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Health Team

Chaplain prays with, for patients, caregivers through time of COVID

Posted November 18, 2021 5:50 p.m. EST
Updated November 18, 2021 7:55 p.m. EST

Doctors, nurses, physician assistants – all have done valiant work throughout the course of the coronavirus pandemic.

Chaplain Melanie Swofford, of Cape Fear Valley Medical Center, serves a different need. She looks after the spiritual health of patients.

"I just do what I was called to do," she said.

When COVID brought Cape Fear Valley Medical Center its knees, Swofford complemented modern medicine with the power of prayer.

"We've seen so much pain, so much hurt and so much that has been here that I can't even say it," she said. "It's been so much. If we weren't together in it, none of us could make it."

Swofford tries to bring tenderness, strength, empathy and faith to the patient's bedside, to the families keeping vigil and to the caregivers.

Her most important role is simply being present, a silent observer of tears and sadness.

For COVID patients, forced to endure many lonely moments, chaplains are able to help them feel less alone.

"We have been instrumental in visiting patients who've needed support, sitting by the bedside of people who are dying who couldn't have visitors with them." Swofford said.

She began her career after Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attacks and America's response stirred something in her to pursue a livelihood of comforting the afflicted, of harnessing the healing power of faith. She earned her seminary degree and became a chaplain.

"I think the most important part of prayer is the spiritual and emotional part of healing, and prayer can come in many forms," she said.

She knows, too, that pain and loss are part of being human. Not everyone gets to go home.

"I've lost some as young as 16," she said.

COVID has inflicted so much heartache, especially when this summer's Delta surge overwhelmed the hospital with patients of all ages.

"There are some that will stay with me forever, especially in this last bit, when we lost a lot of young people. And there are some stories I will never forget. I've gone home and held my dogs and cried," Swofford said.

Sometimes, along with a patient, she sings. "Amazing Grace" is a favorite.

She remembers one patient, racked with COVID, unable to speak.

"I can tell he heard me sing, and it calmed him down. Eventually, he passed," she said.

And she prays. Alone in the quiet chapel, she prays for the whole hospital.

"This is just what God called me to do, and so I keep answering, just prayerfully knowing he's going to hold me and keep me going," she said.

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