We all have gifts, Mary Tye says, and we all have calls to serve. Hers is helping her community in times of crisis.
Quite literally, she’s a lifesaver.
Tye, who works as a medical records coder at Lawrence Memorial Hospital, has volunteered as a first-responder for southwest Douglas County for more than 32 years. She also has taken in foster children who have been put in emergency protective custody — about 40 children under the age of 5 — for more than six years.
Dennis Leslie is the training coordinator for the county’s first-responder volunteers, who respond to medical emergencies outside Lawrence, and has known Tye for almost 20 years. He says it takes “someone special” to be a volunteer — someone with intense family support, willingness to constantly stay up-to-date with training, and the emotional toughness to stay calm in traumatic, life-or-death situations. Tye has it all, he says, and is widely known as a pillar of her community, running calls from Willow Springs, Clinton and Marion townships.
Volunteers like her “put their lives on hold for others,” Leslie said, and are “willing to give their time to make a difference in everyone’s lives they touch.” It’s a demanding duty, but a rewarding one, he added.
Tye says she “can’t go on a road in a southwest Douglas County without thinking, I took a call there, there and there,” which gives her a bittersweet connection with the community where she lives and volunteers.
She sees the people of her community in crisis and emergencies, frequently first on the scene of major traffic accidents and medical situations, from diabetic emergencies to life-threatening injuries.
She says working with people whom she knows can help them in their time of stress.
“There’s a connection of seeing a familiar face that mitigates the stress level,” she said. “But the flip side of that is going through traumatic situations with people near and dear to us.”
With medical privacy laws, it’s hard to know what comes of a patient after she sees him or her, but sometimes she hears from families she’s helped. “They say, ‘thanks so much for being there,’ or ‘we’re so glad you were with mom in her last moments,’” she said.
Tye said her husband and adult children support her volunteering completely. They have to, after all, because “it’s a team process.”
She has to be ready to take a call any time — there aren’t quite enough volunteers to take shifts — so that can mean running to an emergency during dinner or the middle of the night.
Asked why she gives so much to others, she says it’s her call from God.
“Some of us have the gift of being there,” she said. “The ability to help start the healing process, that’s the gift I’ve been given.”
She’s helped train new volunteers and says it’s a gift, too, “teaching someone to do what you love.” And she believes everyone can and should find some way, however small, to give back.
“We can all help others in some way,” she said. “It’s what we were created to do.”