Baby doll

Uniontown hospice worker inspires doll donations for dementia patients

There’s something about cradling a tiny baby in your arms.

It is comforting. It’s calming. It’s natural.

The feeling of seeing those innocent sparkling eyes and that pretty round face staring at you is priceless.

Hospice worker Amanda DeGusipe of Uniontown set out to reawaken that memory for women with dementia living in nursing homes, personal care facilities and assisted living facilities in western Pennsylvania.

Clinical liaison with Gateway Hospice based in Washington, Pennsylvania, with an office in Pittsburgh, she began the MaryBelle Baby Doll Project in May, where people can donate new dolls.

Courtesy of Amanda DeGusipe

Amanda DeGusipe (right), of Uniontown, is a clinical liaison with Gateway Hospice based in Washington, Pennsylvania, with an office in Pittsburgh. She founded the MaryBelle Baby Doll Project in honor of her late grandmother, MaryBelle Smith. People donate dolls for dementia patients.

She distributes them to residents with dementia and others who could benefit from doll therapy. During the coronavirus pandemic, the elderly in these places feel so isolated because they haven’t been able to see their loved ones.

“Seeing the severity of the isolation caused by this pandemic, the daily routine and any sense of normalcy has been taken away from many patients, upsetting everyone in them,” DeGusipe said. “That’s what inspired me to do the MaryBelle Baby Doll project. We wanted to leave patients with something tangible, something that would give them a sense of purpose and security.

The idea came from the memory of his grandmother, MaryBelle Smith of Point Marion, Pennsylvania. She died in 1998 of dementia. She felt a sense of calm holding her great-grandchildren, including DeGusipe’s son, Johnathan, and later a doll.

“When she held those babies, her whole demeanor changed,” DeGusipe said.

The goal was to collect 200 dolls. It reached 170 in the first few weeks and delivered most of them to 23 establishments. She is also ready to take a baby to someone’s house.

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Courtesy of Amanda DeGusipe

Amanda DeGusipe (right), of Uniontown, is a clinical liaison with Gateway Hospice based in Washington, Pennsylvania, with an office in Pittsburgh. She founded the MaryBelle Baby Doll Project in honor of her late grandmother, MaryBelle Smith. People donate dolls for dementia patients.

DeGusipe does not stop. Some people have donated twin dolls to these mothers of multiples.

She also collects men’s blankets and stuffed animals.

“Seeing these patients with these babies makes me cry,” DeGusipe said. “You can just feel the love they have not only for the dolls, but thinking back to when they were mothers.”

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Courtesy of Amanda DeGusipe

The MaryBelle Baby Doll Project donates dolls to dementia patients in nursing homes, personal care facilities and assisted living facilities. It was founded by Amanda DeGusipe, of Uniontown, a clinical liaison with Gateway Hospice based in Washington, Pennsylvania. She delivered dolls to Strabane Woods, Hawthorne Woods and McMurray Hills Manor facilities this week.

Doll therapy can improve comfort engagement and quality of life for patients with dementia, DeGusipe said.

DeGusipe became a hospice nurse after the loss of both her parents.

“Hospice is my passion,” she said. “It’s a huge benefit for patients and families.”

It is by offering palliative care that it has teamed up with partners McMurray Hills Manorin Peters, and Zechariah Browna senior law and estate planning firm in McMurray with locations in Pittsburgh and Florida.

McMurray Hills Manor Director of Nursing, Magan Craig, said the day they shared the information on Facebook, people called, “How can I bring in a baby?”

“At first I was like, ‘What are they asking for?’ and then I got it,” Craig said. “Just seeing the looks on the faces of the residents when they receive the babies is so much more touching than we could have ever imagined. They hug them. They love them and they give them names.

People brought dolls to Craig’s.

“My husband will be like, ‘I think there’s another baby on the porch. ‘” she said.

Even residents who don’t have dementia love the dolls, Craig said.

When Christine Brown Murphy heard about the project, she immediately got on board. She is a partner and associate with the regional seniors law firm Zacharia Brown. The company donated dolls and money.

“It’s a great cause,” Murphy said. “Amanda has a heart of gold. She knows what the residents need, and taking care of these people is so important, especially during the pandemic. Times are so hard for them. Living with dementia, it is difficult for them to understand everything that is going on. There is no better time than the present to help the most vulnerable in our society. We need to find ways to comfort them.

JoAnne Klimovich Harrop is editor of Tribune-Review. You can contact JoAnne at 724-853-5062, [email protected] or via Twitter .