Every day, our colleagues do amazing things to benefit patients and the community. Email your moments that matter to susan.mcdonald@hhchealth.org.

There She is…..Miss Mulberry Gardens!

By Leaja Johnson

While adding a little blush to her cheeks, fluffing her hair and lacing up her shoes, Paula Morelli realized how much participating in a beauty pageant at her age meant to Candide Sedlik.

Sedlik, a resident of Mulberry Gardens, part of Hartford HealthCare Senior Services, was preparing to compete for the 2023 Miss Mulberry crown and needed the help of Morelli, the facility’s recreational assistant.

It was Morelli’s seventh year sponsoring a candidate in the annual pageant, which has captivated audiences at Mulberry Gardens for 12 years. When asked the qualities sponsors should possess, she says, “Sponsors should be enthusiastic, encouraging and eager to connect with their contestant.”

Paula Morelli enjoys sponsoring candidates for the annual Miss Mulberry Gardens pageant, getting to know them and helping them prepare. Photo by Leaja Johnson

Before the big day, the list of duties was long as she worked to make sure Sedlik was in tip-top shape, including:

  • Getting to know Sedlik’s personality and style.
  • Finding an outfit, jewelry and shoes to match.
  • Booking manicure, hair and makeup appointments.
  • Confirming Sedlik’s continued interest as some contestants drop out.

Sedlik’s insistence on wearing something blue proved somewhat challenging but the week before the event, Morelli called the candidate’s sister who, luckily, had a dress in a perfect shade of blue.

Sponsorship duties didn’t stop the day of the event, either, continuing to minutes before show time. After taking Sedlik to her nail, hair and makeup appointments first thing in the morning, the pair lunched together. Then, after touching up her makeup and hair, and helping her get dressed, Morelli stood back as a glowing Sedlik got in line to be escorted into the pageant.

“I was happy with my sponsor, Paula. The event made me feel good. I am looking forward to doing it all over again next year,” says Sedlik, who was named second runner up in the pageant after being on elegance, poise and interview.

“Seeing the excitement and the smile on her face, she looked so beautiful,” Morelli says. “I was proud of her. She did a great job answering the questions.”

Kidney Donation Helps Windham Nurse Find New Mission

By Elissa Bass

After 39 years of nursing, at 60, Wendy Clark says she found her calling.

In July, she donated a kidney to a stranger, setting in motion a series of events that allows a Hartford HealthCare colleague who needs a kidney to receive one in the coming months.

After reading the story of Lucienne “Lucy” Donofrio, a medical assistant with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, Clark, surgical services nurse educator at Windham Hospital, was inspired to sign up as a potential kidney donor.

Donofrio, diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at 16, developed diabetic kidney disease as an adult, a condition that often has no symptoms until about 80% of kidney function is lost. A 2016 pregnancy added stress on her kidneys and daughter Giovanna’s birth caused severe damage. On dialysis since January 2023, Donofrio’s donor search appeared in the Heartbeat newsletter.

“She’s 38 years old, she’s got a 7-year-old, and she needs a kidney,” Clark says. “I’ll tell you, it was the photos of her with her daughter that did it for me. I thought, ‘I have to help.’”

She contacted HHC’s Living Donor Transplant office. “It took six months to get cleared,” Clark explains. “I’m 60 years old. They wanted to make sure everything was good.”

Wendy Clark and her surgeon Bishop Emmanuel, MD, stand near signs promoting living donation after she donated a kidney for a colleague in need.

While her kidney didn’t go to Donofrio, living donor transplant coordinator Asamoah “Azzy” Anane says, “We expect Lucienne to be eligible following Wendy’s donation…then transplanted within four to six months.”

Working with the National Kidney Registry based in Connecticut, Ananae says a donor provides a kidney to someone who is a match. Donofrio then becomes eligible for a donation from someone who matches her.

Hartford HealthCare provides a six-week enhanced disability benefit at the colleague’s pay rate for living donors. They do not need to use a week of PTO before becoming eligible for disability leave. In addition, Anane notes there is zero cost to the donor for testing, the procedure, or the two years of follow-up care involved in the donation.

In early July, Clark learned a recipient matched with her and her surgery was scheduled for July 20 at Hartford Hospital. She learned later that her kidney “took a ride up I-91 to Baystate Medical Center” in Springfield for transplantation.

At five days post-op, she was taking walks up her driveway, managing the pain and “feeling more human every day.” She plans to be “the poster child for kidney donation. If I can do this at 60, a lot of people can do this. This has been a very profound journey for me. I am an educator at heart, and this will be my new cause.”

Monthly Supper Club Brings Colleagues Closer Together

By Maggie Werner

In well-being literature, “commensality” is sharing a meal together, an act important for social communion, health and well-being, but in decline even before the social isolation of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When Beth Cheney, APRN, with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group, realized she felt disconnected from colleagues, she took matters into her own hands and started a monthly supper club for providers in her practice.

“I grew up in a family where food helped cultivate community, and Sunday dinners were a weekly occurrence,” she says, adding that she loves to cook. “Cooking helps me heal and I really feel that bringing it to others helps them heal, too.”

The first supper club took place at a colleague’s home and was so much fun the group didn’t disband until 1 a.m. The invitation expanded to include spouses and providers from another practice, with plans to continue meeting monthly.

The activity, Cheney says, has brought colleagues closer together.

“We really don’t see each other during the day because we’re so busy. We mostly chat in passing, so this has really been so much fun,” she notes.

