Our Nurses of the Week are Kyle Cook, 53, and Carla Saunders, 51, neonatal nurse practitioners at a children’s hospital in Knoxville, TN. After decades spent caring for infants, these two nurses recognized a major problem when they had six babies in the nursery at once suffering from substance withdrawal. After looking to experts for answers on how to treat these delicate patients, they discovered that no one yet had the answers, and became the experts themselves.
It was 2010 when Cook and Saunders began to see the effects of the opioid crisis themselves. The first time they realized that they had a problem was when they had six babies suffering at once, but that number quickly began to grow. Cook, 53, tells NPR.org:
“We couldn’t fix it; we couldn’t make these babies better. Little did we know that was the tip of the iceberg. We had 10, and then 15, and then, at one point, 37 babies in the NICU that were withdrawing. We were bursting at the seams.”
Unprepared and short-staffed, they knew they needed to find a new solution because their current practice wasn’t helping the inconsolable infants they were attempting to treat. They worked at a small children’s hospital, but knew that the problem they were facing was a representation of a greater substance abuse problem happening all over the US.
When they called across the country looking for experts to advise them on how to treat these special patients, they discovered that nobody had the answers. They were left to find the answers themselves, and wound up helping to establish one of the first treatment protocols for babies exposed to opioids and a program connecting mothers with treatment and therapy options.
To learn more about Cook and Saunders’ experience treating babies suffering from opioid withdrawal, listen to the full podcast below:
Our Nurse of the Week is Carol Fowler Durham, 63, a professor at the University of North Carolina (UNC) School of Nursing who was diagnosed with sepsis in 2010. She was in the middle of a faculty meeting when she began violently shaking, but she didn’t understand what was wrong at the time. Now seven years later and fully recovered, Fuller is helping raise awareness about sepsis, the deadly condition that nearly killed her.
When Durham began to feel symptoms of sepsis, she didn’t realize that her body had launched an attack on itself. Confused by the reaction she was having, she left her meeting and drove herself home. Her condition later worsened and her husband, Stephen, drove her to the emergency room where she was placed behind a long queue of patients.
By the time Durham was seen by staff in the emergency room, she had a high fever and chills which was enough to admit her. Staff still didn’t recognize what her symptoms meant, allowing her condition to worsen overnight. After her blood pressure plummeted, her medical team finally realized that she had sepsis and was moving into septic shock, a condition with a high mortality rate.
“Sepsis occurs when a massive immune response to a bacterial infection gets into the blood,” Durham tells People.com. “The condition can quickly cause tissue damage, organ failure, or death.” According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 1.5 million people get sepsis each year in the US and about 250,000 die from it.
Durham was finally taken to the intensive care unit where she received antibiotics to stave off her raging infection. She responded to the antibiotics and began to improve but doctors were never able to determine the cause of her sepsis. Now fully recovered, Durham has a passion to get the word out about the deadly condition and make medical professionals aware of how to recognize and treat sepsis.
Durham now speaks to groups around the country teaching health care audiences, publishers, medical simulation vendors, and others to recognize sepsis and how to fight it. Quick and proper intervention are key and Durham drives that message home every chance she gets.
To learn more about Carol Fowler Durham and her experience surviving septic shock and becoming an advocate for the dangerous condition, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Joseph Bruno, 36, who was the nurse in charge of the trauma unit at University Medical Center (UMC) in Las Vegas, NV on Oct. 1 when Stephen Paddock opened fire on a concert crowd from his shooter’s perch on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel, ultimately killing 58 and injuring hundreds of others.
“I know that we did everything we could to save the men and women who came to us. I hope the families of the slain that passed in my unit can take comfort in that.”
Bruno recalls receiving a call from emergency dispatch around 10 pm informing him that there had been an active shooter on the strip and more than 20 critical patients were headed their way. He quickly mobilized the nursing and surgical staff, giving them what little information he had and warning that they would soon begin treating patients in very bad shape.
UMC’s emergency department began receiving their first wave of victims in non-emergency vehicles within 5 minutes of the dispatcher’s call. Thankfully many surgical staff were still on hand from treating earlier patients and were able to jump in and help as the shooting victims began to arrive. Patients continued to arrive until 4 AM with varying degrees of injuries. The most critical patients were rushed to operating rooms to have life-threatening abdominal injuries repaired surgically while others had tourniquets applied to control their bleeding or IV fluids and blood transfusions started.
Bruno tells the Las Vegas Review-Journal, “There were times when patients pleaded with us to help others first, that they could wait. The only time I’ve ever seen that happen before is in the case of a husband and wife or parents with children after a car accident. But these were people with horrific injuries telling us they could wait in line for treatment so complete strangers could have surgery first.”
The pain and sorrow of treating the victims that night is still ongoing for Bruno, but he emphasized that one message be delivered loud and clear: “I know that we did everything we could to save the men and women who came to us. I hope the families of the slain that passed in my unit can take comfort in that.”
To learn more about Joseph Bruno and his courageous acts as the nurse in charge of the trauma department at UMC in Las Vegas on the night of the worst mass shooting in modern US history, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is 24-year-old Montana Brown, a two-time childhood cancer survivor who recently began working as a nurse at the same hospital where she was treated. After being diagnosed with rhabdomyosarcoma at two years old, a rare type of childhood cancer of the connective tissue, Brown underwent a year of chemotherapy at the AFLAC Cancer Center in Atlanta, GA. Now she is working there as a staff nurse.
