Volunteer Profile - Rusty Knorr

Retired Coweta schools administrator calls his volunteer service "a perfect fit."

Rusty Knorr

As an Auxiliary volunteer, former Coweta County Schools administrator Rusty Knorr connects with patients who come through the doors of Piedmont Newnan Hospital on a level many cannot. The two-time retired career educator is a survivor of both cancer and cardiac scares that nearly cost him his life -- twice.

"I've been very blessed to have survived two very serious issues," Knorr said.

Knorr has been in remission from a rare form of cancer for almost 20 years. After eight months of suffering from symptoms that left him baffled, doctors diagnosed him with hairy cell leukemia. This slow-growing cancer of the blood caused his bone marrow to produce too many B cells (lymphocytes), a type of white blood cell that fights infection.

"Obviously, my blood counts bottomed out. Fortunately, they have a synthetic drug that was developed about 25 years ago that worked and, after two rounds of week-long chemotherapy, I was 100 percent in remission," he explained.

Knorr has since undergone a few bone marrow procedures to make sure he’s still in remission and has periodic tests for signs of abnormal blood counts.

 A little over five years ago, Knorr faced another life-threatening health scare while attending his niece's birthday celebration in Alabama. When he started feeling symptoms after lunch, he thought it was merely a very bad case of indigestion.

"It was hurting so bad it was burning," Knorr said, adding that his arms suddenly became weak. "It wasn't like you see on TV -- a shooting pain going up your arm. It was like I'd been doing manual labor. My arms were so tired, I could barely lift them."

Knorr was in the midst of a massive heart attack, so his wife rushed him to the nearest emergency room, where he underwent bypass surgeries to repair five blockages; two at 90 percent and three others that were between 75 percent and 80 percent.

In addition to those procedures, Knorr has undergone surgery to repair three ACL tears, as well as knee and hip replacements. "I'm getting new parts, slowly but surely," he said.

Before he became a volunteer at Piedmont Newnan Hospital, Knorr worked for 33 years as an educator in Troy, Opelika & Eufaula, Alabama: the first five as a teacher, the next 10 as an assistant principal and principal, and the final 18 as a central office administrator where he eventually served as Assistant Superintendent and Interim Superintendent. He retired in May 2003.

But that retirement didn't last long; Knorr had been looking for a new position somewhere in Georgia. His only familiarity with Newnan was exit 47 on I-85 -- a favorite place to stop during road trips from Auburn to Atlanta. He looked online, found a position that fit his skillset, applied and got the job as Director of Operations for Coweta County Schools. He eventually took on the role as Director of ESOL and Gifted Education at the central office. After working for the local school system for a decade, he retired again in 2013.

"I enjoyed my 10 years there but it was time. I'm retirement age and I got out of the way and made room for some younger folks to move up the ladder," he said, adding that he still misses the people he worked with at the school system.

His second retirement behind him, Knorr stayed close to home for about six months before deciding that he needed something to do. That's when he heard about the Auxiliary volunteer program at Piedmont Newnan Hospital.

“I’m a real OCD guy and I need a routine, so I volunteer Monday, Wednesday and Friday," said Knorr. He works at the Piedmont Newnan Fitness Center in downtown Newnan on Mondays and at the front desk of Piedmont Newnan Hospital on Wednesdays and Fridays.

“I feel like I’m a cross between a Wal-Mart greeter and a hotel concierge,” he joked. “We feel like we provide a service and help people, and you get to see everyone who comes in and out of the hospital. We’re sort of the face of the hospital. People come in and some things they are facing are negative and you want to put a smile on their face if you can."

As a former patient and educator, Knorr calls his volunteer service the "perfect fit for him."

"I don't have any experience in the healthcare field other than being a patient multiple times, but I think that gives me a different perspective too,” he said. “I try to be sensitive to the needs of patients and visitors to our hospital. Oftentimes, the sharing of a personal hospital experience is common ground for discussion and may offer some comfort.”

Knorr has been married for 43 years to a fellow retired educator. They have two children -- one of whom followed in her parents’ footsteps and became a teacher. They also have two grandchildren.

Find out more about volunteer opportunities at Piedmont Newnan Hospital by calling 770-400-2380 or visiting Piedmont Newnan.