For Patients with Brain Tumors, Katarina’s Care Bags Add a Touch of Healing

Woman poses for photo

Katarina Warnick, home for Thanksgiving, assembles special bags that will be given to patients at the UC Brain Tumor Center. Photos by Cindy Starr / Mayfield Clinic.

Katarina Warnick was in high school when she realized that she wanted to do something to help the patients her father treated at the Brain Tumor Center at the University of Cincinnati Gardner Neuroscience Institute, one of four institutes at the UC College of Medicine and UC Health.

“It started a long time ago as an idea,” says Katarina, now a freshman at Colorado State University. “I grew up knowing my dad worked with people who suffered with brain tumors and were hospitalized. I know that doctors and nurses do an amazing job of providing comfort to the patients, but I saw an opportunity to provide comfort on a level different from medicine.”

Dr. Ronald Warnick with his daughter, Katarina

Dr. Ronald Warnick with his daughter, Katarina

Katarina’s father, Ronald Warnick, MD, Medical Director of the UC Brain Tumor Center, connected her with the center’s Patient Advocacy Committee, and in the summer of 2011 the concept of “Katarina’s Care Bags” was born. Katarina’s vision was to supply patients with something that they couldn’t find in the gift shop. The committee, headed by Amy Diamond, provided support and guidance for the project.

Katarina, who is majoring in art history and minoring in conservation biology, selected the contents of the bags based on her own experience and an artistic eye, mixing blues, greens and pale yellows with aromatherapy. The bag’s contents ranged from an organic stress-soothing balm with tangerine and rosemary to a book of universal wisdom, with sayings such as, “Be an ally to those who are suffering.”

Bulk purchases for the bags, which numbered about 150, caught the eye of more than one vendor. When Katarina stood at the checkout at Bed, Bath & Beyond with 30 sleeping masks, the clerk asked, “Are you thinking of hibernating?” A small business in New Hampshire known as Badger called Dr. Warnick, whose credit card had been used, to ask whether the order of 100 canisters of Stress Soother was a mistake. “Are you sure you didn’t mean 10?” the customer service representative asked. Burt’s Bees, touched by the concept of Katarina’s Care Bags, offered to supply lip balm at no charge.

The bags were distributed by nurses, by Dr. Warnick and, on several occasions, by Katarina herself. “I gave out five or six bags on Christmas Eve,” Katarina recalls. “It was great seeing the reaction of the patients. They felt that someone other than the doctors and nurses and their family was thinking of them, especially since they weren’t able to spend Christmas at home with their families.”

Dr. Warnick is understandably proud of his daughter for her desire to help others. “She really wanted to help brain tumor patients by providing a soothing care package that would help them through the hospitalization,” he says. “I’ve been with her several times when she has handed them out, and I’ve handed out some for her. Usually it brings tears to the eyes of the patient. And I have to admit that it brings tears to my eyes, too. In fact I’m not sure who is crying more, the patient or the proud dad.”

“The patients truly appreciate the thoughtfulness and the time and effort put into these special bags,” says Dale Green, RN, a neuro nurse specialist with the UC Brain Tumor Center. “They are grateful for the comforting gesture as they undergo what most perceive to be a daunting healthcare experience.”

“The Patient Advocacy Committee is very grateful for Katarina’s idea to create the bags and for the effort she put forth to make them something truly special for the patients,” adds Ms. Diamond. “The patients’ response has been very positive, and they are deeply appreciative of this thoughtful touch!”

With Katarina away at college, the torch is being passed. Katarina’s Care Bags will continue in a new iteration and in new UC Health colors, beginning in January 2013. The new bags will be funded by the Brain Tumor Patient Care Fund. Donations to support the purchase of new bags are welcomed and can be made online, by check (made out to the Brain Tumor Patient Care Fund and mailed to 3200 Burnet Avenue Cincinnati, OH 45229), or by contacting Liz Keating at (513) 585-7777 or liz.keating@uchealth.com.

 — Cindy Starr 

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