Volunteer John Stahl honored as 'Heart of Denver Health'

April 25, 2024

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John Stahl's heart brought him to Denver Health, and it's at Denver Health his heart will stay.

The longtime volunteer and stalwart of the hospital received the inaugural John Stahl Heart of Denver Health Award at last week’s volunteer appreciation luncheon in Pavilion C. Volunteer Services Coordinator Grace Ray and her predecessor, Liz Matthews, created the namesake award after Stahl’s recent hospitalization brought the two together. The award will be given out annually to a volunteer who embodies Stahl’s warmth, dedication and compassion.

“John’s impact is felt all over Denver Health,” Ray said. “Liz and I realized quickly we weren’t the only ones who had found a friendship with John. His big heart creates lasting connections with everyone he meets.”

Stahl said of the award: “I feel a little guilty getting this because I enjoyed what I was doing, no matter what it was.”

Denver Health cardiologist Ed Havranek, MD, spoke at the ceremony about his friendship with Stahl, whom he first treated 24 years ago when Stahl was admitted to the hospital experiencing ventricular tachycardia. Stahl had “just about all the complications you could have from a heart attack,” Dr. Havranek said, but he made a full recovery.

Dr. Havranek also treated John after a second heart attack 12 years ago. After a long hospitalization and rehabilitation, Stahl knew he wanted to dedicate his time to giving back to the hospital that saved his life for a second time.

For two days a week over the past eight years, Stahl worked in a variety of volunteer positions, making his mark on each. He started as a pathfinder helping visitors and patients navigate the hospital and later began pushing around a comfort cart filled with coffee, snacks and magazines to the busy patient waiting areas.

It was this role that helped him develop a close bond with staff members around the hospital. Because the cart wasn’t allowed into closed areas like the MICU or SICU, Stahl took drink orders and delivered coffee and lemonade to grateful staff members while adding his trademark smile or a quick joke.

Using his experience as a patient, Stahl has served as a volunteer member of the Patient Family Advisory Council, offering his perspective on the incredible care he received at Denver Health. Most recently, Stahl has acted as the Emergency Department concierge, helping to greet patients, turn over rooms and provide companionship and comfort.

One morning early in March, Stahl made a visit to the Emergency Department he didn’t expect, as a patient. Stahl’s condition quickly deteriorated, and by the end of the evening, he found himself in the MICU fighting for his life once again. As the days passed, the procession of concerned staff had become so great that his nurses had to turn people away so that he could have time to rest and heal.

“It’s just a heartwarming experience,” Stahl said. “The support system here at Denver Health is like no other. I feel like this is a second home to me.”

Dr. Havranek and Stahl have stayed friends since they met in the Emergency Department nearly a quarter-century ago, regularly going to lunch. He told those in attendance how Stahl has taught him three lessons: “You’ve got to take responsibility for you. You’ve got to keep fighting.

“You have to have purpose. Having purpose is an incredibly important part of dealing with a difficult situation.

“And the third lesson is the most important, and that is to serve others. Most of us don’t ever learn that, don’t ever embrace that, don’t ever do with that what John has done for all these years.”

After 25 days in the hospital, Stahl was discharged and brought to an assisted living facility in Aurora where he is currently recovering. He was determined to attend the April 25 volunteer ceremony in person and was grateful to be joined by his fellow volunteers, friends and his girlfriend, Irma.

“It goes to show you, love can come along at any age,” he said with his trademark smile.

Former Denver Health Volunteer Coordinator Liz Matthews said her friendship with Stahl continued after she left her post at the hospital, often meeting for ice cream or root beer floats.

“I feel very fortunate to call John my friend,” she said.

At the ceremony, Senior Director of Patient Experience and Language Services Sharif Abdelhamid talked about Stahl’s sense of humor and selflessness, saying, “This man will give everybody else in the world credit for caring for him, but it’s because of the magnetism and care and love that you bring to our lives that we all have wanted to care for you.”

While Stahl still has a long road to a full recovery, he is preparing for the time when he can return to his post in the Emergency Department, saying, “I want to train the next generation of volunteers to serve like I have.”

Next year, he will join his friends in Volunteer Services in selecting the recipient for his namesake award.

“That is my legacy,” Stahl said.