03/14/2014—Healing Wounds & Mending Hearts

Helen Rinne, a registered nurse, helps restore hope for patients who enter St. Vincent de Paul’s Virginia G. Piper Medical and Dental Clinic.

“The patients that we see, often times, don’t have any other options. These people are feeling really hopeless about their situations. They think, ‘This is never going to heal, I’m not going to get better,’” said Helen.

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Helen volunteers two to three days of the week at SVdP . While she helps with all aspects of the clinic, she focuses most of her time in the wound care program, caring for uninsured patients who are discharged from the hospital with large open wounds.

“You’re afraid when you’re sick even when things are going well in your life. It’s a scary thing to be in the hospital, then add to that a situation where there’s no insurance and there are no alternatives. The patients are at the end of their rope and they’re afraid,” Helen said.

Untreated open wounds can cause infections and other serious medical conditions. On top of being in pain, many patients are unable to work or even lose their jobs. These patients come to SVdP, where they receive various treatments that they would not be able to manage at home. One of those treatments include use of a wound VAC (vacuum assisted closure), a mechanical device that helps heal wounds. Patients are overcome with relief after seeing what Helen and the clinic can do for them.

Helen says that she owes much of her success at SVdP to her coworkers. There’s a very good sense of teamwork established within the clinic.

“Everyone works to do what’s best for the patient as a team. The level of commitment that the volunteer physicians have here is amazing,” said Helen.

Helen came to SVdP a year ago after retiring. She strongly urges others to volunteer their time.

Part of the reason people don’t volunteer is because they fear they have nothing to contribute, Helen said.

“They’re not sure where to get started. And I didn’t know either. But the first day I was here, I sought out opportunities where I knew there was a need.”

Helen initially started by organizing the clinic’s supply room. She made shelves and bins that the Mayo Clinic donated since she was staff nurse there for a number of years. Her role has expanded greatly since then.

“You just feel like you make a difference and you can see it everyday. Patients here are so grateful for the care that they get,” said Helen. “They begin to feel better and they’re so appreciative. Hearing that feedback, that you’re make a difference, is really rewarding.”


Gretchen Burnton is the community relations intern at St. Vincent de Paul. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University pursuing a concurrent degree in journalism (with a specialization in Public Relations) as well as Film and Media Studies. She is also pursuing a minor in public service and public policy.


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