I wasn’t really aware of what resources were available to help me when I was going through my own hardships and struggles.”

An eleventh grade high school mother faced a similar challenge. She was connected with Becky at MedStar Harbor Hospital, where Becky is a community health advocate. The young mother and her newborn baby were still dependent on her parents. When her dad had to get emergency surgery, food was tight for the entire family.

They were screened for food insecurity at the hospital and qualified for the Harvest Rx program, a community partnership between MedStar Harbor and Hungry Harvest. Harvest Rx aims to deliver up to eight weeks of fresh fruit and produce to patients with food insecurities.

“If we treat a patient who is a diabetic and they go home without the ability to eat well, they’re going to end up back in the hospital,” Ryan Moran, director of community health for MedStar Health, says. “It goes beyond the eight-week program. Our community health advocates are working on long-term, sustainable solutions for our patients.”

“Harvest Rx lives at the crossroads of common sense and compassionate care,” Hungry Harvest director of Sales and Partnerships, Stacy Carroll, says. “The program helps patients achieve wellness and a healthy eating routine. It also helps local farmers better connect fresh food with people in need. It’s a win for the patient, for our farmers, and for a healthier Baltimore.”

Becky keeps in close touch with the patients she’s connected to Harvest Rx. “I touched base with the family a week or so later. They were so thrilled to have that extra food—and healthy food! In fact, everyone I follow up with has nothing but great things to say. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a gift to these patients. They’re used to eating them from cans.”

Becky became a community health advocate in 2018 after a long career as a nursing assistant. In addition to hospital initiatives like Harvest Rx, she helps patients sign up for government, private, and non-profit assistance programs. She’s come full circle by helping people who are in tough situations, like she once was. Only now, she’s much more knowledgeable about the many resources that are out there for patients who need it the most.

“It’s an incredibly rewarding experience helping people get back on their feet,” Becky says. “I love what I do, and I’m grateful to be in the position I am in now.”

Read how Harvest RX is having a positive impact on our community.


Quick Facts of Harvest RX

  • Harvest Rx at MedStar Harbor Hospital was made possible by a $25,000 grant awarded by the PNC Foundation.
    • Since it launched in October 2018, 70 patients have received weekly deliveries.
    • It has been implemented with other community partners.
  • MedStar Harbor Hospital serves a patient population in an area that has been statistically designated as a food desert.
    • Median household income is at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.
    • More than 30 percent of households lack access to transportation in order to get to fresh food sources. Many lack access to a supermarket.
  • Some highlights of the program results in 2018:
    • Primary Care Coalition of Montgomery County reported 65 percent of people in the program lost weight, with an average weight loss of 8 pounds.
    • DC Office on Aging reported a 94 percent satisfaction rate from their participants with regards to quality and amount of produce, as well as ease of preparation.
    • The Coordinating Center Wish Program grew their patient participation rate 300 percent from 2017 to 2018.
  • An additional philanthropic gift will enable MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital to launch their own Harvest Rx program in early 2019.

"I want to be heard."

What Christine Stoddard thought was a stroke, turned out to be a subdural hematoma. She describes how grateful she is to the physicians who respected her beliefs and decision to have a bloodless surgery. 

An EMT’s Unexpected Trip to the Emergency Department

In his own words, Mike Berna shares his story:

Mike and Sandy Berna.
Mike and Sandy Berna.

"I’ve been in the emergency response profession for over thirty years. Never did I anticipate the day when I would be rushed to the hospital.

I woke up in the middle of the night struggling to breathe. My wife, Sandy, knew things were really bad when I agreed to go to the emergency room. I try to endure most things but this time, I couldn’t bear it. I knew I needed help.

We arrived at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center around 8 or 9 p.m. Even at that late hour, it was extremely busy, but everyone was just so nice to me. That’s a hard thing to do: being nice when you’re really busy.

As a paramedic, firefighter, and now a fire captain with an emergency medical technician (EMT) certification, I shuttled patients to MedStar Health facilities all the time. But the MedStar system is very special to me in more ways than one.

My sister-in-law, Denise White, worked at the catheterization laboratory at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital. When she died suddenly from a heart attack at 48 years old, the loss was difficult not just for her family, but for her catheterization laboratory team, too. She was really treasured there.

Sandy’s father was treated for brain cancer at the [Harry and Jeanette Weinberg] Cancer Center at MedStar Franklin Square. Even though we lost him after ten years of treatment, the appreciation we had to his caregivers never went away. The same goes for Denise’s colleagues. Our gratitude for their wonderful work is why we’ve continued donating to these programs all these years.

I knew my patients and family members were in good hands wherever they went within the MedStar network. Now, having been a patient, I experienced for myself the compassionate treatment others have had. This personal experience really affirmed our decision to donate. It also confirmed their reputation. The MedStar family is a good group of people doing great things."

The Accident that Changed My Life

Harry and Renie Freedman tell the story of Harry’s life-changing accident. He shares how he was able to find hope and the strength to overcome his obstacles. They are grateful to the staff and the physical therapy program at MedStar National Rehabilitation Network.

We invite you to participate in our culture of gratitude. Share your story.