FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Dozens of volunteers decorated the hallways of Northside Hospital Nov. 25 to help brighten the stays of patients.
Leading the masses was Matt Smith, 58, who’s made it his mission to lift the spirits of patients during the holidays since 2013.
Matt’s wife, Teresa, or “T” to loved ones, had been diagnosed with cancer in 1997 and doctors told her she had no chance of survival. She battled back and survived. Scans showed no signs of it returning. She and Matt raised their children and had “pretty decent years,” he said. However, the cancer returned and Teresa was admitted to Northside Hospital over the 2013 holidays.
“One day as I was leaving the hospital to run home for a minute, I realized Christmas decorations were up and I should probably put some up, too,” the Alpharetta resident said. “I went down to the basement and grabbed a string of lights and put them up in her [hospital] room. The next day I grabbed another string and some garland. After three days, her room was pretty cool.”
Soon, other patients would walk by Teresa’s room and do a doubletake. Nurses told Matt the decorations really brightened up the area and spirits of everyone on the fourth floor of the Northside Atlanta campus.
“We were picked up and lifted up by angels,” Matt said, referring to everyone who helped the couple and their two children during T’s battle.
Neighbors, friends and fellow church members all wanted to show their love and created an angel fund to help with any additional expenses the family might have.
Matt was hesitant to use the money.
“I didn’t feel like we needed it,” he said. “We already had received so much.”
T passed away in March 2014.
“She loved angels, she was an angel, lifting up others, even when she was in the hospital,” Matt said.
In her memory, Matt decided to decorate every room on the floor of the hospital.
“I was determined to honor my commitment,” he said.
During a meeting that September, Matt learned that he couldn’t decorate patient rooms but was free to decorate nurses’ stations, hallways and other public areas. So, with the help of some volunteer, he did just that.
“About two weeks after everything came down, I got a phone call from the hospital and was told there was a problem,” Matt said. “They paused and I thought, oh, no, we’re in trouble. The administrator said that some other floors are jealous of what you did. Would you be willing to do more next year?”
By the second year, the group became officially known as T’s Angels and had decorated six or seven floors, Matt said. Now in it’s sixth year, the angels decorate five campuses of Northside Hospital, including 40 floors or departments.
The Home Depot in Windward donated decorations the first year and directed Matt to other locations for additional supplies.
“It’s been fun,” Matt said.
The group “wrap” artwork on the walls to look like gifts with “Happy Holidays to Northside Hospital from T’s Angels” tags.
“We are not professional decorators by any stretch,” Matt said. “We just show up with love.”
Decorations, for the most part, have been donated.
There’s never been a lack for volunteers, either.
“We’ll have a volunteer who’s helped and the next year they’ll ask if they can bring a friend,” Matt said. “Then they ask if they can bring more.”
Some volunteers, Matt said, were patients who help add some “festive spirit” and some “cheer.”
Other volunteers like “74-year-old-young” Bud Lollis of Roswell, has known Matt for years and just wanted to participate in the labor of love.
“I’m here to bring some Christmas joy to this beautiful place for these beautiful people,” Lollis said.
Lollis’ wife, Connie, brought along members of her Bible study group and decorated hallways.
Second-time volunteer Cathy Morgan of Alpharetta came out to help spread some cheer, she said, adding that it was also her birthday.
Patients in the infusion center admired Lollis’ garland-hanging skills and watched the lanky man hang ornaments from the ceiling. T herself spent so many hours in the infusion center, the one place that you’re with the patient and can interact, Matt said.
“You’ve watched the ‘garland’ channel, now you’re watching the ‘ornament’ channel,” Matt told one of the patients. “Let us know if you want to watch something else.”
“Oh, no, I’m enjoying this,” she replied with a smile.
After the holidays, the decorations come down and are checked. T’s Angels will buy and acquire durable, reusable decorations and keep them looking as fresh as possible. Decorations for the Forsyth campus are stored in a storage unit while other campuses graciously provide onsite storage.