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“A hug works when words don’t,” says longtime Masonic Cancer Clinic volunteer

For 37 years, Masonic Cancer Clinic volunteer Hinda Litman has lent the ear, a shoulder or a heart to patients of all ages.
For 37 years, volunteer Hinda Litman has lent her ear, her shoulder or her heart to patients of all ages.

Sometimes Hinda Litman dresses as a good witch. Other times, it’s Mrs. Claus. Occasionally, it’s a Christmas elf. Whatever the holiday, the 80-year-old volunteer can be seen sporting seasonal wear around the Masonic Cancer Clinic on the East Bank of the University of Minnesota Medical Center campus.

It’s just one attribute that sets the longtime volunteer apart in the eyes of her peers and patients.

“Hinda’s most definitely a presence,” said Leslie Ferguson, the Masonic Cancer Clinic supervisor. “She’s very outgoing and enthusiastic; she truly loves the patients and staff.”

And it’s not hard to find Litman, various costumes aside.

She keeps a busy, regular schedule, which includes volunteering every Wednesday and Thursday at the Masonic Cancer Clinic for the past 15 years, and Mondays with a lung transplant support group at University Minnesota Medical Center. Other days are busy, too, like cooking breakfast on Tuesdays at the Ronald McDonald House.

For more than 37 years, Litman’s been involved with various programs throughout the M Health system. She doesn’t plan to stop any time soon.

“My goal is to stay here as long as I can because I love what I do,” she said. “If you can associate yourself with people of all ages, I really feel that life is much more interesting.”

Learn more about University of Minnesota Health Cancer Care services.

Lending an ear, shoulder and a heart

Litman, a homemaker, started volunteering in 1978 at the University of Minnesota Medical Center gift shop. When they learned a rabbi, who visited the hospital on Fridays, was looking for volunteers to meet with patients, Litman and a friend saw an opportunity to do more good. However, they quickly realized they were ill-prepared to meet with some of the patients—especially those battling significant or life-threatening conditions.

The pair developed a simple routine of introducing each other and offering any kind of assistance. Soon, they learned that many of the patients were only looking for friendly conversation and a smile.

“Over time, I discovered I could do this pretty well,” she said. “You learn to listen to patients and not offer advice, but offer help.”

Over the next three decades in various areas of the M Health system, including hospice care, Litman was the ear, the shoulder and theheart many of the patients of all ages needed.

“A hug works when words don’t,” she said.

Ferguson said it’s Litman’s knack for connecting with patients in their weakest moments that sets her apart.

Litman is the first to open the door, first to assist someone in a wheelchair and first to greet someone. Weekly, she brings flowers and baked goods for patients and staff. Most of all, she listens, and listens well. She remembers names, families and stories.

“She can really draw people out and is really empathetic,” said Ferguson, who has known Litman for five years. “She’s always going above and beyond.”

Litman’s efforts include hosting visiting family members at her home, and helping coordinate and fund getaways for a few young patients to destinations like Disneyland.

But for Litman, who keeps in touch with many former patients and the families of those who passed, her efforts have enhanced her life and kept her young at heart.

“I’m just grateful for what I have when I see what so many others lose,” she said.