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A Real Life Raggedy Ann
Transplant Recipient Ambassador Of Love, Caring And Sharing
Carol Hamm is a real life Raggedy Ann. Following a kidney, pancreas and bone marrow transplant, Carol has spent her time bringing Raggedy Ann's message of love, caring and sharing to audiences that vary from preschoolers to a special birthday party for a 102-year-old lady.
Forty-eight year old Carol Hamm was born in Queens, NY and when she was just 6 weeks old, her parents, Retired Lt. Commander Charles Hamm, who was then a Navy pilot, her mother, Verna, and Carol's family were transferred to Florida. This was the beginning of several moves the military family made including stints in New York, New Jersey, California, Pennsylvania, and even Morocco, never staying in one location , more than three years. Carol now resides in Delray Beach, Florida.
Carol earned a BS degree in Elementary Education from the University of South Florida in Tampa in 1976, and a Masters Degree in Early Childhood Education from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. Always an educator at heart, Carol taught Pre-Kindergarten, Kindergarten and first grade for 14 years.
She has also worked for a babysitting service in Ft. Lauderdale, "Lullaby," for 23 years and has cared for Elizabeth Taylor's grandchild, as well as the children of numerous professional football and baseball players.
Carol, who did not own a Raggedy Ann doll as a child and who was not familiar with the stories as a child, has made up for lost time. She first became interested in the dolls as her nieces and nephews were born and Carol's mother, Verna, made Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls for them.
Carol was an insulin-dependent diabetic for 27 years. In 1989 she also developed severe gastroparesis which means she was unable to consume any food through the mouth. She was fed solely through a feeding tube, a process which she endured for five and one-half years. She later suffered kidney failure which left her with little hope of a healthy future. She was a dialysis patient for one and one-half years, and waited a year for her kidney, pancreas and bone marrow transplant.
Now she leads a full, healthy life.
Carol's memories of the feeding tube remain vivid as she recalls, "American social gatherings always have to do with beverages and food. Thanksgiving was the pits."
The healing transplant had nothing to do with the stomach problems. Specialists in Boston had told Carol she would never eat food again. Carol's transplant team told her they would take care of the diabetes with a new pancreas, and they would take care of the kidney failure with a new kidney, but the stomach problem they could not help.
Five days following the transplant, food service workers brought her a tray. Carol said to the attendant, "I don't do food, besides there is pumpkin pie here and I'm diabetic." At that point the nurse entered and reminded Carol she was no longer a diabetic. Still skeptical, Carol said she would rather not risk raising her sugar level. The nurse asked Carol to eat some of the pie. When her blood was tested 10 minutes later, the sugar level had not risen. It was perfect! She continued to eat, and finished the entire meal. This was when she realized, "God had miraculously healed my stomach as well!" Carol said, "God is still in the miracle business." It was while she was visiting Epcot Center exactly three weeks to the day following the transplant that she decided to find a way to "give back" and to tell her story so that it that could benefit others.
With her training in early childhood education, this former teacher liked the idea of being able to bring her message to a variety of age groups from very young preschool children to elementary school aged children to patients in the hospital as well as senior citizens.
Carol also had long been intrigued with the costumed characters at Disney World. As Carol presents her message, she appears in the Raggedy Ann costume her mother, Verna, created. Mrs. Hamm holds a degree in costume design from the Pratt Institute in New York City.
One aspect Carol particularly likes about appearing in her Raggedy attire is that it does not require a white face as many clown costumes do. She has had numerous parents tell her their children are frightened of clowns, but they love Carol's Raggedy costume and the friendly Raggedy face. As Carol dresses as the Raggedy character, she always reads the Bible verse she calls her Raggedy verse, Romans 10:15b, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring glad tidings of good things."
The programs Carol presents naturally differ for each age group, although all programs consist of a "Three Point Plan: A kind smile, words of encouragement and a Raggedy hug." Sometimes in the hospital, to help protect her low immune system, the person hugs the doll rather than Carol. With adults she also makes sure to give a message about organ donation, and finally she always shares her message of love which she attests helps everyone get through the good and bad times in life.
