By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior writer, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Velda Green looks out onto the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, she can let her mind wander. This is what retirement looks like.
Green said goodbye to a long career at Riley Hospital for Children last month, and the beach lover soon set her sights on a winter vacation in Florida with her rescue dog, Kya, by her side.
Her colleagues in the pediatric neurosurgery department at Riley lavished gifts and praise on her during a retirement gathering, and she still gets emotional thinking about it.
“It’s been such a huge part of my life,” she said this week from Florida, the day after storms blew through, leaving her shivering in 50-degree temperatures and shaking off an early morning tornado warning. “It’s hard to think about not going in to work every day.”
Green retired as practice manager of the IU Health Physicians pediatric neurosurgery unit at Riley, a role that grew and evolved over the years. What didn’t change was her earnest and compassionate approach – whether dealing with doctors, patients or parents.
SHE WAS THE CONDUCTOR
To hear her colleagues tell it, Green kept the train on the track most days.
“She helped me get my feet on the ground coming here as a fellow,” said Dr. Laurie Ackerman, “and got me started as a new staff physician.”
She helped guide the group through numerous transitions over the years, Dr. Ackerman said, not only organizationally but also in the level of care provided and the technology that supported all of the changes.
“She saw it all,” Dr. Ackerman said. “She deftly handled phone calls from parents and always knew when someone needed to come in ASAP and to boot it up to the doctor on call. She participated in fundraiser walks. She was skilled, she was there, and she outperformed everyone around her.”
Dr. Jeffrey Raskin said that for 40 years, Green was the “unchanging heart and soul of pediatric neurosurgery” and will be profoundly missed.
“She must have onboarded 30 or more neurosurgeons over her career and helped facilitate the care of many thousands of children,” he said. “More recently during the pandemic, Velda often was the only administrator in the office, pressing forward on the gas of the administrative gears of the medical system so we could continue to deliver much-needed care to our patients.”
SHE WAS HOOKED EARLY
Green’s interest in neurosurgery was sparked a half-century ago when her dad, a dairy and grain farmer, was diagnosed with a brain tumor while she was a junior in high school. Dr. Robert Campbell, then director of neurological surgery at Indiana University Medical Center, removed the tumor in 1972.
“I was hooked on neurosurgery to start with,” she said. “It was fascinating to me.”
She went to school to become a nurse, but dropped out, “young and dumb,” she said, speaking with the benefit of wisdom that comes with age.
“I regret that,” she said. “If I had finished my nursing degree, I would have loved to have been an operating room nurse. It’s always been fascinating to me how surgeons did such amazing things.”
But she did the next best thing in her mind, and that was working with and for some of the best neurosurgeons in the field. From the day she started her first job as a billing clerk and bookkeeper for the former Indianapolis Neurosurgery Group in 1977, she reveled in the knowledge she gained and the role she played in supporting the physicians and patients.
She followed Dr. Thomas Luerssen over to Riley in 1988 when he became the hospital’s first director of pediatric neurosurgery.
“I loved the fact that we were able to make a difference for children’s families,” Green said. “When a parent hears that their child has a brain tumor or a spinal cord tumor, they think the worst. That’s not always the case. To be able to provide a glimmer of hope, knowing we could provide the best available care, was rewarding,” she said.
And making a family’s journey a little easier during a difficult time meant the world.
Green also took pride in helping to facilitate a pediatric neurosurgery fellowship at Riley, which attracted top-notch surgeons like Dr. Ackerman, who would go on to stay at Riley. Green believed strongly in her duty to set the fellows up for success – making sure they had the resources and training they needed and that expectations were clearly outlined.
Quite a few staff physicians have come and gone over the decades, a reality that has helped Green come to terms with her own departure. She used to think the department would collapse when a longtime physician left, but that never happened.
And while some wonder who they’ll go to with any number of questions now, she is reassuring.
“I didn’t know all the answers, but I had developed relationships with a lot of people throughout the organization and knew how to find the answer,” she said.
The same will hold true in her absence, she believes.
Green gets teary-eyed when she talks about one of her last days at Riley. The team surprised her with thoughtful gifts that they knew she would love – cookbooks and Asian spices, a tripod for birdwatching, a crystal vase for her flowers, a leather-bound journal and a membership to a book-of-the-month club. Not to mention, several snazzy beach-related items.
Perhaps her most prized gift was a scrapbook filled with memories pulled together by administrative coordinator Madison Demuth.
Scores of notes and pictures from people at Riley and others who came through the organization decades ago pay tribute to Green for her unfailing support and leadership over the years.
“It was so touching. You don’t realize the impact you have,” she said. “I was overcome.”
Green, whose husband passed away in 2016, is spending a couple months in Florida before heading back to her six-acre property in Coatesville, Indiana, where family members are caring for her cat, Barnes, a “majestic beast” at 20 pounds, she laughed.
While her Riley friends miss her, they know that she has more than earned her time in the sun, with her beloved pets by her side.
“I miss Velda in the office every day, for all the reasons and the roles she served,” Dr. Raskin said.
Besides managing the administrative side of pediatric neurosurgery, she was a confidant, adviser, mentor and friend.
“She would tell you like it is, whether you wanted to hear it or not, but she was always compassionate and understanding,” he said. “I am so thankful for the time I spent learning from her and the friendship I made with her.”