A Remarkable Gift Inspired by Remarkable Women to Help St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital

There was an elderly woman in the hospital nearing the end of her life. Her vision was failing, as was her memory, but her sweet disposition remained unchanged. The nurses who surrounded her during her final days were drawn to her gentle nature and spent extra time listening to her stories – mostly about her children and grandchildren, but also about the countless youngsters she had the privilege of knowing over the course of her long teaching career. When it was clear she had little time left, the hospital treating her made sure she could return home in comfort. She passed away there just as she had wanted.

There was a middle-aged man who was going about his day. He wasn’t young, but he was too young to have a massive stroke. His family feared he would die. The skills of the doctors and nurses at the hospital saved his life – but he still had a long road ahead. He was left with visual impairments and partial paralysis on the left side of his body. His journey was very difficult, but the physical and occupational therapists encouraged him. Today he can walk again.

There was another man, a little older, who was very active. He was used to running several miles a few times a week. One day, after running three miles the night before, the man didn’t feel well. Not at all. After talking to his primary care physician, he decided to go to the ER. The doctor there ran tests and found nothing suspect. But then the doctor said “You know your body, don’t you? You think something is wrong, so I’m going to run another test instead of sending you home.” That test revealed major blockages in the man’s left anterior descending artery – better known as the “widow maker”. The man had stents put in the next day and miraculously did not suffer any cardiac damage. He’s back to running to this day.

The dying woman was John Zemina’s beautiful mother. The man with the stroke, his brother. And that guy with the stents? Well, that was John himself. Spending so much time at St. Joseph’s Hospitals as both a family member and a patient was certainly unexpected, but the experience left John with a unique perspective on the extraordinary level of care provided there.

John’s first encounter with St. Joe’s was as a junior in college. After receiving a phone call that his father was critically ill, John rushed home to see him. He doesn’t remember paying much attention to anything but being with his family, but sensed the doctors had kept his dad on life support until he got there so he could say his good-bye. He appreciated being able to share those last moments with him.

However, over forty years later, John noticed every detail of the care his mom, his brother, and he himself received during their time at St. Joe’s and he has one word to describe it – outstanding.

Whether it was the warmth and compassion shown to his mom during the last days of her life, the expert treatment and encouragement given to his brother so he could regain some independence, or the careful attention the ER doctor paid to his own gut feeling that proved to be life-saving, John is quick to share that every interaction with doctors, nurses and other members of the St Joe’s team consistently exceeded his expectations. And it’s why it was so important to him to give back.

“Simply saying thank you didn’t seem like enough,” John explains. “I wanted to do more to show how grateful we were for the blessings we received and hopefully pass those blessings on to others.”

John’s daughter, mother and wife

John knew he wanted to pay it forward in some way. A conversation he remembered having with his daughter when she was a neurology resident helped him decide exactly how to do it. She had called him one day discouraged that some of her pediatric patients couldn’t get the medication they needed because their parents couldn’t afford it. As a doctor she was trying to help yet she felt helpless because some people had to choose between eating or paying rent and buying the medication they needed for their child. She wished there was more she could do.

That memory of his daughter’s frustration, coupled with his mother’s love of children, made John’s decision an easy one. To honor his mom’s legacy as a teacher and hopefully offset some of the great need his daughter witnessed as many families dealt with a sick child, John chose to donate to St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in his mother’s name – a gift inspired by two remarkable women in his life and encouraged by a third, his wife Cheryl.

And while John’s generosity is meant to help others get the exceptional care St. Joe’s provides, he can’t deny the wonderful feeling it gives him, too, knowing how happy it would make his mom to be honored in this way.

“My mom was a big believer in helping children achieve their potential – and their staying healthy is a big part of that. I know she is smiling about this from heaven.”

And so are all the children and families who are impacted by generosity like John’s.