Richard Karns laughs with a woman as he volunteers at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City.
Richard Karns, a retired hospital leader, now volunteers his time at the Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center in Reed City. He considers it a privilege to serve others. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

With a career spanning 50 years—including stints as a nurse’s aid, a medic in the Vietnam War, and roles as a nurse, supervisor and director of skilled nurses—it would be easy to walk away from medicine.

Richard Karns signed up for more.

“It may sound corny, but I’ve always felt my life has to mean something,” Karns said. “It’s a privilege being able to serve others.”

Looking back over his career in Reed City, Karns takes a patient-centered approach: “Nursing is more than handling people. It’s understanding what they need, emotionally.”

This insight comes from personal experience. Years ago, when battling sick sinus syndrome, Karns fell into cardiac arrest.

The team at Spectrum Health Reed City Hospital was able to stabilize his heart and he made a full recovery. What stood out to Karns was the nurse waiting there for him when he woke up.

“The person I remember most was the one wiping the tears out of my face,” he said.

These days Karns writes articles for the local newspaper and actively serves on the Area Agency on Aging, which serves 186,000 residents throughout West Michigan.

As Karns is fond of saying: “Today is another glorious day to serve.”

In that spirit, Karns volunteers with the Spectrum Health Susan P. Wheatlake Regional Cancer Center as well as the Foundation Board of Directors for Spectrum Health Big Rapids and Reed City Hospitals.

He is convinced the possibilities for patient care are even greater now that the two hospitals are working together so closely.

Much like Richard’s career, it’s a new chapter in caring for our communities.