Dressed in a yellow sterile gown, Doug Reichl can be found every Friday morning in the dialysis unit at Riley Hospital. Some days he’s at the bedside of the young patients playing cards, other days he’s reading books or helping with homework.
Most of the youngsters in the unit – experiencing end stage renal failure - have been coming for dialysis on a regular basis so they are familiar with Reichl. They spend hours in a hospital bed or resting in a chair while an artificial kidney removes waste and chemicals from their blood. Reichl is there to help them pass that time.
For years Reichl worked in manufacturing operations. When he retired and had more time to give back to the community, he turned to Riley Hospital.
“I said ‘where do you need people?’ and they said dialysis. So I went home and got on line and read about dialysis and I’ve been here ever since,” said Reichl, 69. He also rocks babies in NICU – and is known to hum Beatles songs to lull them to sleep. He started at Riley Hospital in 2001. Over the years he’s met more than 100 youngsters in dialysis. When he first started, he spent many hours with a young boy who had been on dialysis since birth. That youngster had nicknames for all the nurses and he named Reichl, “Mr. Doug.” It stuck.
In addition to his Friday morning shift in dialysis, Reichl volunteers each summer at Kidney Camp – a weeklong camp for children with kidney disease.
“I just hang out with the 8 to 12-year-olds and try to make the most of sleeping on a wooden bunk with a thin mattress,” said Reichl. “My favorite thing is just talking to these kids, getting to know them. Kids say the darndest things. They’re always glad to see me and if I’ve been away on vacation they’ll ask where I’ve been.”
Many of the patients drive a distance to come to dialysis – Fort Wayne, Terre Haute, South Bend - so Reichl wants to make sure they are comfortable after their long car rides and during their lengthy stay.
“I might see if they need a warm blanket and sometimes I’ll grab them a treat from the restaurant. When they get a kidney transplant I usually stop in and see how they’re doing after surgery,” said Reichl. “Some people think it’s depressing but to me they’re just kids. We all have the same hearts looking for attention.”
When he isn’t volunteering at Riley, Reichl is busy delivering food for Second Helpings, and tutoring young readers through the United Way’s “Read Up” program. He’s also been on a number of mission trips with St. Luke’s United Methodist Church.
“My parents always volunteered and they taught me to put others first,” said Reichl. “When people ask why I volunteer at Riley, I tell them ‘it could have been you, me or your grandchild that was dealt a bad hand. They’re all just regular kids.’ When I’m volunteering at Riley, my troubles just fade away.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email firstname.lastname@example.org.