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RPA hospital assistant Azra Imsirovic’s simple actions bring comfort to a patient and his family

A hug leads to a lasting friendship

June 2019

RPA hospital assistant Azra Imsirovic’s simple actions bring comfort to a patient and his family

RPA hospital assistant Azra Imsirovic’s simple actions bring comfort to a patient and his family

It was a simple act.

“I saw Barbara just there by herself. I thought ‘She looks so vulnerable.’ You could see that she was very tired. Exhausted.

“It was just pure instinct. I said ‘You look like you need a hug.’ And then she said ‘Yes.’” explained hospital assistant Azra Imsirovic.

That’s how Azra first met Barbara and Alan Crawford.

Alan had been diagnosed with chronic heart failure and had just told his wife his doctors had given him between three and six months to live.

“I started to cry… and I ran out of the room. And, out in the corridor was Azra,” recalled Barbara.

“She put her arms around me and let me cry. She rubbed my back and she went off and got me a bottle of water. 

“And, we talked a little bit. I told her what Alan had told me. And, then I went back into the room again. That’s the story of how we met,” she said.

From that first chance meeting in April 2018, an enduring friendship has developed between the couple and Azra, who cleans patients’ rooms at RPA.

During months that followed, Alan, a renowned Australian craftsman who’s designed many well-known Sydney monuments, including the Diggers on the Anzac Bridge, was admitted to RPA’s Coronary Care Ward multiple times.

“I’ve spent a lot of time at RPA. I came in here… unconscious and was brought back by the defibrillator. I was diagnosed with chronic heart failure and was in and out nine times,” said Alan.

When he was in hospital, the couple looked forward to Azra coming to clean his room.

“I would always hope that it would be Azra on duty. She was here to work, of course, and she did a very good job. We’d chat… she was always smiling, happy and she had a lot of empathy,” Alan said.

Barbara agrees.

“She just became our favourite person. It was like having a member of the family there.

“She’d come up to the room and we would have a nice chat each time. We talked about our family and found out a little bit about her background… that she lives at North St Marys and that she’d get up at four o’clock in the morning to get public transport to work.

“She just was warm and welcoming and she cared about us. She became special to us.

“For me, it wasn’t just a hug. It was the beginning of a deep fondness for another human being,” Barbara said.

Azra approaches each day with the comfort of RPA’s patients top of mind.

“We work for the patient. That’s our main goal. So, no matter if you’re a nurse or a doctor or a ward assistant that’s what we all play a part. Yes, my part is very small but I have to be a part of the cycle,” she said.

“I want the patient to feel that they can accept me walking in to their room for 20 minutes [to clean]. The only way to get my work done is to connect. To say hello, to offer a hug… to give the patient a gown, or a blanket.

“At that moment, the patient is very vulnerable. They are not well. So, you want to make them feel like… ‘It’s okay. You can just be yourself. You can cry. Maybe, you just want to lie there while I mop. That’s okay, just don’t worry.’ That’s my idea.

That’s how I approach my day,” she said.

It’s important to Azra that patients aren’t solely defined by their medical condition.

“We need to look at the whole person. So, while they’re at the hospital you can remind them who they are as a whole person. Not just, ‘I have this [condition]’

“I don’t know anything about their medical condition. But, ‘[I think] who are you?’ It helps them to keep going when you see them for who they are. A whole person. That’s why I do it,” she said.

She’s emotional when asked about her friendship with Alan and Barbara.

“They are a great pair. They really love each other. You could see that and Barbara just never gave up. She was so exhausted and just constantly thinking about what do to next and never gave up.

“And that kind of spurred me on, to sort of keep working and speaking to them to show them my support,” she said.

For Sydney Local Health District’s chief executive, Dr Teresa Anderson AM, it’s a heart-warming story and one that unfolds in different wards across the District’s hospitals every day.

“It’s not only our doctors and nurses who are at the forefront of caring for our patients. Our hard-working support workers – like Azra – play a significant role too.

“These simple acts of compassion – like offering a hug in a time of need – have a lasting impact on our patients and their families during what is often a distressing time,” she said.

Alan later had a heart transplant at St Vincent’s Hospital, at Darlinghurst in inner-Sydney.

“I went from being very close to death to being able to walk. It was a combined effort between the hospitals. In the end, I got a new heart from St Vincent’s Hospital but I spent a lot of months here trying to do other things with defibrillators and medication … but it was a combined effort.

“A long journey, but a miracle,” he said.

Barbara, Alan and Azra shared their story during Sydney Local Health District’s Patient and Family Experience Symposium.

It’s a key event of the District’s Innovation Week – a series of events which brings together staff, clinicians, patients, researchers, experts and partner organisations to share ideas.

For more information, please see

Please click here to watch a video about Azra’s story.

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