A ‘Most Delaware’ Reunion, Made Possible by the Thank You Project

When a car accident on a busy North Wilmington road trapped Janet Belles inside her burning car last fall, ChristianaCare nurse Mark Maitland, RN, rushed out of his own vehicle and helped pull Belles to safety.

At the time, neither expected their chance encounter would bring them together again – or that they would bring to life the popular perception that everyone in tiny Delaware knows each other.

Janet Belles and Mark Maitland forged a special bond as a result of her car accident in September 2023.

But through the Thank You Project – a program of ChristianaCare’s Center for WorkLife Wellbeing and Patient Experience that reunites patients with their caregivers and care teams to express gratitude – Maitland and Belles rediscovered their own personal connections, bonding both families and celebrating a shared love of nursing.

“Mark and Janet’s connection might be the most ‘Delaware’ Thank You Project we’ve ever done,” said Katie Godfrey, Ph.D., director of the Center for WorkLife Wellbeing.

“It’s amazing to witness these moments happening in this small state where it seems everyone’s connected. It’s just incredibly heartwarming.”

Spinning like a top

The accident on Sept. 8, 2023, sent Belles’ car spinning like a top across Foulk Road. When she finally stopped moving, Belles realized she was seriously injured – and unable to get out of her car.

That’s when she saw the flames.

“I clearly recall thinking that my life was over,” Belles said.

Janet Belles returned to Christiana Hospital as a participant in the Thank You Project, which brings together patients and their caregivers to express gratitude for their care.

Just a few hundred feet away, Maitland, and his wife Jennifer were stopped at a red light after picking up their son early from daycare. They saw Belles’ car careen through the roadway, followed by a trail of debris.

While his wife dialed 911 on her cell phone, Mark Maitland jumped out of the car and raced over to Belles’ vehicle. He and another bystander wrestled with the airbags to reach Belles.

When she told them she couldn’t put pressure on one of her legs, the two men carried her by the shoulders to the curb.

As paramedics arrived and more people stopped to help, the Maitlands quietly headed home with their son.

“I did say on that day when it happened that I work at Christiana Hospital and maybe I’ll put in her IV, but I didn’t honestly think that would happen,” said Maitland, who works as a vascular access nurse assisting with IV insertions. “I figured I wouldn’t ever see this person again.”

‘I pulled you out’

When he returned to work the next week, Maitland had forgotten much of the excitement from the accident, focused instead on helping a colleague who was training with him and learning how to place IVs.

Hoping to get his colleague some practice opportunities, Maitland sent a note out to nursing caregivers at Christiana Hospital, asking if any units needed assistance with getting IVs placed. A caregiver on 2C asked for help with a patient who had a broken arm and leg and needed her IV reinserted.

Janet Belles and Mark Maitland discovered they have even more of a connection than they expected.

When Maitland walked into Belles’ hospital room, neither recognized the other. As he inserted the IV, Maitland asked Belles about her injuries. She told him she was in a motor vehicle accident and her car caught on fire. A stranger pulled her to safety.

Maitland felt his stomach drop as if he was barreling down a roller coaster. He jumped up and exclaimed: “I pulled you out of that fire!”

“You’re the finest example of bravery I have ever met,” Janet Belles told Mark Maitland.

For Belles, there was only one explanation for the unexpected reunion – divine intervention.

“I still get chills thinking about this moment,” Belles said. “I could not believe that standing in my hospital room was my hero.”

‘Goosebumps for everyone’

After she was discharged from the hospital, Belles had a friend send an email to ChristianaCare’s Patient Relations team to express appreciation for her care in the hospital and for Maitland’s selflessness.

To make a recommendation for a Thank You Project, call Patient Experience at 302-733-1379.

“The entire Patient Relations team was at the computer reading that letter. We were so excited to hear the story – it was goosebumps for everyone,” said Kaitlin Kunkel, senior patient relations representative. “Seeing that email was heartwarming. It was something that made us excited to call the nurse manager and share.”

Bringing Belles, her family and her care team together for the Thank You Project uncovered even more threads connecting them.

During the Thank You Project reunion, families learned of their double connection – not only did Mark Maitland, left, and Heather Belles, second left, attend Caravel Academy together, so did their mothers – Janet Belles, right, and Susan Maitland, far right.

Although he hadn’t known Belles before, Maitland realized he knew her children, Chad and Heather: He had gone to school with them at Caravel Academy in Glasgow, Delaware.

As Belles walked in for the Thank You Project, she and Maitland’s mother, Susan, realized they also knew each other – they attended elementary and high school together in a class of 36 students in Dover, Delaware.

Susan Maitland, left, didn’t realize she would be reconnecting with her former classmate Janet Belles, right, when she came for the Thank You Project event celebrating her son, Mark, a nurse.

“I’m so thankful for being here and meeting my friend again,’” said Susan Maitland, who attended the event to show pride for her son’s bravery. “When they said ‘Janet,’ I couldn’t believe this was someone I already knew.”

Chaplain Sheryl Allston, who joined the reunion, described the experiences connecting the two families as “divine synchronicity.”

Chaplain Sheryl Allston suggested ‘divine synchronicity’ played a role in the latest Thank You Project.

“So many times, we have beautiful opportunities to form a connection but we miss them because we’re too busy or we’re not paying attention. The accident was a terrible thing to happen, but what came after it is really incredible because of what you both shared. What if you didn’t ask her about her injuries when you saw her here in the hospital? This never would have blossomed in this beautiful story,” Allston said.

“Now, you’re all connected. I believe you are going to be sharing stories for a long time.”

Thank You Project fills the cup

ChristianaCare celebrated its first Thank You Project in 2017 and has coordinated nearly a dozen patient-caregiver reunions since. Each one has left a mark on those involved.

“When we work in health care, we don’t always get to see the real impact that we have on a patient’s life. We just see them for a small glimpse of time that they were in our care,” Godfrey said.

There were plenty of smiles – and a few tears of gratitude – at the most recent Thank You Project visit. There have been nearly a dozen reunions since the Thank You Project began.

“The Thank You Project is a really great opportunity to fill our cups as caregivers and reconnect with the reason why we got into health care in the first place,”

Having spent her career in nursing and being married to a nurse, Belles, too, knows the challenges and demands of health care – which is why she’s all the more grateful for Maitland’s willingness to jump in and help after the accident. Those actions were an early glimpse of the trustworthy, selfless and compassionate care she would receive from caregivers during her stay at ChristianaCare.

“You’re the finest example of bravery I have ever met. And certainly, you have exemplified the core values of the nursing profession,” Belles said.

To make a recommendation for a Thank You Project, contact Patient Experience at 302-733-1379.