This is Nephrology Nurses Week, and our latest Nurse of the Week is RN Sandy Nichols, who treats acute dialysis patients in hospitals in Albuquerque. When there was a call for nurses willing to volunteer in COVID hotspots, Sandy stepped forward and flew out to Chicago. The need for nephrology nurses was urgent: AKI is a complication that affects about 15% of all hospitalized coronavirus patients—even those with no previous history of kidney problems—and 20% of the COVID patients in ICU suffer from kidney failure.
After parting from her husband and 20-year old daughter in New Mexico, for nearly a month Sandy devoted 12-18 hours a day to caring for Chicago’s COVID patients—and she says she’s ready to go back if she’s needed. Sandy told DailyNurse about her background as a nephrology nurse and shared her reflections on the pandemic and her frontline experience.
DailyNurse: How long have you been a nephrology nurse, and how did you decide on this field?
Sandy Nichols: “I have been a nephrology nurse for eight and a half years and have worked in every form of renal replacement therapy available except for kidney transplantation. I first learned about nephrology nursing during my third semester of nursing school when I was one of two nursing students chosen to go for a week of clinicals in a chronic hemodialysis clinic. I hadn’t decided on the field of nursing I wanted to go into yet so I went in with an open mind. From that first day, I was fascinated by the mechanics of the dialysis machines, the concepts of renal replacement therapies, the dedication and involvement in the patients’ health, and the knowledge that I could be giving my patients life because of the care I was providing with every treatment.”
DN: What were your first thoughts about COVID—and what are your current views on the pandemic?
SN: “When I first heard about COVID-19, I thought, “Wow! That is going to spread quickly through China because of the sheer number of people living so close together there.” I could’ve never imagined what we’ve now seen here. This pandemic has impacted every human being in some way.
“I needed to do this. I felt like it was my calling because both our patients and my colleagues in those cities needed help.”
When Fresenius Kidney Care asked for nurses to volunteer in hospitals because of the rise in acute kidney injury caused by COVID-19, I just knew I needed to do this. I felt like it was my calling because both our patients and my colleagues in those cities needed help. Having seen the effects of this virus firsthand, and helping patients fighting it, the most important message I share with people is to take this seriously. Help us slow the spread of COVID-19 by social distancing, wearing masks, and washing your hands.”
DN: What prompted you to start working on the front lines?
SN: “When I started to hear about all of the different places being hit so hard by COVID-19 and the nursing shortages, I knew I wanted to help in some way. I always had the desire to volunteer when natural disasters would happen but I was never in a position to do so, until now. As soon as Fresenius put out the call for volunteers, I signed up. I knew that I was drawn into nursing to help people and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that then to go and give my fellow nurses support when they so desperately needed it.”
DN: What were the most striking aspects of your experience?
SN: “Going into Chicago, which was known as a hot zone at the time, I was anticipating staffing and supply shortages, long grueling hours, and constant chaos. What was most striking in my time there was the camaraderie that I witnessed and felt every day. The staff was exhausted and overwhelmed working 18 to 24-hour shifts to maintain patient care, but they were all so supportive and helpful of each other. It was so obvious that they were all bound together as one big family. They welcomed me in as one of their own and even invited me to one of their rare potlucks.”
“The staff was exhausted and overwhelmed working 18 to 24-hour shifts to maintain patient care, but they were all so supportive and helpful of each other.”
“I got to see success stories of patients with COVID-19 who survived being on a ventilator and walk out of the hospital. They would announce a “Code Joy” over the intercom and everyone would stop and cheer. I also saw devastating outcomes that broke my heart. Going through those experiences, which I will never forget, gave me a whole new perspective and I truly believe it made me a better person and a better nurse.”
DN: What are you doing now?
SN: “I am currently working in an acute setting at Fresenius Kidney Care in Albuquerque, NM. The camaraderie that I experienced in Chicago has followed me back to Albuquerque because my coworkers are closer to me than ever before. We are there together, going through the same thing, every workday. I am so thankful for my career and the knowledge I continue to gain every day. I wouldn’t be the nurse I am today without the support of my work family and my home family as well as my community in New Mexico and my company, Fresenius Kidney Care.”
Every nine minutes, a life is lost to blood cancer, so Nurse of the Week Heidi Gould didn’t take it lightly when she received a request for another special blood donation. Gould was busy treating COVID patients in the ICU at Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Illinois, but she readily made time to help.
In 2018, Heidi had donated peripheral blood stem cells after being matched with a 72-year-old patient with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. “If that was your family member,” she says, “you would want someone out there to be a match for them.” This April, his cancer returned, and doctors needed more blood from their patient’s matching donor. Gould had nearly reached her maximum limit for donations, but happily, she still had enough blood to spare. This time, she said, “I went and donated just my white blood cells”.
When she donated peripheral blood stem cells two years ago, Heidi first had to receive a daily injection (shot) of Filgrastim, a drug that causes the bone marrow to make and release additional stem cells into the blood. After finishing the series of shots, her blood was removed through a catheter, then cycled through a machine that separates the stem cells from the other blood cells. The process, which is called apheresis, is an outpatient procedure that takes 2 to 4 hours. As Gould describes it, “You have one IV in one arm and it takes the blood out and filters it, and you have an IV in the other arm and it just puts it back in what they don’t need.” Often the process needs to be repeated daily for a few days, until enough stem cells have been collected.
Gould was just happy that she could help preserve a life. “There’s nothing like saving a life. You being the only person that is able to help this person—you can’t put a price on that.”
To see the full story on Heidi Gould, see the video segment on Illinois’ Fox 55 news broadcast.