Carol was having trouble finding lower level reading materials suitable for Pre-K and Kindergartners. She was able to locate many on the internet including her favorite, the "Thank you, Please and I Love You" Raggedy Golden Book. "The pictures are nice and big for little eyes to see." The book deals with a topic she feels is especially important in today's world, manners. She also developed Raggedy finger puppets for the children's use. She prefers to get the finger puppet pattern to the teacher prior to her scheduled presentation, so the children can each make a finger puppet including gluing on the red yarn hair. When Carol arrives, she introduces children to the Raggedy characters by reading aloud a book, then the children get their puppets and come to the front of the class--two by two, and they let their puppets talk (role playing) to one another sharing lessons on people's feelings and good manners. She also carries Raggedy Ann and Andy rubber stamps that the children love to have stamped on their hands as a reward for good behavior.
For other presentations, Carol likes to bring pictures to help spark young imaginations. A favorite depicts two children in a toy shop that sells Raggedies as well as other toys. A story idea can begin through a discussion of the picture. She also uses vocabulary building suggestions, and other writing ideas children can use in creating their own stories such as, "I was all alone in the toy shop when the owner said---- or imagine you are a Raggedy doll and tell me about an adventure you have had."
With older children (3rd-5th grade) the theme of her program deals even more with creative writing. Carol often uses the story of Raggedy Ann getting her candy heart. She gives class members a story planner which includes sketches designed by art teachers of the Raggedy characters, along with a sheet each student fills out in preparation of writing his/her own story. The story planner includes information helpful to students in creating a story such as: the author; the beginning of the story, the characters, the setting, etc. As Carol reads aloud her Raggedy story to the students, she points out to the kids things from her book such as where the setting of the story changes, and when new characters are added to the story line in preparation of the students writing their own stories. She also tells the classes that today many children actually get a chance to have their stories published in children's magazines, and each one of them has a chance to be one of those lucky young authors. She even gives teachers a list of addresses from the writers Guide so teachers can submit stories for publication. Following Carolís presentation, students each create a story.
The nearly three years Carol has been working with students has been largely in parochial schools, although she is now getting requests from public schools as well. So many requests, in fact, that she has to begin limiting her time.
When Carol brings her message to a hospital, she uses yet another tack. The kids on dialysis are strapped to a machine. For these children. Carol often brings a simple craft they can complete in their time together. These children are often bored because the dialysis procedure requires they stay attached to the machine for at least three hours. Carol also always brings books which she can read aloud or kids can read for themselves. She has a "goody bag" filled with candy and homemade cookies for treats. Since most of these youngsters are not attending school, Carol can also help them maintain reading skills through the Raggedy characters. Carol not only receives thank yous and support from the patients but from the staff as well as she related one staff member recently said, "Thanks for cheering up the kids, but thanks from us also. We always feel encouraged after you visit."
Carol also tells about riding the train to Miami dressed in costume to present her program. She said she asked the conductor why he never asks her for her ticket. He said, "Because we know Raggedy Ann is honest and she would never board this train without paying for her ticket."
In presenting a program to senior citizens, she uses a table top display to tell the story of her transplant. The display includes pictures of her doctors and medical team, and her before and after photos, She also shares humorous anecdotes and jokes. Carol makes certain to include her special message supporting organ donation and how it can positively affect so many lives.
Presenting her program to the Boca Raton Community Church "Super Senior" group, an 84 year old Long island NY, lady, Fran Dalton, now a Boca Raton resident, decided to give Carol her 78 year old Raggedy in appreciation of Carol's program. The antique doll Ms. Dalton's mother had found in an attic and dressed for her own daughter so many years ago has now found a new life as part of Carol's programs. Carol finds that the senior citizens especially like just being listened to, and when Carol asks questions about dolls they might have owned or special memories from their childhoods, the seniors respond well. She does always relate the story of Marcella, her illness and her father, Johnny Gruelle, to all the age groups. One of Carol's favorite programs was at a birthday party for a 102-year-old lady.
Last year Carol was ill with a blood infection, and when her hospital time (insurance) had lapsed, she was sent to a rehab center that turned out to be much more of a nursing home facility which housed numerous alzheimer patients. It was a depressing place to recuperate, such a depressing place, in fact, that Carol's parents hated to leave her there. Some friends even chose to drop off food treats rather than to make a personal visit. Carol was even becoming depressed. She said she prayed that she learn some lesson from this experience. After her sixth day there, Carol told her parents to bring her Raggedy Ann costume. She said she was going to show other residents that life there could hold some fun. Sure enough, her indomitable spirit worked and she was able to turn this bad experience into a therapeutic one cheering up even the severe cases.
Carol Hamm had learned and shared the special lesson again of Raggedy Ann and her caring and sharing.
"RAGS - The Voice of the Raggedy World", May 2001
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