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Michael Brandy, Deseret News
Arnold Thomas, left, gives the Rev. Dr. Raymond Lawrence an American Indian blessing during the Chaplain Graduation Ceremony at the Veterans Medical Center on Thursday.

SALT LAKE CITY — For a moment, it seemed Ron Polk had died in the hospital. But when he came back to life, he opened his eyes to find chaplain Jody Smith holding his hand.

"It helped me a lot because I was terrified," Polk said. "Because I woke up in the ICU with that thing in my mouth and I was cold, I was naked, I was in pain. And she held my hand and I felt like, 'Hey, I'm not alone.' "

As a chaplain, Smith has been trained to provide spiritual, emotional and psychological care to those in need. She had been visiting the hospital when she felt impressed to enter Polk's room, sit down and hold his hand. Moments before, Polk had nearly died on the operating table.

"I felt called and moved by (a spiritual feeling) to hold his hand," Smith said. "I prayed with him and got to know him, and we've had many visits after that time."

On Thursday the George E. Wahlen Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center held a graduation ceremony for 18 new chaplains.

"(The program) is wonderful," said Rebecca Loper, who is currently in training to become a chaplain. "It's full of happiness and sorrow and everything in between. It's just amazing."

People from all different faiths and professions go through the one-year training program at the medical center, although most will not go on to serve as military chaplains.

"It is an amazing journey," Smith said. "It will bring you both closer to God as well as help you develop awareness of what our veterans have done for us, and the journey our patients go through, and recognizing that spirituality is an inherent component of that healing equation."

The chaplains who graduated Thursday will go on to their individual churches and help those who need it. They will also do a lot of work volunteering in hospitals. Like Polk, many of these patients just need a hand to hold to get them through their illness.

"It's miracles," said Denis Walter, a volunteer lay leader. "A lot of the people I visit at the hospital, they really don't have any family or friends here. Just sit down with them, and that's what it's about."

e-mail: ebassett@desnews.com