Our Nurse of the Week is Kaitlyn Whitewater, an oncology nurse at Saint Francis Hospital in Tulsa, OK. However, Whitewater isn’t just an oncology nurse. She’s also a cancer survivor who connects with her patients and gives them hope in a way that many of her fellow nurses on the oncology unit can’t.
Whitewater was just beginning her first semester of college when she was diagnosed with a rare case of acute lymphoblastic leukemia and acute myeloid leukemia. She was sent to the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and within a week of diagnosis, was admitted to the intensive care unit comatose and with a failing liver. After Whitewater finally regained consciousness, her liver began to heal, and she was able to undergo extensive chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant.
While at the hospital in Texas, Whitewater continued her online studies at Tulsa Community College. She had already decided on a nursing career prior to her diagnosis but discovered during her treatment that she wanted to become an oncology nurse.
Whitewater returned to Tulsa but needed to be seen by her oncology team in Tulsa daily for blood work and labs. During one of her many visits, a conversation with the nurse manager led to her becoming a nurse technician on the oncology unit. She earned her certified nursing assistant credentials and started working as nurse tech while attending Tulsa Community College as a full-time student.
After earning her associate degree in nursing, Whitewater was accepted to the nursing program at the University of Tulsa. She pushed through the side effects of her chemo treatments and graduated with her Bachelor of Science in Nursing in May 2017. Now Whitewater works as a clinical nurse on the Saint Francis Hospital Oncology Unit alongside the nurses that helped her while she was a patient.
Whitewater isn’t the kind of person who shares her story with everyone; she only shares when she feels it will help a patient. But she can offer her patients and their families hope by sharing her experience and letting them know she understands some of what they might be going through and that they’re not going through it alone.
To learn more about Kaitlyn Whitewater and her journey from cancer patient to oncology nurse, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Krista Ryan, a nurse in the heart attack unit at Advocate Christ Medical Center, who was working out at her local gym when she saw a man fall off his treadmill. She has been credited with saving the man’s life, who says he is grateful to be alive after suffering a heart attack.
Ryan saw Henry Gnaidek, 66, lying motionless on the floor while his treadmill continued spinning. She knew something was seriously wrong when he didn’t get up after a few moments. Ryan checked for a pulse and couldn’t find one, so she immediately started CPR and called for someone to find an AED.
After hooking Gnaidek up to an AED machine, he quickly regained consciousness a few minutes later. Gnaidek was transported to the hospital where his doctors found two blocked arteries caused by coronary artery disease.
Gnaidek had undergone heart bypass surgery last fall due to coronary artery disease and his doctors thought his heart was in the clear until he collapsed at the gym. He had a second surgical procedure to insert a stent into his heart to open the blockage, but did not suffer any permanent damage due to the incident.
To learn more about Ryan’s lifesaving acts after seeing a man suffer a heart attack and fall off his treadmill at the gym, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Jessica Leja, an oncology nurse at DuPage Medical Group in Illinois, who wants to give her never-worn wedding dress to a cancer patient or survivor. Leja believes in finding silver linings in the worst of circumstances, so now that her own wedding has been called off, she wants to turn something sad into something beautiful.
As an oncology nurse, Leja understands how cancer can interrupt your life in messy, painful, and expensive ways. Sometimes it can even ruin plans and delay big events like a wedding day, which is why Leja wants to gift her wedding gown to a woman who is battling cancer or who has survived it.
Leja tells ChicagoTribune.com, “My heroes are cancer patients: the fighters, the survivors, and the taken. The admiration I have for them is beyond words…This dress wasn’t made for me. It was made for someone else. And I have to find her.”
After beginning her career in geriatrics, several of Leja’s own relatives were diagnosed with cancer, including her dad. Leja feels fortunate to have been able to care for her dad who was diagnosed and lost his battle to metastatic kidney cancer at 55 years old.
Shortly after his passing, she received a phone call about an oncology nursing position. Leja immediately felt at home during her interview and was offered the job on the spot, which she accepted without hesitation.
Now she hopes to give back to the community she serves in a different way: by gifting her wedding gown free of charge to an engaged or soon-to-be engaged woman who is battling cancer or who has survived it.
