Kathleen O'Donnell Kelly, made hospital less scary

Posted: January 09, 2012

A FAMILY'S first experience with a hospital can be disorienting and frightening.

There's the worry over the sick loved one, the feeling that everybody knows what they're doing except you, the concern about what's going to happen, where to turn, how to pay for it.

That's where people like Kathleen O'Donnell Kelly come in.

Kathleen was a medical social worker at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby. Her job was to help those worried families with whatever they needed.

First and foremost, she made them realize that somebody truly cared, because Kathleen had the compassion, along with the knowledge, to make families feel more secure.

"She loved helping people who didn't know what to do," said her husband, Timothy Kelly. "Being in a hospital for the first time can be a scary experience. She worked with the families, finding the resources they needed, showed them how to apply for financial assistance, lined up nursing homes or home-care facilities after the patients were discharged."

Kathleen worked at the hospital for about 14 years, until she couldn't anymore. She was diagnosed with scleroderma, a progressive autoimmune disease, which she fought heroically for more than 20 years.

She died Friday. She was 46 and lived in Folsom, Delaware County.

The disease progressed relentlessly, but Kathleen continued to work at the hospital as long as she could, and after leaving in the late '90s, she continued volunteer activities, never letting her condition interfere with her zest for life and her need to help people.

"She was very courageous," said her husband, head boys basketball coach at Cardinal O'Hara High School. "She was amazing. She eventually had trouble walking, but she didn't let it stop her. She was full of energy, full of life.

"She always looked on the bright side. She never let bad news get her down. . . . She never felt sorry for herself. She always said there were people worse off than she."

Kathleen was particularly concerned about her daughter, Maura Grace, now in fifth grade. "She wanted to make sure her daughter didn't miss anything, that she had a normal life," Tim said.

She volunteered at Cardinal O'Hara, working in the president's office, and ran a Sunday Bible school for children at her church, Our Lady of Perpetual Help, in Morton.

Kathleen was born in Nova Scotia to Marie and Cornelius O'Donnell. The family moved to Folsom, where she grew up.

She attended Our Lady of Peace Parochial School, in Milmont Park, and graduated from Cardinal O'Hara and Cabrini College. She went to work at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital shortly after graduation.

She and her husband were married on Nov. 26, 1994. She also is survived by a sister, Maureen Cooper, and a brother, Neil O'Donnell.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady of Perpetual Help, 2130 Franklin Ave., Morton. Friends may call at 5 p.m. Wednesday and at 9 a.m. Thursday at the church.

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