Nurse of the Week Andrea Dalzell was just 5 years old when she was diagnosed with transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation in the spinal cord. Before long, she needed a wheelchair to get around, but that simply meant she would move forward on wheels instead of on her feet—and she hasn’t stopped moving since.
As she grew up, Dalzell became deeply involved in advocacy for the disabled and received a number of awards in recognition for her work, including the Cindy Loo Disability Rights Advocate Award in 2015. In 2018, the Brooklynite became New York City’s only wheelchair-bound RN and attained her bachelor’s degree. In a special interview on the September 10 broadcast of Good Morning America (GMA), Dalzell made it clear that her mission is to bring more disabled people into nursing and other healthcare professions. She told GMA, “You have to have people with these disabilities, these diagnoses, being in healthcare.”
Easily navigating hospital corridors in her wheelchair, Dalzell became a dedicated nurse, and threw herself into work on the NYC frontline when the city was stricken by the pandemic in Spring 2020. Now, she’s a nurse and department head at the Manhattan Quad school for gifted children with disabilities, where “the kids absolutely love her,” according to school founder Kim Busi.
Sitting in her wheelchair on the GMA stage, Dalzell said that she is trying to spread a message of hope and aspiration: “People with disabilities aren’t living a death sentence. They’re living life, and I get to prove every day that I’m going to do that. I need to be able to change that narrative for others so if they know that they’re diagnosed with something… that life doesn’t stop there. Life still happens, and it’s up to them to decide if they want to live it.”
At the conclusion of her interview, GMA host TJ Holmes awarded a teary-eyed Dalzell a $1 million dollar Visionary Prize from the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation in honor of the “extraordinary determination, inexhaustible passion, and ability to inspire” the wheelchair-bound RN has displayed in her advocacy for the disabled.
Dalzell wants to put some of the money toward advancing her education, but she is devoting most of the award to advocacy: “I want to start a whole program for people with disabilities to get into health care. They should be given a chance,” she told GMA.
Visit this page to see the full Good Morning America feature on Andrea Dalzell.
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.
Nurse of the Week Stephanie Walker had been a registered nurse for almost 40 years when she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (MBC) in 2015. After working in pediatric intensive care, she had spent the last 15 years as a hospice nurse. Her MBC was asymptomatic, and Stephanie continued to work at the hospice. At the time, she had an average person’s knowledge about MBC: “They said, ‘well, you’re a nurse!’ They assumed I knew, but I knew nothing.”
What did her nursing experience teach her about cancer? “In the pediatric world, I dealt with a lot of pediatric oncology. That’s different, but I used that as my guide when I was confused and didn’t know who to reach out to. I went back to the days when these kids would have to get chemo, and they would get up the next morning—I’m sure they felt like garbage; their hair would be falling out… But you know? They wanted to go to the playroom and play! And that’s where I would go, ‘those kids can do it, and they’re just 4, 5, 6 years old; I’m 57. Why can’t I?’”
Stephanie, now 61, is living in a rural community in North Carolina. Although health issues forced her to leave work in 2018, she has become an active MBC advocate and was recently featured in a video on the Facing MBC Together site. DailyNurse met with her to talk about life with MBC before and during the pandemic.
DN: Has living in a rural area during the pandemic affected your cancer treatment?
SW: “It isn’t bad as far as treatments are concerned. I get my cancer treatment at a community center that’s 25 miles away, and when I talk to the nurse-managers here, they’ve not missed a beat.”
DN: What made you decide to try to locate other MBC patients in your community?
“I’m an easy person to talk to; I’ve never met a stranger. I can easily strike up a conversation with anybody. When I came to North Carolina, I thought, ‘I’m doing well; there’s got to be other MBC patients that… live in NC, who want to get together and do stuff. Not talk about medicine, but you know, have fun.’ I got together an online MBC group and started reaching out through Facebook groups. I had 20-25 people who were members of the group, and we met in the center of the state.”