Our Nurse of the Week is Paige
Niepoetter, a senior nursing student at Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville (SIUE) who aspires to become a life-changing cancer researcher.
Her drive and academic experiences during her undergraduate years have positioned
her to achieve her dream of becoming a surgical oncologist specializing in
During nursing school, Niepoetter took
advantage of the opportunity to work alongside faculty mentor Chaya Gopalan to
conduct research through the university’s Undergraduate Research and Creative
Activities (URCA) program. Her scholarly work, which studied intermittent
fasting and eating patterns in obese and non-obese rats, has received national
Niepoetter was one of 50 student researchers selected from a pool
of more than 5,000 abstracts to present at the Federation of American Societies
for Experimental Biology DREAM Program’s Experimental Biology 2019 Meeting
She tells advantagenews.com, “Winning the FASEB DREAM travel award was a blessing. Research is a passion of mine, but without proper funding, I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to attend the entire conference. This award made it possible for me to attend various sessions of interest, connect with fellow researchers and gather ideas for new research directions.”
Gopalan also spoke to Niepoetter’s achievements: “Paige is a wonderfully focused student who works hard and is incredibly responsible. She has been in my lab for three years, is on two major research projects, and has been able to secure four abstracts and one manuscript for publication. This is only the beginning, as we will be writing several papers by the end of the summer. Paige will surely do amazing things in her future.”
Niepoetter attributes her success to Gopalan’s mentorship, which
helped her develop her passion for research and clarify her decision to apply
to medical school. The URCA program allowed her to go beyond what she learned
in the classroom and develop her leadership skills and gain a sense of
confidence she wouldn’t have without Gopalan’s mentorship.
To learn more about SIUE senior
nursing student Paige Niepoetter and her aspirations to become a surgical
oncologist specializing in breast cancer, visit here.
Our Nurses of the Week are
Marian and Suzanne Phelps, a mother-daughter duo who are both registered
nurses, who are working with students to organize blood drives in Porter
County, near the Chicago metropolitan area. They were inspired by Jan Dick,
Marian’s husband and Suzanne’s father, who estimates that he’s donated roughly
16 gallons of blood over the last four decades.
Dick explains how he came to be a regular blood donor: “I guess, what kicked the whole thing off, I had a neighbor. This was about 45 years ago, and (the neighbor’s) boss was in need of surgery. The guy worked for a small outfit and he asked me if I would go donate blood and I went. It didn’t take very long. If you don’t think about it, it was painless. Sure, you get stuck, but it wasn’t that bad. I thought it was the right thing to do.”
After becoming a
donor, Dick began volunteering with his local Red Cross in Porter County, and eventually
became the president. His activism inspired his wife and daughter to get involved
and they now work as a family to build up blood donations for the Red Cross.
Suzanne Phelps is a health
occupations instructor at Porter Area Career and
Technical Center where she teaches the Health Science Education II class.
She has been the Blood Drive Coordinator at the center for the last eight years,
and she follows in the footsteps of her mother, who taught the class for over
20 years and organized the first blood drives at the school.
The students have
four drives each year and Suzanne says the experience of organizing a blood
drive helps the students understand the significance of blood donations to the
medical field. Donors can give a pint of whole blood every eight weeks, up to
six times a year. According to Patricia Cochran, account manager for the
American Red Cross, only 40 percent of the population is eligible to donate blood.
She tells ChicagoTribune.com,
“Of those who are eligible, only about 3 percent actually donate. A very small
amount of people supports the blood supply. If everyone eligible would donate
once a year, we would never be in shortage…It might be one hour of your time,
but it is a lifetime to the patient in the hospital.”
To learn more about mother-daughter
duo Marian and Suzanne Phelps who are working to build up blood donations for
the Red Cross, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Angela Farnan, a nurse in the pediatric ICU at OSF Children’s Hospital of Illinois who adopted a baby with a rare condition who she cared for after he was born. Blaze, who turns 2 in May, suffered from hypo plastic left heart syndrome, a rare congenital defect in which a part of the infant’s heart is underdeveloped or not there at all.
Farnan tells People.com, “I work in the PICU and I can tell you many stories about the many children I’ve cared for over the years. There’s an attachment to these children and their families. You become very invested in them.”
Blaze was born on May 30, 2017, and underwent heart surgery at just 3 days old before enduring another a few months later. His biological family didn’t live near the hospital or have the resources to care for him at home so Blaze remained in the ICU for several months.
Farnan first agreed to have short-term guardianship of Blaze as he remained hospitalized, and a few months later Blaze was preparing to go home when his biological parents asked if Farnan and her husband, Rick Farnan, would adopt Blaze.
The Farnan’s filed the adoption papers last year and finalized the adoption in June. Both new parents describe the experience as a dream come true. Although Blaze is now at home with his parents, his health journey is not over. He will undergo a third heart surgery and may need a heart transplant eventually. Farnan, however, is up for the challenge and says Blaze makes her work as a nurse even more enjoyable when she comes home to him at the end of the day.
To learn more about Angela Farnan, a pediatric ICU nurse who adopted a baby with a rare heart condition after caring for him in the ICU, visit here.
Lakeview has been a private psychiatric firm for the past two years, providing traveling services to the mentally disabled. The new practice will also serve as a clinical site for students in the WIU School of Nursing. Students will have the opportunity to work with psychiatric testing, counseling, and psychological interviews and medications.
Martin tells WIU.edu, “We will still see the mentally disabled, but we are expanding the practice to include a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a nurse practitioner and a licensed family and marriage therapist. This will allow us to expand to do therapy, addiction treatment, DUI assessments and group therapy.”