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2019 Volunteers of the Year

Posted on August 29, 2019 in Uncategorized

Grounded by stroke, he soars as volunteer

It seems that Charlie Queen always had his eyes on the sky. From the time he built his first model airplane in the fourth grade to earning his solo wings at 16, all he ever wanted was to fly.

But lofty dreams sometimes plummet to earth in the unkindest of ways. For Queen, that unexpected plunge came 16 years ago when he awoke one morning to find a massive stroke had paralyzed the left side of his body.

“I had worked all day as an engineer at Oak Ridge, and after work, I had given two hours of flight instruction at the airport,” said Queen, who was one of two volunteers recently recognized as Volunteer of the Year at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center’s annual Volunteer Awards luncheon.  “I came home and played basketball with my grandson. When I went to bed, everything was fine. When I woke up, my whole left side was paralyzed.”

After 58 days of physical therapy as a patient at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center and countless others as an outpatient, Queen regained some use of his left leg – not enough to satisfy Federal Aviation Administration requirements for flying solo. “The FAA won’t let me fly by myself,” he said. “I can fly with some of my former students but I had to get rid of my airplane.”

Grounded by the FAA and losing his beloved Cessna 320, Queen found his life turned upside down.

“At one point, yes, I became discouraged – I don’t know anybody who would not be discouraged when you’ve had your whole life changed,” he said. “At the time of my stroke, I was a fulltime mechanical engineer, a part-time flight instructor and I enjoyed hiking and other activities.”

But Queen, a deacon at First Baptist Church of Concord, turned his discouragement into encouragement as a Stephen Minister and PEER volunteer working with stroke patients at Patricia Neal.

“I just hope to offer some encouragement,” said the grandfather of nine. “I like encouraging people because I’ve been where these folks are. I just wanted to emphasize that just because you’ve had a stroke it doesn’t mean things are over. You can do your therapy and continue to get better.”

“Charlie is a beacon of hope to all who meet him,” said Paula Minhinnett, coordinator of FSRMC’s Volunteer Services. “Charlie, who deals with a degree of pain each day, reaches out to help others by being a model of hope and courage!”

Even after a dozen years encouraging others, Queen says there are still times when he needs encouragement. “I think we all do,” he said, “but I’m still living a pretty adventurous life. My wife and I just got back from a trip to Israel so we’re still enjoying life. That’s why I like encouraging people. If you like to ‘give back’ to people, that’s what the Volunteer program is all about.”

Cancer survivor shares life lessons as volunteer

Even before she retired from 33 years as a teacher/administrator in the Knox County School system, Donna Hardy knew what her next step would be.

“I always dreamed of working in a hospital,” she said soon after being recognized as one of two Volunteers of the Year at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center’s annual Volunteer Awards luncheon. “I didn’t want to be a nurse or CNA, but I just knew my next journey after being in the classroom would be in the hospital.”

Hardy dedicated her award to her mother, Dorothy, who passed away shortly after Thanksgiving 2018. “Her weekly sermon was this: ‘Get yourself in a position where you can help somebody! Do something with those degrees!’”

Touched by the professionalism and compassion of her surgeon and hospital staff after her cancer diagnosis in 2010, Hardy began searching for ways in which she could “give back.” She found it at FSRMC where she volunteers at Thompson Cancer Survival Center as a Stephen Minister, providing one-on-one Christian spiritual caregiving to patients and families. 

“If every person were like Donna Hardy, our country would have no homeless, no hunger, no anguish,” said Paula Minhinnett, coordinator of FSRMC’s Volunteer Services. “May we all model ourselves after Donna Hardy’s philosophy and faith: ‘Find one person, and help them!’  Donna is an inspiration to everyone she meets!”

“The team of people working with me after my diagnosis was so supportive that I just felt very good about what they were doing,” she said. “And now since I’m feeling a lot better, I wanted to give back. My whole experience at Fort Sanders Regional and Thompson have given me a new mission and a new way to serve the community.”

 “I’m a people person and I just like seeing the uniqueness in people,” she added. “People bring so many different kinds of issues and I like listening to them and seeing how I can help – I can’t really do anything because God has to do all the work – but I like giving them hope. I like helping them to feel more at peace about what they’re dealing with.”

Out of eight brothers and sisters, Hardy was the first in her family to be diagnosed with cancer. “I’d always been pretty healthy physically and when I got the cancer diagnosis, I kept thinking, ‘My gosh! When is my death date?’ I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me, but I wanted people to understand what I was dealing with. It brings healing to talk about it.

“Volunteering keeps you from feeling sorry for yourself,” she added. “You get paid in so many different ways. I think we are placed on this Earth to give to other people. We all have something that we can give.”

A volunteer’s volunteer: Callahan has ‘been there’

Wendy Callahan will be the first to say the blood clot that traveled from her heart to her brain at age 21 was a stroke of luck. Yes, it paralyzed her left side and distorted her speech, but it also introduced her to a new career and her husband.

“The Lord does some strange things, and you never know what He might do. I know He’s done some interesting things with my life,” said Callahan, a speech therapist at Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center. Callahan was recently recognized at Fort Sanders Regional Medical Center’s annual Volunteer Awards luncheon for her work with the hospital’s PEER program, which trains stroke survivors and their caregivers to mentor and encourage current patients

“Wendy Callahan recruits and encourages past patients to regain a full life after stroke by not only volunteering but by forming a community friendship bond,” said Mary Dillon, MD, medical director of PNRC. “She embodies our pledge of excellence: Covenant Health will be the first and best choice for our patients.”

“People often hear me say that my stroke was a blessing,” said Callahan. “I get to share my story fairly regularly. I think that’s part of what helps me connect with my patients and encourage them that they can get through this. Life is not over. Life can go on with a stroke.”

She had only been enrolled at Clemson University a short time in 1993 when the stroke occurred, forcing her to rethink her career path. Five years later, she earned her master’s degree in speech therapy. After a stint working with stroke patients at a North Carolina hospital, she came to Patricia Neal in 2001 to work with several of the same therapists who had helped in her own rehabilitation. Before long, she found herself working with PNRC’s stroke support group, a community outreach effort that led her and a co-worker to launch the PEER stroke support program. It was through her volunteer work that she also found herself working alongside FSRMC chaplain Randy Tingle. “He would always come and pray for my yearly Christmas party,” she said. “The year he asked me out, he said it was just like the Lord said, ‘here’s who you need to date.’ So he asked me out and we dated for two or three years, and we just got married last year.”

While she has a full case load as a full-time speech therapist, Callahan sees her work with the PEER volunteers part of her own calling. “One of the things I always wanted to do is to give back and encourage other stroke survivors,” she said. “As a speech therapist, I’ve been able to give back through my career and I get to do it every day. That’s pretty cool.  I’ve been at Patricia Neal 18 years now. I’ve seen it from a lot of different angles. It’s a great place. I really love Patricia Neal.”

Interested in becoming a volunteer? For more information about volunteer opportunities at Fort Sanders Regional, contact the Fort Sanders Volunteer Auxiliary at (865) 331-1249 or apply online at