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Volunteers : Helping hands : LAGUNA BEACH : Hospital Role Is Just What Doctor Ordered

The hours are long, and there is no pay. But Hilde Keneley said she feels far more secure with her current vocation than when she held a paying job.

In the past 15 years, the 70-year-old Keneley has logged more than 17,000 volunteer hours at South Coast Medical Center, far more than anyone else on the auxiliary’s roster.

“I work for free,” she said, “where nobody can get to me.”

The latter was a serious concern during the years when Keneley was at Village Pharmacy, which she said was held up 20 times during the 26 years she worked there with her pharmacist husband, Frank, now retired.

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Robberies are not unusual at pharmacies, Keneley said, but the last one, in 1980, convinced her that she needed a change.

“I had a gun in my back,” she said, recalling that day 15 years ago. “And I said, ‘That’s enough, goodby.’ ”

She signed on as a volunteer with the hospital, intending to serve two years but discovering a passion for her work.

“In your lifetime, you have to do something for other people, and this is what I like,” she said. “I’ve had a good life, and I have my health, so I need to do something.”

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Keneley now works about two full days a week, down from five, in the surgery and recovery rooms, transporting and comforting patients and reassuring their relatives.

“It just seems like I don’t remember the recovery room without her,” nurse Beverly Ralston said. “I can’t tell you the number of people she has helped--held their hands and soothed their brows and gotten their families for them. . . . She seems to be in five places at the same time.”

“She’s like a staple here,” hospital spokeswoman Maggie Baumann said of Keneley.

The staff, too, benefits from Keneley’s devotion, Ralston said. The volunteer makes sure the doctors get their dinners, remembers the nurses’ birthdays with cards and their children’s graduations with gifts.

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Does Keneley ever think about the money she might have made working 17,000 hours at a paying job? “No, no, no, no, no,” she said before the question is finished. “I never think about that. I do it because I enjoy it.”


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