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Healing gardens inspire volunteers at Wesley Long

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- The great outdoors isn’t called great for no reason. There’s a power in being outside, breathing fresh air and taking in the sights and sounds of nature.

It all seems to bring a natural calm to people, a sense of healing. But at the very places where healing and getting well is taking place inside, getting outdoors can often be a stodgy and cold experience, even on the warmest day.

The outdoor spaces around many hospitals can leave a lot to be desired in terms of beauty and feel-good space but at many hospitals that’s changing.

At Cone Health, Wesley Long Hospital in Greensboro there’s an immaculate garden created in a space that was once just storm water runoff and piles of debris.

The protected wetland between the Cone Cancer Center and the parking deck is off limits to construction and for the last two and a half years has been a labor of love for Sally Pagliai and volunteer groups across Greensboro.

The Healing Gardens at Wesley Long has turned into a community project with very special meaning.

Pagliai is a landscape architect and spent many days at Wesley Long while her husband fought cancer. She took note of the fact that the space was sitting there, untouched.

And when her father was treated for cancer at Stanford in California she noticed how beautifully it was landscaped and used as a place for patients and families to sit and relax.

Pagliai’s husband died from his cancer but not before a vision was born.

“We came up with the idea of creating a healing garden to give this land a new breath,” Sally Pagliai said, “If the environment isn’t healthy neither are folks.”

Two and a half years, hundreds of volunteer hours and the result is spectacular.

“It’s amazing once you step down here how quiet it is. You can hear the birds chirping and you don’t think that you’re at a hospital,” Gary Mavrakis said.

That’s the point, to have a place to get away from the hospital feel, if only temporarily. That’s why Mavrakis and his co-workers from BB&T are spending their volunteer hours here.

Mavrakis first noticed the intrinsic quality in the Healing Gardens sometime around last September.

“I come every three weeks for my treatment” Mavraki said, “I’m actually going through cancer treatment right now.”

He and four others working in the garden today are fighting cancer.

“I was diagnosed with lymphoma cancer back in September. We caught it early so it was very fortunate from that.”

And even though fatigue from the chemotherapy takes its toll on him, he wouldn’t have it any other way than to be out here giving it his all since it was here when he needed it as a distraction.

“It is rewarding for me just to be out here with the team today and be able to able to participate especially seeing what the folks inside here do.”