More MS news articles for September 1999

Helping bring happiness to others

Doing that helps her too, woman says

Saturday, September 4, 1999

Story last updated at 7:55 p.m. on Thursday, September 2, 1999
By Mary Maraghy
Staff writer

Being in constant pain, Nan Shinn struggles to get out of bed every day.

In addition to having multiple sclerosis, the 50-year-old Southside woman has heartache: Her mother and sister have died, and her dad isn't well.

But Shinn said she finds solace each day by comforting those worse off than her - terminally ill patients.

"This is my medicine,'' said Shinn, who with her dog, Sasha, visited patients at Community Hospice in Mandarin Monday morning.

Five times a week, Shinn and Sasha, her 8-year-old white Samoyed, visit patients at Hospice and at three Southside facilities - Regents Park nursing home, Deerwood Place assisted-living facility and Village Oaks at Southpoint, another assisted-living facility.

On Monday, Hospice doctors and nurses stopped to pet Sasha, who wears an engraved volunteer badge on her pink collar and loves to shake hands and be petted.

Hospice resident Julia Rautter, 82, gladly put away her crossword puzzle to stroke Sasha's white fur.

"It's a pleasure to see her. She's just a beautiful dog. I love dogs,'' said Rautter, who reminisced a bit about her 17-year-old fox terrier named Zaa Zaa.

"They love you no matter what, even if you don't have makeup on,'' Shinn said to Rautter, smiling.

Sasha is a true volunteer, said Jean Ossi, director of volunteer services for Hospice.

"She listens and provides a presence,'' said Ossi.

Other volunteers bring dogs to visit patients, but Shinn has been around for a year and visits most regularly, Hospice officials said. Shinn and Sasha have also been invited to funerals of patients.

Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis four years ago, Shinn suffers nerve pain from the waist down and sometimes needs a cane to walk. She had to quit her job as a medical secretary because of the pain.

Drugs haven't helped Shinn, but her visits with patients have.

"There's nothing better than being able to help others,'' Shinn said. "I feel better when I leave here than when I came in.''

Caretakers for the terminally ill say they're thrilled with Shinn and Sasha.

Shannon Buening, admissions director at Regents Park, said Shinn talks with all of her residents.

"She's a wonderful lady.''

On Monday, Shinn maneuvered Sasha to the bedside of patients, one after another, allowing them to pat Sasha's head and get a lick on the hand. Shinn asked how each patient was feeling and promised to visit again.

She jokes that she and Sasha are the same age - 50 - and have the same hair color: White.

"She gives the patients something to see,'' said patient John Mallory, who enjoys Shinn's visits.

"Sasha and I are good for a smile,'' said Shinn. ''Even a person who is really sick will smile."

Shinn, the daughter of a rheumatoid arthritis doctor, has visited nursing homes since she was 2. At 4, she dressed as an angel for patients at Christmas.

"I've been around sickness all of my life,'' she said.

Because of that and the fact that Shinn knows pain, she's able to sympathize with patients.

"She can relate to them in a unique way,'' said Ossi. ''She has special gifts."

When making rounds with Sasha at Hospice Monday, Shinn's pain wasn't noticeable.

"I believe that you don't show it to the world,'' said Shinn. ''You go home and cry."