A Grateful Survivor Marks her 10-Year Anniversary with Annual Holiday Gift of ‘Mary’s Socks’

Mary Siereveld, center, prepares to deliver gifts to patients on the neuroscience floor at the UC Medical Center. At left, Lisa Bowman, RN, Nurse Manager on 4 West; at right, Carrie Roark, Medical Assistant at the Gardner Center for Parkinson's Disease and Movement Disorders. Photos by Cindy Starr.

Mary Siereveld, center, prepares to deliver gifts to patients on the neuroscience floor at the UC Medical Center. At left, Lisa Bowman, RN, Nurse Manager on 4 West; at right, Carrie Roark, Medical Assistant at the Gardner Center for Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders. Photos by Cindy Starr.

Mary Siereveld, a brain tumor survivor who delivers socks and a message of hope every December 23rd to patients on the University of Cincinnati Medical Center’s neuroscience floor, was unusually emotional this time.

“It’s my 10th anniversary, and I’m good,” Mary said today, wiping away tears. “I’m healthy. I’m happy, and I just want everyone to have the hope that they’re going to be OK. I want to spread hope that God is good. I want to meet everyone on the fourth floor.”

Mary also wanted to convey a second message about Christmas and giving: “It’s as simple as a pair of socks.”

December 23 will always have special meaning for Mary. On that date in 2005 the Kentucky schoolteacher underwent brain surgery at the UC Medical Center. John M. Tew, MD, a neurosurgeon with the Brain Tumor Center at the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute, removed a 1½-inch by 2-inch tumor that was pressing on Mary’s brainstem. Mary spent Christmas in the hospital, recovering. She also spent many hours thinking about Christmas and the values that were most important to her.

Mary and Dr. John Tew, a year after her surgery at UC Medical Center.

Mary and Dr. John Tew, a year after her surgery at UC Medical Center.

In past years Mary had been immersed in the decorative trappings of Christmas. “My thoughts of Christmas had always been Martha Stewart-like: every corner decorated with red and green, lighted candles in every window, a garland around the front door, cookies baked, all the presents wrapped under the tree, and a from-scratch Betty Crocker fruitcake,” Mary recalls.

But during her stay on the neuroscience floor at the UC Medical Center, her most treasured moments had nothing to do with garlands or wrapping. They included, rather, a kindly visit from two strangers, her first shower after surgery, fresh hospital socks each day, and a lengthy conversation with Dr. Tew on Christmas Day.

“Martha Stewart never came calling that year,” Mary says. “God had other plans for me. Now that I look back, it was the best Christmas ever for me. Angels disguised as doctors, nurses, and hospital staff were so attentive to my needs.”

Mary delivering socks for the first time, in 2006.

Mary delivering socks for the first time, in 2006.

Every year since then, on December 23, Mary returns to the hospital with a heartfelt letter and a simple gift for patients who are staying on the neuroscience floor. The gift is a pair of fuzzy socks. “A fresh, clean pair of hospital-issue socks was something that I looked forward to each day,” she remembers. “They were warm. They were versatile. I wore them all day and all night. With the help of a physical therapist, I walked up and down the halls a few times a day in them. It was a small thing, but I grew to love them each day when I received them. They symbolized consistency, and they were tangible things that were literally taking me down the road to recovery.”

In 2009 Mary and the UC Health Foundation established Mary’s Socks Fund. The fund provides socks for patients with brain tumors during the holidays and also helps to fill basic, unmet needs for patients who experience significant hardship during their illness and hospitalization.

To make a donation to Mary’s Socks Fund through the UC Health Foundation, please contact:

Tricia Mullins
Associate Director of Development
UC Medical Center
234 Goodman Street
Cincinnati, OH 45219
(513) 584-6936 or Tricia.Mullins@uc.edu

— Cindy Starr

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