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Local volunteer wins national award for work with patients, pets

A local hospice volunteer is getting regional and even national attention for her selfless acts of love and care toward people – both the two-legged and fur-scarce, as well as the four-legged, furry variety. 

Big Bend Hospice recently bestowed Gadsden County resident Nancy Jegart with its 2019 “Heart of Hospice Award” for – among other things – being a shining example of the great,  things devoted volunteers can do for those in our region navigating life at sunset. The prestigious honor comes just weeks after Jegart was spotlighted on a national stage. 

In April, she was crowned 2019 “Volunteer of the Year” by national nonprofit Pet Peace of Mind. The Oregon-based organization  helps hospices across America provide devoted pet owners starting their end-of-life journeys with the peace of mind of knowing their pets will be well cared for once they pass away. Big Bend Hospice has partnered with Pet Peace of Mind to provide pet care services for its own patients in Gadsden, Leon and surrounding counties, and Jegart has been a key figure in its implementation since the beginning, Big Bend Hospice officials said.

“Nancy has always been active – and very successful – in finding foster parents for local pets,” Big Bend volunteer department manager Katie Mandell said in a statement. “She’s developed a network of resources in the community and knows all too well what happens to pets when they outlive their owners. She has successfully placed several hospice patients’ furry friends in new homes through PPOM assignments. With each new assessment she carefully considers the plan of care, the processes that need to take place including all the logistics with thoughtful communication. Then with her tactful diligence, she carries out those plans to completion.”

Pet Peace of Mind cites two examples of Jegart’s dedication to pets who outlive their owners in the Big Bend. The first involves two  beloved dogs, Tootsie and Fergie, and their owner – a man whose love for this pair of pups was so deep and eternal, that even when the man was staring down death, Tootsie and Fergie’s welfare were among his chief concerns. 

“Tootsie and Fergie’s dad died knowing his beloved dogs were safe thanks to Nancy. He and his wife asked Pet Peace of Mind to find a new home for the dogs to bring him comfort in his final days, as he knew his wife would be unable to care for the dogs when he was gone. Nancy (Jegart)  understood this was an urgent and heartbreaking situation for the couple. Both dogs were placed in loving homes. When Nancy sent the patient’s wife a picture of Tootsie with her new mom, she wrote back that she was crying tears of joy,” a Pet Peace of Mind statement reads.

But pet care for hospice patients takes on many forms, and Jegart has skillfully adapted to them all. Just as hospice allows patients to stay in their homes during treatment – unbound by the cold, sterile walls of a hospital or nursing home room – Ii some cases, Jegart’s work allows pets to stay in their homes, as well. Take the story of Tally – a beautiful Russian blue cat. Tally’s owner – a Big Bend Hospice patient – was having difficulty caring for Tally, as she could no longer bend over to clean the litter box or refill food and water bowls, according to Pet Peace of Mind.

“Nancy found a food/water bowl that allows for easy lifting, cleaning and refilling and even got the company to donate it,” Pet Peace of Mind officials said. “She also found a local pet supply store that was willing to provide an automatic cleaning litter box at a greatly reduced price. Nancy still returns to the patient’s home every few weeks to replace the tray with a new one. Most importantly, the patient is able to care for her beloved pet.”

For Jegart, volunteering for Big Bend Hospice is not as simple as a set of tasks and obligations. Still, she greets every new volunteering challenge with love, devotion and gusto.

“My volunteering at BBH is not a ‘thing’ that I do, but it is a series of very different situations and events. The needs of the patient’s and their families are never the same, so my job is tailored to each and often demands imagination, patience and compassion,” Jegart explained. “I love it! I will forever consider myself very fortunate to be allowed to participate.”

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By Brian Dekle


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