Every Tuesday and Friday, like clockwork, you’ll find volunteer Kien Luu at Seattle Children’s – either greeting visitors in the volunteer office with a warm, friendly smile, or making children laugh and play in the outpatient sibling playroom, helping them to forget for a moment where they are. But what many may not know is that Luu has a special connection to not only the hospital, but also the patients and families because he used to be a patient himself.
It’s from that experience that he chooses to give back to the place that he is most thankful for; for the place that saved his life thirty two years ago.
“My life is a blessing,” Luu, 38, said as he reflected on his time at Seattle Children’s.
When Luu was 6 years old, he was brought to Seattle Children’s after suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. Luu was exposed to the colorless, odorless gas at his home. Within minutes the oxygen in his blood had diminished and his organs stopped working. He was in a coma at Seattle Children’s for nearly six months. When Luu woke up, he was legally blind and had lost some motor function in his hands and legs. For two years, Luu was inpatient at Seattle Children’s. He was forced to adjust to a new normal, one that included extensive rehabilitation at Seattle Children’s for six years.
“This is where I grew up,” said Luu. “And because of that, this is where I want to give back.”
Volunteering to help others
As a former patient, Luu said one of the reasons he enjoys volunteering is that he is able to relate to some of the feelings and experiences patients and their families can face.
“I understand what it’s like,” said Luu. “There’s no judgement here. People look at me and judge me outside the hospital walls. I’m not normal in their eyes. But at Seattle Children’s they don’t see me as different. I’m one of them.”
Luu has been volunteering at Seattle Children’s for more than seven years. He almost never misses a day and volunteers about 16 hours a week. He may be blind and his gait slightly different than others, but as he walks through the hospital one thing is clear, he loves volunteering at the place he considers his “home.”
“Kien has such a great sense of humor and is always so happy to be here,” said Nancy Avellaneda, playroom coordinator. “No matter what mood you’re in when you walk through the door, it’s hard not to smile when you’re around him. He can get down on a child’s level and play with them and have fun. It helps the families alleviate stress and allows the kids to just play and have a good time.”
A friendly smile goes a long way
For Luu, he said giving back to the hospital is what keeps him smiling.
“When I leave the hospital, I feel good about myself and what I’m doing,” he said.
And that feeling is contagious. For Alison Garrison, volunteer manager at Seattle Children’s, she said Luu brings something special out in the people around him.
“He’s remarkable,” said Garrison. “He tries hard. He works hard. And he succeeds. I think he knows just about every volunteer who works on Tuesday and Friday. He recognizes them from their ‘hello.’ You don’t know how important a friendly greeting and smile can be until you’ve met Kien. Somehow he can instantly brighten your day.”
Luu hopes to one day work fulltime at Seattle Children’s. He has a Master’s in social work from the University of Washington and hopes to continue to be a bright, shining star for patients and families in need of a smile.
Seattle Children’s has more than 700 volunteers, each unique in their own way. Volunteers donate their time by either interacting directly with patients and families or through limited or non-patient contact. There are a number of ways individuals can support Seattle Children’s patients, families and staff. For more information visit the Ways to Help page here.