A mother can never fully erase the pain of a child’s death, only direct its path. Elizabeth Ness-Wobschall’s chosen path helps others heal.
THE NORWALK RESIDENT’S SUPPORT of patients treated by the Connecticut Burn Center at Bridgeport Hospital makes perfect sense. Her son Michael died there in August 2013.
A house fire ultimately took the 22-year-old’s life. “The burn center staff was wonderful. They did everything they could,” recalled Elizabeth. But Michael’s death two days after admission resulted from smoke-related injuries, not burns.
In October, her grief still raw, Elizabeth’s son Matthew approached her with an unusual idea, one that would continue to make Michael’s life meaningful – a golf tournament to raise funds for the burn center. “I was on board immediately,” she said. To Elizabeth and Matthew, the tournament felt natural.
“Michael loved playing golf with his friends, his brother and grandmother. He would have loved the idea,” she added. The concept actually came from one of Matthew’s friends, Jay Scala, explained Matthew. With Jay’s guidance, Matthew developed the fundraiser plan and presented it to the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation.
On May 19, 2014, the Foundation held its first Michael Ness Play It Forward Golf Tournament at Oak Hills Park Golf Club in Norwalk. “Matthew runs the tourney and I do whatever he asks,” said Elizabeth. This includes serving as hostess for the tournament and banquet that follows, directing more than a dozen volunteers.
In its first two years, the tournament and banquet raised about $25,000. “Proceeds go wherever they are needed most,” said Matthew, including the Survivors Offering Assistance in Recovery (SOAR) program. Proceeds also help raise awareness of the burn center.
“It’s Connecticut’s only burn center and one of only 62 verified U.S. centers,” he explained. “It gives burn victims a chance to survive who might not otherwise. We’re fortunate to have it in our own backyard.”
Treatment there comes with caring and compassion, factors that make a difference for Elizabeth and Matthew. “Staff members like Alisa Savetamal, MD, nurse manager Jackie Laird, RN, and Kate Moran, PA, truly cared about us,” recalled Elizabeth. “Claudine Cody, RN, who was there with us when Michael was on life support, said it was a privilege to care for him. They all treated us like family.” They still do, as witnessed by their continued attendance at the tournament and banquet.
For Elizabeth and Matthew, the event provides a unique path to healing. For the community it impacts, it further ensures the burn center offers a path to healing for patients and families who need it.