During a shift one day in 2018, Dzialo had a Eureka moment when items a nurse anesthetist customarily disposes of after use caught her eye. The drug vial caps she’d been tossing without a thought covered the color spectrum. The caps in the bin ran the gamut from deep, jewel-like blues and purples, to intense reds and yellows… and, wasn’t there something potentially beautiful there? From that day forward the CRNA stopped throwing out those bright plastic caps and instead began pouring them into a unique and meaningful home-based recycling project.
A colleague at Ascension Providence Rochester Hospital, pre-op RN Cheryl Dassow-Chapman, suggested she create a mosaic version of a Monet painting, “but when COVID came and changed the world, it also changed my design plan.”
Dzialo spent hours upon hours in her basement workspace, ultimately piecing together more than 6,000 caps of nearly 400 different colors, sizes, shapes and textures. Using IV tubing and needle covers along with the caps, she created “COVID Time CAPSule,” representing infected cells, blood cells and antibodies. (And if there is Hall of Fame recognition for great puns, she should definitely be a nominee).
“Viruses are smaller than a grain of salt but have an astounding impact on us all — on our health, mental wellness, work, travel, and community and family relationships,” Dzialo said. “The caps shown here, with different colors, shapes, sizes, finishes and all their different potential combinations, make this work as unique as we are.”
The 8- by 4-foot project earned a coveted spot on display at the downtown JW Marriott hotel during last fall’s ArtPrize, an international art competition held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, since 2009. ArtPrize celebrates artists working in all mediums from anywhere in the world and is open to anyone with artwork to enter and a venue willing to host it.
For three weeks each autumn, art is exhibited throughout the city in parks and museums, in hotels and storefronts, in bars and on bridges, and even in the river that runs through town. Visitors from around the world gather to view the art, engage in meaningful discussions, and vote for their favorite entries, with cash prizes and grants awarded to select artists in the end.
“While displaying this piece at ArtPrize for 21 days, I found that people were really attracted to it,” said Dzialo, who maintains a website to promote her art. “Especially those who had gotten infected or lost a loved one to COVID, and of course all of those with medical backgrounds.”
During conversations about the creative project with ArtPrize attendees, Dzialo was quick to share credit with her support team.
“Health care professionals have been on the front lines during this pandemic, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how many nurses, assistants, techs and pharmacists at work helped by saving me caps. Everyone from pre-op to recovery pitched in to get me a certain color I was low on, or a special size and shape I needed more of,” Dzialo said. “Heidi Beverly would save me caps from her other CRNA jobs where they had different manufacturers and suppliers. For two years, our wonderful scrub techs saved any caps I had left behind in operating rooms and made sure I got them! And then my 16-year-old daughter Stephanie sorted everything I brought home by color, shape and size. I’m grateful for the combined support.”
While she happily accepts contributions from clinicians with access to particularly aesthetic vial caps, Dzialo also wants to give back. She hopes to eventually sell her artwork and fund a scholarship at her alma mater, Wayne State University, with the proceeds. To see more of her work, visit the gallery at the top of her personal webpage.
Christopher LaCroix has held many jobs and is a man of many talents — but as he graduates from the Wayne State University College of Nursing this month, he’s confident that he’s found his calling. (And, to be honest, he is more likely to specialize in ENT than work in an OR, but some puns are hard to resist).
LaCroix, who entered the WSU BSN second-career program in May 2020, calls his future as a nurse a kind of “fourth act,” following previous paths on stage, and in hospitality and philanthropy. During the program, he gained experience in myriad nursing disciplines but found himself most drawn to pediatric and pulmonary medicines. As he approaches graduation, LaCroix is considering several career opportunities, and looks forward to bringing empathy and compassion with him in his future role.
“It’s important to me that I’m not seeing just a number in a hospital bed, but a person — someone with hopes and fears, someone who loves and is loved,” he said. “It’s about looking at and caring for that whole person.”
That same holistic approach is part of what drew LaCroix to Wayne State when he decided to pursue a nursing degree during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The program is highly respected in the industry, and I knew that with a WSU nursing degree I would have my choice of jobs,” he said. “And Wayne State had a nursing program that looked at me as a whole person, not just a set of test scores and academic statistics. They considered how my experiences would help make me a great nurse.”
Originally from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, LaCroix attended Alma College, graduating with a bachelor of music in vocal performance. He then moved to New York City, earning a master’s in music theatre and vocal pedagogy from New York University. Shortly thereafter, he landed a role in the North American touring production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
After a year “on the road,” LaCroix quickly grew weary of the audition process in NYC. He then spent years pursuing a career in hospitality before, ultimately, deciding to return home to Michigan. Here, he accepted a position in philanthropy at his alma mater, Alma College.
“In New York, it’s easy to get lost in the shuffle. I felt like the work I was doing wasn’t really adding to society, and I knew I was ready to come home,” he said. “Working in philanthropy was a change of pace, but I didn’t feel like I was at my best, and while the work was fulfilling, I just didn’t see my future in it.”
LaCroix described the idea to pursue nursing as initially goofy, but quickly came to realize that it made perfect sense.
“A friend of mine from the Joseph tour had pursued nursing as a second career and absolutely loved it,” he said. “The more I thought about it, the more I came to realize nursing was this perfect amalgamation of my head and heart. I could have a solid, respected career while utilizing my empathy and desire to connect with people — giving back in a meaningful way.”
His realization was affirmed throughout the coursework, but LaCroix cites his immersion class at Children’s Hospital as formative.
“Being able to see a patient every day and watch them make progress puts it all into perspective,” he said. “Knowing you’re making an impact on someone’s life — and the lives of their loved ones — that’s what it’s all about.”
Completing the program in a largely virtual environment presented a unique set of challenges for LaCroix, but he leaned on family and friends for support. He cites the strength and support of his partner of six years, who had earned a Ph.D. around the same time LaCroix started the BSN program, and his mother, who helped him complete a fetal pig dissection as part of an Anatomy & Physiology course. Additionally, LaCroix said he drew support from his peers and professors, especially Dr. Stephen Smolenski and Dr. Jacqueline Moody.
“Our cohort is a class that’s able to roll with whatever might come our way. My fellow students are rock stars — I look at some of them who have managed to complete the program while holding down multiple jobs, raising families… I’m in awe,” LaCroix said. “Our faculty have had to go through so much too, adapting to the pandemic, but they never lowered the bar for us.”
While LaCroix might eventually focus on ear, nose and throat (ENT) specialty care, which would align closely to his experience and background with vocal performance, for now he’s eager to be spending even more time working with patients.
“I could not be more ready or more excited to get out in the field and help people,” he said. “And that drive is something that makes me think this is going to be one heck of a fourth act.”
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