Empathy stems from childhood

14/12/2016

JOHN Heineman had possibly one of the toughest childhoods imaginable.
Spending 15 months in hospital with polio, including three weeks in an iron lung and being in the care of a stepmother who entertained foreign military personnel, was a tough way for a little boy to grow up.
During his hospital stay from age 11, his father and stepmother visited him once and he was forced to sleep on a steel crucifix frame due to a bad bedsore on his back. He also lost half his body weight while in hospital.
But he overcame that adversity, went on to become a hydro-geological engineer on the Snowy Mountain Hydro Scheme and PNG, and have a family of his own.
For the past 13 years, John has been a volunteer at Cairns Hospital through the Far North Queensland Hospital Foundation, but at age 82, he recently retired.
Foundation volunteer manager Anne Chirio said it had been very rare for Mr Heineman to ever have a sick day and he was thought of very highly by his team.
 “I’ve been having prostate cancer treatment which has made me quite muscle-weak and I decided I wanted to spend some more time with my wife and family,” Mr Heineman said.
He came to volunteer when he was visiting the hospital cobbler for post polio syndrome, and a physio suggested his handy skills could help others. “I guess you could say I’ve been working one or two days a week helping with minor maintenance matters. Before I started, I had no knowledge at all of all these wonderful hospital volunteers,” Mr Heineman said. He also served on two health service committees – falls and pressure injuries.
A father of three and grandfather of seven, Mr Heineman said his childhood experiences possibly made him more compassionate and understanding. “There was one fellow who had had a stroke and I saw him in the gymnasium – we recognised each other but he couldn’t talk at that stage – he was a locksmith and I could see that his hands were so important to him and his work. So I made up a timber jig consisting of dowel sticks to put into holes and I think that little device helped him a lot. I still see him from time to time and I always go to him to get my keys cut.”
For John, retirement will mean spending more time with family and playing his beloved Sudoku.

 

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