• Health Ministries Network

June 2019 Newsletter

Director's Note, Interview with Sheila Siebert, FCN, of Sacred Heart, Did you know?, Upcoming Events, and Devotional.

Health Ministries Network (HMN) is a non-profit that initiates, develops and supports faith based health ministry in northwest Washington.

Dear HMN community,

Many of us attended the WWU’s Palliative Care Institute’s 2019 Conference, Treating the Whole Person, on May 17. It was an exceptional conference, with speakers from Seattle Children’s, Mary Bridge Hospital Tacoma, and University of Portland, touching on topics such as caring for the whole person, palliative care for children and youth, and embracing cultural humility. A special thanks to the organizers and to the Jean Billings Tischler Fund for supporting FCN scholarships. It was an emotional day for some, especially since we had just learned of Jeanne Brotherton’s passing.

Our monthly meeting on Friday, June 21 will include a devotional and opportunity to share about Jeanne during the latter half of the meeting. The first part will feature members from Whatcom Family YMCA’s Chronic Disease Prevention team, who will share about their programs, and a report back from the Westberg Institute (the international agency for Faith Community Nursing) from Carol Nicolay. Please join us!

As a reminder, monthly meetings will go on hiatus in July and August. We’ll be back with a kick-off in September!

One final note, faith communities are stepping up to aid migrant families who are exhausted, homeless and without transportation at the southern border. In some locations 1,200-1,500 migrants are crossing each day, mostly families. A faith community nurse recently shared the personal account of her nursing director who visited the southern border with Mexico. Here’s a list of churches (with stories) and how you can contribute through donations, volunteering or advocacy:


“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,” Matthew 25:35

Walk in love,


Executive Director



Sheila Siebert, FCN

Sacred Heart Catholic Church, Bellingham

Tell me about your health ministry.

At Sacred Heart we have what’s called the home-bound ministry. I lead a team of 10 non-nurses spanning a number of different occupations. We visit parishioners who aren’t able to attend church, both at their houses and at nursing homes.

We typically bring holy communion to those we visit, which is a significant gift to home-bound parishioners, but we also use the visit as a way to check in on them health-wise. We’ll observe how the home looks, if there are any apparent health issues, and see if they require transportation or food.

Why do you do health ministry?

Mother Theresa says, “the fruit of silence is prayer, the fruit of prayer is faith, the fruit of faith is love, the fruit of love is service, and the fruit of service is peace.” Every morning I read through a meditation book of hers and I read this quote. It’s her philosophy and it’s my philosophy.

I’ll be 80 next Sunday and I have a bad hip and bad knees, but as long as I can do it, I’m gonna do it. And it’s not just me, it’s a parish, it’s a cooperation. Whatever need I see, there’s someone in the parish who I can call.

Do you have any stories of when health ministry made an impact?

Yes, I have three.

There was one lady who ushered at the church. I hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks, so I decided to give her a call. When I reached her, she told me she wasn’t sure if she had taken her medication or eaten. I visited her and she was totally different, not her usual self. She was confused about food and medication and the kitchen looked like it hadn’t been used. I suspected she had been that way for a couple of days. I made her soup and called her children to explain the situation.

The next day her children took her to the doctor, and she was diagnosed with dementia. At this point it was obvious she couldn’t be alone, so I set up a system with her kids. One daughter stayed with her and the other siblings acted as respite. I visited twice a week during that time as she rapidly declined.

At this point hospice was called in and helped the family care for her in her own home. It was her wish to die at home. I was there when she passed. I arranged a prayer service for her which was held at the funeral prior to the funeral mass.

There was another lady who I knew from the flower committee at Sacred Heart. She was about 45 and ended up having cancer of the gallbladder. Her doctor said that the cancer was not able to be removed as it was stuck to her liver.

I was there [at the doctor's visit] and this came as a great shock to her and her husband. I visited again two days later, and the hospital’s palliative care team came in. I was appalled by their treatment of the situation as they proceeded to tell this woman that her cancer was not curable and advised her and her husband to look at hospice care. They were furious and told the palliative care team not to visit them again.

They opted to see a liver specialist in Seattle and began chemotherapy. I drove her to her appointments that year and eventually the CEA test indicated she was cancer free. The next two years after that she was very active; involved at Sacred Heart and working full-time.

In a follow up appointment her blood work indicated that the cancer had returned. She began seeing a specialist in Sedro Wooley. Her husband was very supportive as she began another round of therapy which was ultimately unsuccessful. Eventually she was homebound, though her husband’s job allowed him to work from home as he cared for her. Finally, she needed more care and we advised her to move to hospice house. She agreed and that’s where she died. We held a mass in her honor.

This lady really loved orchids and pink so one of her friends ordered orchids and pink decorations. Her friend who ordered all these things ended up going to California to care for her ill father, so another parishioner and I arranged all the orchids with pink decorations. Everyone had a good laugh because I am known for disliking orchids. A few weeks after her funeral mass, the family chartered a boat. Over 75 parishioners, her family, and the priest went out onto the water near Chuckanut bay where she was buried at sea.

38 years ago, I sponsored two polish families who immigrated to Bellingham. At the time there was a solidarity movement in Poland among those such as nurses, mechanics, and factory workers who were striking and performing demonstrations. The communist party opposed their desire to form a union and secure a higher wage. Families active in the solidarity movement were then forced to either go to prison or leave the country. 15 or so of these families moved to Bellingham and I sponsored two of them.

They arrived with suitcases only, no money, and they did not speak English. I got them housing. The parish collected furniture and funds for them. I got their kids into school and signed them all up for public assistance as well as English classes. The parishioners would drive them to all these types of appointments. After three months, the two men and women from each family got jobs.

About five years ago, one of the polish women found a large lump on her abdomen. I suggested she see her doctor. A biopsy showed that she had cancer of the bowel. I went to the surgeon with her and her husband. Three days after surgery she suffered a major stroke, which we found out was due to a hole between the chambers in her heart she had never known about. The stroke made it very difficult for her to walk. Her grandson drew a picture of her labeled, “this side works, this side does not.”

The rehab team at the hospital was very negative about the possibility of recovery, advising use of incontinent supplies and a wheelchair. However, she was determined to get better, to walk.

Sometimes in the medical industry we make a judgement without taking into account what the person wants. I visited her every other day during recovery. For speech, it was suggested that we sing songs. I said we’d need to close the doors if I was going to do any singing. Eventually, this woman walked out of the hospital, no wheelchair and no walker. She was determined and so was her family. We’ve got to look at the whole picture.

She was seen at Swedish hospital and the hole in her heart was closed. One year went by and she was healthy, though she did have to retire from her job due to the stroke. Then, on a visit to her oncologist, her CEA was elevated and she subsequently started chemotherapy. Usually in chemo there is a portacath placed with the chemo drugs plugged in to the port, but she refused to have this. That meant that with each treatment they had to find a vein.

Six months later a tumor was discovered in her liver. She was referred to Virginia Mason to a liver specialist and had surgery to remove the tumor which was very successful. All seemed to be going well for about a year, then her CEA was elevated again. She was then told that the situation wasn’t going to get better, she was terminal. She was advised to consider hospice care.

At this point I suggested she get a second opinion at Cancer Care Alliance. They told her she should go into hospice. The family was devastated with all she had gone through. The family, namely the son, started to research alternative therapy. Eventually, they found a naturopath in Canada who prescribed a sugar-free, all organic diet some vitamins and herbs. Three years later she is cancer free, checking in with her oncologist for lab work and scans. It must be noted that many prayers were offered up for her recovery.

What's the significance of these stories?