Brown’s parents encouraged her to have a normal life. After actively competing in gymnastics and cheerleading for years, Brown found out she had cancer again at 15 years old. She tells ABCNews.Go.com:
“I had just tried out for my high school cheerleading team. I actually ran a mile while I had cancer and had no idea…There weren’t symptoms but my mom and dad could tell that something was different about me and they knew that something was a little off.”
After being diagnosed for the second time, Brown went to the AFLAC Cancer Center every week for chemotherapy and radiation treatments. She also learned that she would have to stop gymnastics and cheerleading. However, the experience allowed her to realize a new calling. Brown decided that she wanted to become a nurse.
“The nurses here, as great as they were when I was 2 – from what my mom says – they were extremely loving and caring and compassionate. And, just the love they showed me and my family in our time of need just really helped me. It helped me want to become as kind and as caring and as compassionate as they were for me,” Brown recalled in an interview with ABCNews.Go.com.
After her encounters as a toddler battling cancer, and later as a high school student, pushed Brown to pursue a career in nursing, she went to nursing school specifically wanting to work in pediatric oncology. Now she is working as a nurse at the AFLAC Cancer Center where her dreams have come full circle. She hopes to be a source of hope and inspiration for children battling cancer in the same place where she became a survivor.
To learn more about Montana Brown and her decision to pursue a career in nursing after becoming a two-time childhood cancer survivor, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Chenai Mathabire, a 35-year-old Zimbabwean nurse and epidemiologist who received an International AIDS Society prize for showing that a faster tuberculosis test could be implemented in health centers throughout southeast Africa. Her work is expected to help save the lives of HIV-positive patients who contract tuberculosis.
Mathabire is the first nurse in her family, a career which has exposed her to dire health crises in Africa. After applying for a job at Doctors Without Borders, Mathabire helped diagnose malnourished children with HIV, tuberculosis, pneumonia, and malaria in Zimbabwe. She also supervised workers who were teaching HIV-positive pregnant women how to protect their children from the virus.
Mathabire emphases the importance of nursing educators, telling NPR.org, “Nursing is often looked down upon and people just think you are there to be the maid of the doctor or do the dirty work. But teachers made me realize that nurses have a big role to play.”
In 2015, Mathabire was recruited for her first research assignment at Doctors Without Borders, work that eventually won her the International AIDS Society prize according to NPR.org. She knew tuberculosis was the number one killer of HIV-positive patients, but she didn’t know that a rapid tuberculosis test existed until she read the study protocol. For two years, Mathabire and her team explored how health clinics and hospitals could implement the tuberculosis test for HIV patients who are more susceptible to the life-threatening infection. With a rapid tuberculosis test, sick patients could begin treatment the same day, often in less than an hour.
Mathabire still works for Doctors Without Borders and is considering furthering her research on HIV and tuberculosis. To learn more about Mathabire and her dedication to nursing research, visit here.
Faye Lewis has overcome many challenges to achieve her dream career in nursing. Single motherhood, deaths in the family, and working multiple jobs have made her journey harder but not impossible for Faye who graduated with her BSN degree last year and recently began a doctorate in nursing program through the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing as part of her long-term goal to become a nurse practitioner.
On September 6, Lewis posted a photo to Facebook showing all of the nametags and work IDs she has proudly worn throughout her journey to a successful nursing career while working jobs to support herself and her son, AJ. The post quickly went viral, inspiring more than 100,000 shares and 4,000 comments of encouragement from across the country, almost all of them from strangers.
Lewis, 27, is currently a registered nurse (RN) working full-time on the intermediate-care unit at Memorial Medical Center. She is the youngest child of four in a working-class family from Springfield, IL. Her journey started over 10 years ago when she got her first job as a KFC crew member at 16 years old. She has also held positions as a housekeeper at an assisted-living center, nursing assistant, licensed practical nurse, and now registered nurse.
Lewis says she initially posted the photo of her job badges to help encourage herself. She tells the State Journal-Register, “I was having a rough day. It was the second week of grad school. So the response that the post received was very shocking to me.” Looking at all that she overcome gives her the motivation to keep going. Lewis has faced many challenges along the way from becoming a single parent at age 20 to the loss of her father and three other family members in a house fire in 2013.
Through it all, she remembers her lifelong dream to become a nurse and continues to find a way to pursue that passion. After beginning her career as a CNA, Lewis worked her way up through an LPN program, associate’s degree in nursing, and finally her bachelor’s degree in nursing which she completed in 2016 through Benedictine University.
Lewis admits it hasn’t been easy to be an employee, student, and mother at the same time, but she has had much-needed help throughout her journey from family and colleagues. Cathy Steckel, director of nursing operations at Memorial Medical Center, tells SJ-R.com, “Her story certainly speaks to the passion she has for nursing. She’s an integral part of a great nursing team at Memorial.”
Now on a path to becoming a nurse practitioner, Lewis is on track to finish her doctorate degree in nursing in 2021. To learn more about Faye Lewis and her inspiring career journey, visit here.