Volunteer a fixture at Fairview Ridges

Carl Johnson of Eagan is pictured at Fairview Ridges Hospital, which he visits one day a week for volunteering and two days a week for exercise. Photo by John Gessner

Hospital’s volunteers
logged 68,000 hours last year

A computer printout tallying Carl Johnson’s volunteer hours at Fairview Ridges Hospital in Burnsville runs four pages.

Soon he’ll need a fifth, and surely more to follow.

The 40-year-old Eagan resident has logged 532 hours over 202 visits since he started volunteering in October 2008.

Johnson puts together education packets for patients on the hospital’s third floor, which houses a medical surgical unit and the intensive care unit.

Johnson, who has restrictive lung disease and scoliosis, has been an ICU patient himself and considers his regular Wednesday volunteer gig a way of giving back to the hospital.

“This is where I want to be,” Johnson said. “I like it. I blend in with everyone. I know a lot of people here. They know me. It’s a nice place to volunteer, and a nice place to get treatment.”

He first came to Fairview Ridges in December 2006, with pneumonia followed by respiratory failure. A ventilator allowed him to breathe.

“That’s why I’m on oxygen” today, Johnson explained. “I use a vent at night when I sleep. I hook it up to the trach. I had the trach put in in January 2008.”

Johnson had two more hospital stays in the year after his first, which included insertion of the tracheotomy tube.

“That was the best-case scenario for me if I wanted to live,” said Johnson, who lives with his mother and older sister and worked in accounting for many years.

The scoliosis inhibits his lung function and caused one leg to be shorter than the other, Johnson explained. But his life is full.

“I’m doing the volunteering and exercising,” he said. “I drive a car. I live a pretty normal life. I go to the State Fair.”

Johnson comes to Fairview Ridges on Mondays and Thursdays for a wellness and exercise program, which he said includes treadmill and weights.

“Between January last year and this year, I lost 15 pounds,” he said. “It’s helped me a lot with the breathing. I don’t have to use as much oxygen as I used to. There’s not as much weight on my lungs.”

Johnson is one of about 550 adult volunteers at Fairview Ridges and a “very dedicated” one, said Debbie Hummel, the hospital’s volunteer services leader.

The adult volunteers and 152 junior volunteers 14 and older devoted more than 68,000 hours of service in 2012, Hummel said.

Johnson’s work assembling information packets for incoming patients is indispensable, she said.

“I don’t know how it would get done, I honestly don’t,” she said. “The nursing staff is here for patients. These are clerical items that people just don’t seem to have the time to do, but they’re important. It would be much more costly if we had to send this kind of stuff out to be put together by a third party.”