Chattanoogan: Susan Brenner – Looking For That Human Connection

Friday, January 4, 2013 - by Jen Jeffrey

In a world of advanced technology where people talk to recordings instead of one other, Susan Brenner thrives on making a connection with people. She is the donor relations coordinator for the foundation at Memorial Health Care Systems.

Susan was born and raised in Toledo. Her parents, Ron and Kathy Brenner, had their hands full with their three daughters but especially with Susan’s accident-prone nature.

“I was a very rambunctious child. I don’t know how my mom survived it. I was all over the place into everything and very strong-willed,” Susan says.

“When I was four I was dancing through the house twirling around like a ballerina and mom said, ‘Stop, you are going to get hurt.’ I didn’t listen and I twirled myself right into the end of a coffee table. The next thing I knew I was screaming and had blood dripping down my face. I have a scar above my eyebrow where it split my head open,” Susan says.

Her Uncle Doug came over and took her to the emergency room.

Not too much time passed before Susan was a patient of the emergency room again.

“I wanted something on top of the book shelf and climbed up on it like a little monkey. I fell off and banged my mouth on the television. I had blood everywhere and had to go to the dentist to have a couple of teeth taken out. I was THAT kind of child,” Susan attests.

She may have been accident prone as a child but it is no accident that her passion today involves patient care. After being the patient and seeing the sight of her own blood a few times, Susan is on the other end of the spectrum today. Her delight is witnessing patients’ appreciation.

Susan understands how important it is to make a patient feel comfortable and at ease while receiving care.

In her teen years she worked for an assisted living home as wait staff for the dinner hours. “I loved the residents. They were so fun and had great stories,” she says.

Susan left her home in Toledo to attend Bryan College which eventually brought her to Chattanooga. An internship at Allied Arts led to her job as development and marketing assistant part time.

“I didn’t want to go back to Toledo. I wanted to have a career and not just a job. I also waited tables at Acropolis to make ends meet,” Susan says.

In 2006, she moved to a house with a college friend and they acquired another roommate. As the roommates left to get married, others came in. Still the independent girl who used to twirl around the house doing her own thing, Susan doesn’t regret the move to Chattanooga to start a life of her own.

Though she is determined to maintain her independence, Susan admits to having a desire to make another type of human connection and thinks about having a family of her own one day.

“As much as I have enjoyed my individuality in my twenties, I have come to that place where I felt like it has been about me for all this time and I am ready now …for it to be about someone else,” she says.

While witnessing the energy that went into planning the events surrounding the ‘not for profit’ organizations such as her time at Allied Arts, Susan fell in love with that type of work. She began at Memorial in 2008 as development coordinator.

“I work on annual giving and online giving campaigns. The donor gets to direct where those funds go. It is important to us to offer that for donors at every gift level. We have unrestricted funds, funds for cancer services, a breast services fund, orthopedics fund, diabetes, home health… so much more,” Susan expresses.

“The funds we raise go towards programs for patient care. To fund equipment, to help programming - we are in the middle of campus expansion right now. It’s about patient care as a whole,” she says.

Susan’s tenacious spirit to make things work is a driving force of her personality as she recalls a time when things weren’t so easy.

“I have matured since my tantrums, but I am still stubborn when it comes to taking care of myself and that is really important for me to do. When I was 15 my dad lost his job and never found another permanent job. He worked very hard to provide, but it had been a struggle. Knowing everything my mom gave up and sacrificed to raise a family - she never re-entered the working world. Dad had multiple jobs to provide for us and is now retired. We are part of a church family who helped out a lot then, but it was really hard,” Susan says.

“They never pulled me out of my school to put me into public education, which I am very thankful for. Somehow the Lord always provided. It made me aware of the fact that I never want to find myself in that place so having a good job is important to me, but there is something about working for a cause that you believe in,” Susan avers.

“Whether it is the arts, education or health care, I have worked in all three of those – and something very rewarding in what I am doing now is that I am a part of saving lives. One thing I love is getting notes from donors who have been patients at the hospital and they want to give back to the organization who saved their life or saved the life of a loved one,” she says.

“They write these beautiful, touching notes and the Grateful Patient program provides an opportunity for them to thank a caregiver, so we do a presentation for the nurse, the tech or a volunteer or physician and we try to meet with that individual face to face where they can get public recognition. We read the note and give them a pin that has Caring Spirit on it,” Susan explains.

“Because of that, I have gotten to meet the people who saved these lives and their reaction is amazing to see. They are so touched when they realize the impact that going into work and doing their job has made on another human being. I have loved getting to know the nurses, techs, physicians and volunteers who really make Memorial the hospital that this community knows it to be,” Susan says.

The Foundation at Memorial continues to have strong fundraising years and this year have raised $11 million of a $15 million capital campaign.

“I cannot take any credit for that. I work with amazing fundraisers. They are passionate about our cause and I have learned a lot from them. We are working on our Pink Gala right now for Feb. 2. That will benefit surgical services for breast cancer patients at Memorial. Last year we did not have one single seat left and we are hoping for another sell out year,” Susan says excitedly.

Having a career she loves and making those important connections with people - whether it is with coworkers, patients or family and her friends - Susan appreciates being a part of human connection and having a caring spirit.

“For me, it’s about the little things. We speak of technology so much these days in every aspect of our lives… but what we see a lot of in what we do – is that human connection.  Our core values at Memorial are reverence, integrity, compassion and excellence. And we incorporate those into everything that we do,” Susan maintains.

When people talk about Memorial they don’t just talk about the wonderful equipment, they talk about the care they received - and the quality. That is something I see time and time again,” Susan insists.

“We deal with the whole person - giving them physical, emotional and spiritual care.”

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