To learn more about Jessica Leja’s background as an oncology nurse and her mission to gift her never-worn wedding gown to a cancer patient or survivor, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Sarah L. Szanton, PhD, ANP, FAAN, professor in the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing (JHSON) who was recently named the inaugural Endowed Professor in Health Equity and Social Justice.
As part of the partnership, Szanton will step into a permanent position created to solidify the school’s influence and leadership in advocating for universal health access, equity in care locally and globally, and understanding how gender, race, and other social determinants impact health and well-being.
Patricia Davidson, PhD, MEd, RN, FAAN, dean of JHSON, tells Newswise.com, “Dr. Szanton is qualified, committed, and an excellent fit to forge this important and transformational agenda. Her work with low-income, older adults throughout Baltimore has expanded across the nation and world and has reformed how we look at access to health care, especially among the most vulnerable populations. This is an opportunity for her to continue the good work and further advocate for equity and justice in health.”
Szanton was also recently named the director of JHSON’s Center for Innovative Care in Aging where she leads the school’s efforts in advancing and supporting the health and well-being of older adults and their families. Early on in her career, Szanton cared for homebound, low-income elderly patients in Baltimore which led her to develop the Community Aging in Place Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE) program.
Szanton also researches the impact of food and energy access on health outcomes, strategies for preventing falls among older adults, and policy changes for cost-effective, tax-saving programs that improve health. To learn more about Sarah Szanton and her newly endowed professorship, visit here.
Our Nurses of the Week are the nursing students of the University at Buffalo (UB) who spent a week in Haiti treating over 800 patients. Ten nursing students were assisted on the mission trip by a group of UB faculty and several Western New York physicians, pharmacists, and health care professionals.
The mission trip was led by Molli Warunek who traveled to Haiti for the first time 20 years ago as a nursing student to deliver medical care. That experience spurred her to begin taking part in mission trips around the world, and the April trip with UB nursing marker her 15th mission trip.
Warunek is now a clinical assistant professor and global initiatives coordinator for the UB School of Nursing. She tells Buffalo.edu, “The significance of the journey is incredible, as the students and providers learn to always have an endless amount of compassion for their patients, whether they are rich, poor, healthy or unhealthy. That is something you cannot teach in a classroom.”
The UB Nursing mission trip to Haiti was completed in partnership with the community organization, Servants in Fellowship. The group served at a mobile medical clinic in Galette, Haiti, a rural settlement where access to care is difficult and poverty is commonplace.
In one week, the team treated more than 800 patients ranging in age from 19 days old to 91 years old. The nursing students and medical professionals cleaned and dressed wounds; treated respiratory illnesses, burns, and scabies; provided antibiotics and other medication; and administered fluoride varnish to 250 children. UB nursing students also provided hygiene education sustainable in Haitian culture to help prevent future illness.
Overall, the experience exposed the students to diverse cultures and raised awareness of the health challenges faced by people around the world. To learn more about the UB nursing school’s mission trip to Haiti, visit here.
Our Nurse of the Week is Christina Gay, a cancer survivor and ‘I Have a Dream’ program alum, who nurses patients back to health after surgery. The I Have a Dream program is designed to help more than 300 kids in low-income neighborhoods graduate from high school and move on to higher education. Gay was chosen to participate as a young fourth grader and now holds a bachelor’s degree in nursing.
Gay started experiencing problems with her lower right leg the summer before her senior year of high school. It was swollen and painful, and she was told she had a fracture even though she had done nothing to cause one. Eventually an MRI revealed that she had a tumor. Several surgeries later she still hadn’t healed properly and the most viable option for getting back on her feet was to amputate.
Determined to give herself the best possible future, Gay decided to have her leg amputated. She was already in a nursing program at Clark College at that point, and unwilling to give up on her plans, Gay scheduled her surgery for spring break so that she could get back to school as soon as possible.
Gay is a now a graduate of the bachelor’s degree in nursing program at Washington State University Vancouver and a nurse at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center. She credits the I Have a Dream program for helping her realize the importance of education and providing her with the guidance to achieve her dreams of becoming a nurse.
Having seen both sides of the nurse-patient relationship as a past cancer patient, Gay tells Columbian.com, “To understand what it’s like to be in that bed and not know what’s going on: It helps me when I explain something. I have a little more empathy…I feel like this is what I Have a Dream has instilled in me: You can do anything you dream!”
To learn more about Christina Gay and her unique path to a career in nursing, visit here.