Dr. Christine Perry receives Janet M. Wendorf Outstanding Caregiver Award

As Dr. Christine Perry sat at her table during McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation’s Annual Gala at the Country Club of Lansing on October 13, she listened intently while a gentleman at the dais spoke about his late mother, for whom the Janet M. Wendorf Outstanding Caregiver Award was named.

As the man, Rick Wendorf, described his mom as an “extreme caregiver” and “nurturer extraordinaire,” Dr. Perry wondered which of her colleagues was going to be presented with the award, and hoped she “could learn from that person and be more like them.”

Little did she know she was about to be introduced as the recipient of the second annual award that recognizes a caregiver at McLaren Greater Lansing for his or her commitment to providing quality and compassionate care to patients and their families.

“I am truly humbled,” Dr. Perry said a few days after the Gala had raised more than $280,000 in cash and in-kind gifts for the Foundation. “There is no other word to describe the way I feel. When Rick was describing his mother, I was anxious to see who could measure up to her. And as the night went on and I heard more about her from people who knew her, I became even more humbled.”

Jan Wendorf, who passed away in January of 2017, was a vibrant, no-nonsense person who valued the importance of giving back. She believed if you always did what was right, good things would come to you. And when they did, it was imperative that you help others.

Jan and her husband Dick moved from Mason to Port Charles, Fla., in 1984. Dick went on to become the owner of a successful construction company, but he and Jan never forgot their Michigan roots, eventually buying a seasonal home in the state, and supporting the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation and other community organizations.

Jan’s generosity, kindness and warmth exemplified values that are central to the extraordinary care provided to patients at McLaren Greater Lansing and McLaren Orthopedic Hospital.

Dr. Perry, an attending physician in the Emergency Department, was presented with the award for a variety of reasons, including her penchant for treating patients as if they are family.

“I truly try to imagine every patient is my family member, no matter their background,” she said. “I treat the indigent person the same way I would a farmer and the same way I would a politician. They’re all someone’s family member.”

That philosophy was firmly implanted in Dr. Perry’s mind when she graduated from medical school in 2007. But it really took root in 2010 when she was practicing at Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton, Wash., and her 22-month old daughter, Cynthia, was diagnosed with kidney cancer and had to undergo surgery and the chemotherapy that followed. Cynthia is 9 now and “flourishing,” according to her proud mom. But Dr. Perry will never forget the fear she felt when she learned her daughter had cancer.

“All the medical knowledge I had went out the window,” she said. “I felt stripped of my education, and was down to the bare bones of being a mom. I kind of went into survival mode where you want to protect your young and do what you can.”

Dr. Perry spent a lot of time with her daughter at Seattle Children’s Hospital during the ensuing year and half, and took note of the different ways caregivers made them feel comfortable. She has used many of those techniques to help her become a more compassionate doctor, and the empathy she displays for patients is well known amongst her colleagues.

Dr. Tressa Gardner, medical director of the Emergency Department at McLaren Greater Lansing, said Dr. Perry “sets the standard for all of us in patient care” and is “phenomenal” in how she speaks to patients and explains what is going on during an examination or treatment. She added she makes every patient “feel special, as if they are the only patient in the world.”

Dr. Janet Eng, a medical toxicologist, described Dr. Perry as understanding, insightful, and genuine, and said those qualities make her very good at listening to patients.

“She not only addresses their medical needs,” Dr. Eng said. “But she addresses their emotional needs as well. And if there are family matters that need to be addressed, she will do that as well.”

Further compliments have come in numerous letters and notes of appreciation that patients and their family members have sent to the hospital in praise of Dr. Perry and her work. These letters have a special place in her heart and are kept in a shoebox in her home office. The unmarked box is filled with every letter or note of appreciation sent to her by a patient or family member since she became a physician.

She received her first letter a month or two after starting her career as a doctor of osteopathic medicine. When a colleague of hers suggested she keep it, she chuckled because she didn’t want to seem pompous or full of herself. But he told her the letters would be a “living testament to your success” and could come in handy on those days when she found herself struggling.

Dr. Perry does not know how many letters are in the box, but admitted they are a “nice reminder that you are doing your chosen profession and you still got it.”

She added that the Wendorf Outstanding Caregiver Award will serve a similar purpose.

“Sometimes as a care provider, you only have so much of yourself to give,” she said. “So when something unexpected like that happens, it helps to remind me that I am doing a good job and to keep moving forward.”

For more information about the McLaren Greater Lansing Foundation and its events, please call 517.975.7100, email mglfoundation@mclaren.org, or visit www.mclaren.org/lansingfoundation.