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‘Mass Guides’ at St. Mary of the Assumption put emergency training to use almost immediately in Hockessin

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From left, Leo Hamilton, Tom Green and Mike Bailey are among the leaders of the "Mass Guides" at St. Mary of the Assumption. Dialog photo/Mike Lang

HOCKESSIN — The duties of ushers at Mass have evolved over the years, and at St. Mary of the Assumption Parish in Hockessin, the group has changed as the parish emerged from the coronavirus pandemic. The training the men and women went through paid dividends recently when a woman suffering from a medical emergency received care that possibly saved her life.

The parish’s Mass Guides, as they are known, were born about two years ago as people were returning to in-person worship. Several of the former ushers did not return because of health concerns, and the revised group was there to help enforce guidelines for distancing, sanitizing and mask-wearing, according to one of the leaders, Leo Hamilton.

The Mass Guides also help with situations such as providing umbrella cover when it’s raining, offering a wheelchair if needed, and straightening up the church after Mass. Then there is the medical training. In October, the group had New Castle County paramedics teach them some basic first-aid and practices, and it didn’t take long for that to come into play.

“We had about 19, 20 people go through this training, and then 10 days later is when the incident happened,” Hamilton said.

Tom Green was one of the guides at that 11:30 a.m. Mass. He said the woman, who is in her 80s, got up and headed toward the vestibule. He intercepted her and asked if she was OK.

“She was just telling me she was dizzy,” Green said.

He had her sit down, asked her some basic health questions he had learned about during the training, and gave her water.

“You could see she just wasn’t getting better,” he said.

By that point, another guide had already called 911, and the woman told them she was having trouble breathing. They got her name and contact information, and the paramedics began cardiopulmonary resuscitation. The woman’s husband came back to the vestibule, and he was going to drive to the hospital. Hamilton offered to drive the man and his car, and on the way they reached the couple’s daughter. They drove to her house instead, and the couple’s son-in-law took Hamilton back to St. Mary of the Assumption.

The following week, a friend of the woman told them they may have saved her life. The woman was going to go sit in her car “because she was feeling bad,” Green said. “Had she made it there, I really believe she wouldn’t be here today.”

Mike Bailey, another of the guides, said the training, which also included instructions on how to use and automated external defibrillator (AED), was welcome, but seeing it put into use takes it to another level.

“It really cemented it and made an impact on everyone that this really is important because we could have lost a parishioner,” he said.

Father Charles C. Dillingham

Father Charles Dillingham, the pastor of St. Mary’s, was the presider at the Mass. He said he could tell something was going on, “but it was very calm, very peaceful. These guys had it totally under control. I could see people moving quickly, but I had no idea.”

Father Dillingham said that he has seen medical emergencies during Mass occasionally over the years, but he tries to stay as calm as possible and continue with the service. Normally, there is a medical professional or two attending Mass, and they tend to handle the situation. He said he won’t leave the altar unless he believes it is necessary.

“For me to leave the altar, that disrupts everything,” he said.

He always makes certain to get the person’s information and checks in with him or her afterward. In this situation, he called the parishioner later that day.

Medical emergencies are just one aspect of what the Mass Guides do, but this situation was a learning experience. They make sure to have an adequate number of guides at each Mass for Sunday and daily services. They know where all of the emergency equipment is located, and they keep water and juice available in case a person has low blood sugar. They also have a blanket and pillow wrapped in plastic, a padded folding chair, and a pad of paper with a pen.

“All those were things that, fortuitously, we were ready for,” Hamilton said.

One of the benefits of organizing the Mass Guides is that a new group of people is now helping out at St. Mary of the Assumption. They still have their share of older men, “but it’s nice to have not a bunch of old guys doing this,” Green said. “We have moms, we have kids, entire families. If you get those kinds of people in front of the congregation … that’s a lot more of a pleasant experience. There’s nothing wrong with old guys, but it’s nice to have families and young people and women.”

Hamilton said diversifying the group has made them more engaging. They found volunteers in various organizations within the parish, such as the Sages, which is an organization of men and women over 50 who meet for social activities, and the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

The impact of the Mass Guides on the parish is not lost on Father Dillingham and others. “We are very, very blessed to have these gentlemen and others.”