It’s also become a way to welcome new providers into the practice, helping them feeling “like part of the family,” she says.

Noting the supper club has improved cohesion and connection at work and bolstered her personal well-being, Cheney is willing to share tips on starting your own supper club. Reach out to Beth.Cheney@hhchealth.org.

Beth Cheney, far left, and colleagues enjoy monthly suppers together.

Sound Mind, Sound Body, Sound Healing

By Elissa Bass

It took prison and a mandated drug treatment program while incarcerated to get Kelvin Young on the recovery path.

Now 50, Young is a recovery support specialist with the Institute of Living and hosts weekly sound therapy classes on the campus in addition to working with patients in treatment.

In prison, I learned about peer support and peer mentors, and how important they were,” he says. “The counselors there hired me as a peer mentor, and what I realized was the counselors go home at 3 o’clock but the peer mentors stay, sometimes when it becomes the hardest. I knew once I got out of prison I wanted to live and work in recovery.”

Unprocessed childhood trauma led Young to self-medicate as a young teenager, leading to a life controlled by addiction to alcohol, marijuana, heroin, oxycodone and cocaine. These days, he controls his life with poetry, journaling, meditation and sound healing.

The turning point came in prison when he realized “healing begins within,” he says.

“I began to understand the root causes of my addictions and I found inner peace, even in prison. Once I was out of prison, I knew I wanted to change my life,” Young notes.

His caseworker in his after-prison recovery program was also in recovery, and shared personal experiences, often outside the clinical setting in a coffee shop or park.


“It helped me feel like I was part of the community,” Young says.

About that time, he learned about recovery support specialists, then took a certification class.

“My lived experience, including the stigmatizing I experienced when I got out of prison, helps me to understand others’ actions,” he says. “I learned so many important skills.”

Young loves working with patients.

“Behind the addiction is a human being. When people are hurting, I understand their actions and I can call them out on their BS. Nonclinical peer support is a different relationship. I can connect with them on a different level. I give them compassion, respect, empathy, and I listen,” he says.

He also shares his appreciation for sound healing, the practice of using sounds to improve physical health and emotional wellbeing. Running a tool along the edge of a brass bowl or a glass container coaxes a soothing noise that resonates deep within, allowing people to “leave their diagnosis at the door,” Young says.

We can together celebrate their potential and give them the tools they need to take responsibility,” he adds.

Kelvin Young turns sound from a variety of sources into a healing, meditative experience at the IOL. Photo by Chris Rakoczy

Experience the effects of sound healing therapy with Kelvin Young

System-wide Event Goes Swimmingly

By Susan McDonald

A long-standing fundraising event at St. Vincent’s Medical Center, the Swim Across the Sound Marathon paddled eastward this year, enlisting teams and support from across the system in a day-long splash that raised more than $455,000 to support cancer patients and their families.

The 36th annual Swim featured four swim teams from across Hartford HealthCare, and many other colleagues who assisted on the shores of Long Island Sound and Bridgeport and in the water. Still more attended a moving memorial service to honor those who have died from cancer the day after the swim.

In addition, 16 teams with 136 participants representing every HHC region walked, biked, baked and more throughout July as part of the swim’s virtual component. Together, our virtual teams raised almost $50,000 of the total proceeds to support and honor cancer patients.

Swim Memorial Celebrates Lives Lost

One day after Swim Across the Sound, people gathered to celebrate and remember the lives lost to cancer with the Swim Across the Sound Memorial Service.

HOCC Sharks Take a Bite Out of Swim

By Elizabeth Marino

It was a picture-perfect day for more than 190 swimmers in the Swim Across the Sound event, many of whom made the fundraiser a personal mission.

“It was probably one of the most physically challenging things I’ve done in a long time, but I am glad I did it. And the most important thing is we were part of something much bigger, to raise funds and awareness for the Cancer Institute” says Rekha Singh, MD, chief of surgery at The Hospital of Central Connecticut.

Swim Across the Sound expanded state-wide this year with swimmers from across Connecticut raising money for the HHC Cancer Institute at hospitals of their choosing. The event raised $455,000.

All levels of swimmers join, many from within HHC system who are up for a new challenge.

“I took part for the challenge and the cause. I have never done this type of event before so I was excited to take part,” says David Buono, MD, HOCC’s chief of emergency medicine.

Once Dr. Buono decided to take part, he recruited Dr. Singh and two non-HCC friends who were proud to support the cause.

The HOCC Sharks trained hard for weeks. Their goal was to divide and conquer the 15.5 miles from Port Jefferson, NY, to Captain’s Cove in Bridgeport.

“We started as a team and we ended as a team. We set up the swim so each of us had a decent amount of time to rest in between,” Dr. Singh says.

Training and race logistics is not new to Dr. Buono, who has competed in the Hartford Marathon for the last 20 years.

“I’ve also done 10 full distance Ironman Races and I’m currently training for the Ironman World Championship,” he says.

Dr. Buono qualified for Ironman World where he’ll compete against some of the best triathletes from around world. The event is a 140.6-mile quest in France this fall, and includes a 2.4-mile swim in the Mediterranean Ocean, 112-mile bike course through the Alps-Maritimes region, and a 26.2-mile coastal run.

David Buono, MD, middle left, and Rekha Singh, MD, (middle right), competed on the HOCC Sharks team in HHC’s Swim Across the Sound in July. Joining them were two of Dr. Buono’s close friends.