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May 29, 2014
Doretta Royer 315 464-4833

Center for Spiritual Care publishes Open the Eyes of My Heart

SYRACUSE, N.Y.— Seventeen Upstate University Hospital spiritual care volunteers share their special moments with patients when they most strongly felt the presence of the spirit in an inspiring book, Open the Eyes of My Heart.

The book is newly published by Upstate’s Center for Spiritual Care through a grant provided by the Friend in Deed campaign of the Foundation for Upstate Medical University. It is written by Walt Wasilewski with Imani Shabazz and designed by Susan Keeter.

“Something in these special moments either simply or profoundly changed the lives of these volunteers when they offered spiritual compassion to these patients,” said the Rev. Terry Culbertson, M.D.I.V., B.C.C., C.T. “This book tells their stories in a personal, compelling way.” Culbertson is Upstate’s manager of Spiritual Care and supervisor of its Clinical Pastoral Education program.

Spiritual care volunteer Steffany Thomas, one of the 17 volunteers who share their moments, uses Reiki to connect with patients. Reiki assists in marshaling life energy to support a person’s natural inclination to health.

Thomas speaks of her moments with a woman in her late 30s who was battling acute onset leukemia. Thomas, also in her 30s, had mostly ministered to older patients. Thomas speaks of the woman looking young and of feeling an instant kinship with her. Thomas’ passage reads: “At session’s end, the patient would be quiet and still and sometimes nearly asleep. Steffany would leave the room silently with a feeling that Reiki had restored the woman’s inner peace in the face of the emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual turmoil of cancer and the medical treatments she was receiving. The sessions created peace for Steffany as well. ‘It was so phenomenal, what I felt after seeing her,’ Steffany said. ‘It is so uplifting to help someone. But I wasn’t going up there for my benefit. We really were in the moment,’ she continued. ‘Me and her and Reiki … and the Spirit. And the Spirit was the strongest; it kind of took over.’

The passage continues: “The experience and what each of them felt after the Reiki sessions has stayed with Steffany who found deep meaning in what happened on those days. ‘It’s hope,’ she said. ‘When the patient left the hospital, she was in remission. And having gone to see her throughout her recovery…helped me see how positive thought helps recovery.’ The spiritual dimension of healing can be powerful, Thomas believes. ‘It was the Spirit that led the way and the Spirit that decided what was needed,’ she said.”

Culbertson hopes that Open the Eyes of My Heart will inspire others to become spiritual care volunteers at Upstate. “Our program includes a full spectrum of faith traditions,” she said. “There are so many ways our volunteers offer spiritual care, whether it is through prayer, Reiki, music, a gentle touch or merely just by spending quiet moments with patients. Offering spiritual care as a volunteer can add a fulfilling dimension to life,” she said.

Culbertson also believes that Open the Eyes of My Heart is the first book of its kind in the nation, saying that she will share the book with other facilities that would like to publish one of its own.

Open the Eyes of My Heart is the third book published by Upstate’s Spiritual Care program. The first book, A Second Set of Hands, written by parents and caregivers and complied by on-call clergy volunteer Rev. Wes Fleming, was published in 2007. The second book, In Their Own Voices, by Syracuse University Professor Eric Kingson, Ph.D., is based on interviews with 14 Upstate pediatric patients. It was published in 2009. Culbertson says that a fourth book is planned for release next May. This book will include stories of hope by psychiatric patients.

Open the Eyes of My Heart is available for $5 through Upstate’s Office of Spiritual Care. Proceeds will be used toward book reprints.

Visit Upstate’s Center for Spiritual Care ( to learn more about volunteer opportunities or to purchase a copy of Open the Eyes of My Heart.

To hear The Rev. Culbertson and Wasilewski discuss Open the Eyes of My Heart, visit HealthLink on Air.

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