July 20, 2017

After 34 years as a hospital volunteer, retired GP Di McAlpine has it all sewn up.

The 84-year-old Lane Cove grandmother is one of a tireless army of 500 volunteers who help keep Royal North Shore Hospital ticking over – but she's the longest-serving regular to sew pressure garments for burns patients.


Mrs McAlpine started volunteering as a spritely 50-year-old ("I was the baby of the group – the oldest was 86") as a way to repay Royal North Shore for its care to her family over the years.

After stints in the sterile services department, and a time sewing clothes and toys and bags to be sold in the Pink Ladies' shop, Mrs McAlpine started sewing pressure garments in the Burns Unit in 2011.

The Burns Unit is a statewide service where around 1000 patients (including outpatients) are treated each year.

Once a fortnight Mrs McAlpine takes her place at her sewing machine in the Burns Unit and spends the day adjusting some pressure garments to make them more comfortable, and making many from scratch.

"I'm not fast but I enjoy the work and it's a very nice department," Mrs McAlpine said.

"I love the work because I am helping people. Some burns are pretty gruesome and it's very nice when patients tell me I have made them more comfortable.

"It's rewarding to help people who have suffered such severe trauma."

With her next birthday looming, Mrs McAlpine isn't sure how long she can keep sewing in the Burns Unit, and more volunteers are needed.

Royal North Shore volunteer co-ordinator Anna Bosch said the hospital volunteers did an amazing job helping patients and staff and extra were always welcome.

"We have 60 volunteer programs and our volunteers do a huge range of work – they greet and guide patients, they help them with meals, they provide transport for cardiac rehabilitation and cancer patients, they raise vital funds, and they even help with research," Ms Bosch said.

"All interests and skills can be accommodated and our volunteers find it very rewarding."

Potential volunteers should call 9462 9935 or email NSLHD-Volunteers@health.nsw.gov.au for further information.