Local Students Spring into Service at UPMC Passavant

By: Autumn Bellan

UPMC serves our communities with excellent care, compassionate staff, and positive outcomes, in turn inspiring others to change lives in the spirit of service. This month, local students donated more than 200 care packages to UPMC Passavant–McCandless, creating annual traditions that make a difference in the lives of UPMC patients, staff and donors alike.   

On March 8, Isabella Ludwig, an 11-year-old Shaler girl, and her family gave back to UPMC Passavant’s Heart and Vascular Institute in honor of Heart Month. On March 14, students from Holy Cross Academy dropped off packages to the Emergency Department (ED) as a part of a service project for Catholic Schools Week. Read their stories:  

From My Heart to Yours: The Ludwigs’ Story  

When Isabella Ludwig’s grandfather was a patient at UPMC Passavant−McCandless, visiting restrictions during the pandemic meant that FaceTime and waving to him through the hospital window were the only ways Isabella and her family could contact him. While her “pappy,” Robert Phillips, spent time recovering from a successful heart surgery performed by David West, M.D., in February 2021, Isabella and her sisters sent him coloring books to keep him busy, giving Isabella a generous idea.  

In February 2023, Isabella, along with Robert and her other family members, returned to UPMC Passavant–McCandless to deliver 136 care packages to cardiac patients during their hospital day, the first of what would become a yearly tradition. “My pappy did not have a lot of things in the hospital, so I wanted to give all the patients like him something to help,” said Isabella. “I’m really happy I get to make their day.” 

On March 8, Isabella and her family donated 61 care packages, each containing a throw blanket, squish pillow, puzzle book and pen, toothbrush and paste, lip balm, hairbrush, bag of candy and a hand-written note from Isabella.  

They collect donations through Facebook, Venmo and collection sites throughout the area, including Studio Raw, Burn Boot Camp in Wexford and Isabella’s school, Shaler Elementary. Once the family has all their supplies, they form an assembly line, sorting everything into piles and filling bags one by one. Passavant Hospital Foundation also lends its support by helping coordinate the donation and arrange the drop-off at the entrance of the Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Passavant.  

“These bags are a way for my children to give back, and they give them a purpose,” said Samantha Ludwig, nursing assistant, who started a career in nursing at UPMC Passavant last year, inspired by her daughter’s efforts and the care her father received.   

“I’ve never worked in health care, other than treating my kids at home, so this was all new to me,” she said. “As a nursing assistant, the most important task I can do is be there for our patients. I’m a talker, so I’m thankful this role has allowed me to connect with others. Sometimes that’s all we need.” Samantha hopes to graduate nursing school and continue to help people until she retires one day.  

“I love that Isabella wants to help people. My mama heart is happy that she enjoys fundraising and caring for others as much as I do,” said Samantha. “My children are fortunate to have what they do.” If she could teach them one lesson, Samantha hopes they learn that there are people who need help, and that they have the power to do so. 

“We are so thankful to have Samantha and her family as a part of our UPMC Passavant community,” said Susan Hoolahan, president, UPMC Passavant. “To pay it forward in honor of her grandfather and the great care our team provided is such a wonderful gesture. Any act of kindness like this just has such a positive impact on our patients’ ability to get well.” 

Next year, Isabella plans to donate to UPMC Passavant’s Heart and Vascular Institute again, hoping to get her two younger sisters more involved to make it a true family affair.  

A Community Affair: Students of All Ages Come Together 

On March 14, over 20 students and school administrators from Holy Cross Academy arrived at the UPMC Passavant–McCandless Emergency Department (ED), hands filled with care packages for the second year in a row. The students offered patients two different packages, one for adults and one for children, totaling 150 care packages.  

The adults’ packages included reading glasses, crossword and Sudoku puzzles, and personal care items like ChapStick, body lotion, and toothbrushes. The children’s packages included small toys, coloring books, crayons and puzzles. The students, ranging from pre-K to eighth grade, created ‘Get Well’ cards for each package, wishing patients a speedy recovery. 

Organized by Megan Tarasi, special project coordinator for Holy Cross Academy and mother of two second graders, the packages were collected as a service project for Catholic Schools Week. Megan and her husband, a physician, thought donating items would lift people’s spirits and help them pass the time while they waited in the ED. This entire effort involved all 185 families within the school community. Next year, they hope to donate again, aiming for 200 care packages.  

Journalists interested in learning more can contact mediarelations@upmc.edu.