Hospital volunteer pair forced to stay home after van breaks down

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WATERBURY – A pair of hospital volunteers who have spent countless hours helping others, but now need help themselves.

Jo-Anne Plunske, 75, of Woodbury, and her wheelchair assisting therapy dog Theo used to go to Waterbury Hospital twice a week to visit with sick patients and help them feel a little better.

“If for a few minutes out of the day I can interrupt that clinical atmosphere with a smile, then I did my job,” said Plunske.

But for the past month, they’ve been stuck at home and unable to get anywhere. Plunske uses a motorized wheelchair to get around due to injuries from a motorcycle accident in 1983. Her wheelchair-accessible van broke down beyond repair in mid-January.

“The first couple of weeks I was like a caged lion. I didn’t know what to do with myself” said Plunske. “[Theo] is getting so funny. He runs to the door immediately he’s like ‘Oh ma, a person!’”

Hospital staff and patients miss their visits too. Several of them have contributed to a GoFundMe campaign to get the pair a new van.

“She would have patients that would just be depressed because they had to have surgery or they’re sick and she’d come in and visit them with her dog and their spirits would be lifted. They’d be like different people. They’d be so happy,” said Mary Cercola, a surgical assistant in the OR who contributed to the campaign.

Plunkse is thankful for their support, but believes there’s no way they’ll raise enough money. Since February 6, they’ve raised around $3,000 of their $45,000 goal.

She continues to hope they’ll get back to work somehow.

“I truthfully feel like God saved me from that accident for a reason,” she said.