DN: When did you have to stop working? How did you adjust?
SW: “In February 2018 I was diagnosed with a blood clot on my lung and had a stroke. That was when I lost the job I’d only had for 90 days after we’d moved here [to NC], and I lost my insurance. That was when I started needing mental health support. I wasn’t even close to retiring, and I loved my job—being a hospice nurse. I still keep in touch with some of the families that I met. It wasn’t just a job; it’s a calling from God. I loved what I did; I loved nursing.
I had no income, and I was the primary bread-winner of the family, as my husband’s retired. So, when I started looking for organizations that could help us, I ran across this conference, and they were offering travel grants to get you there. I said to my husband, ‘hey, maybe I can go, and I can learn more about MBC.’ So I went.
That’s when my world really opened up to MBC. I went to my first conference in April 2018, ‘Living Beyond Breast Cancer.’ I walked around that whole conference, I’m sure, like a deer in the headlights. That was my first exposure to a big group of people like me—and a lot of them were African-American women! [Ms. Walker is African American]. I was amazed at the number of people.”
DN: So you’ve since become seriously involved in cancer advocacy and patient education?
SW: “From there on I’ve been advocating and speaking and doing everything I can to get people to take a look out here, eastern North Carolina to the coast area. The more conferences I went to, the hungrier I got to learn more, and I wanted to learn more about research as well. I’ve done a lot of research and medical literacy is a big issue here. Educational levels are very low; it’s heavily farmland. You have people who come in to work the land, and that’s it. There are also a lot of Latinx people who don’t know the language and don’t know a lot about healthcare. And then you have African-Americans, and African-Americans don’t trust the healthcare system for—you know, reasons, and they don’t want to talk about it.”
DN: Cancer is a frightening thing. It’s sort of a cultural taboo, so it’s understandable that some people try to ignore their diagnosis and hope it will just go away.
SW: “It’s one thing to ignore an early stage breast cancer diagnosis, but you can’t ignore a late-stage diagnosis. I mean, I’m at five years. I celebrated myself living with it for five years because being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer right out of the gate, even asymptomatic, you’re told [that you have] 36 months. So it’s like, ‘hell no! I’ve got things to do!’ My daughter’s pregnant; I’ve got to see this grandbaby. There are driving forces, but not enough to put my head in the sand.
But just last week I met a lady who has MBC—she goes to the same community clinic that I do, and we’ve met in various online support groups—and she told me that she had progression; the cancer has started to go to her lungs. I said, ‘my goodness. What treatment are you on?’ She said, ‘oh, I don’t know. I show up; they give me my treatment. I sleep while they give it to me, and when it’s over I go about my day.’ And she’s not a young lady. She’s 57 years old. So, to have that kind of attitude… Don’t put your head in the sand; it won’t make you live longer. I’m not saying everyone should embrace it, like I do, but it will kill you quicker if you don’t address it.”
DN: How has the pandemic changed the way you connect with other people with MBC?
SW: “Before Covid came along, there were support meetings. They were for all cancers, but the people who normally show up at those meetings usually are breast cancer patients. This year, I had my heart set on a couple of conferences… The first one was the LBBC (Living Beyond Breast Cancer) Metastatic Breast Cancer conference in April, but Covid came along, and took it away. The conference was virtual. My husband took part in it, too, and he was very pleased with the caregiver aspect. I’ve done a few other virtual conferences. I’ve done ASCO (American Society of Clinical Oncology) and Careers and Cancer—that one is for people who have cancer and are trying to go back to work. There are a few others coming up that deal with MBC, like the MBCRC, the Metastatic Breast Cancer Research Foundation (September 9-11). That one was going to be in Salt Lake City, and of course it got blown away too, so that one’s virtual.
I do a lot virtually, but it’s not the same. You don’t get to see the people you’ve met online, or met at past conferences, and a lot of us don’t go very many places.”
DN: What has daily life been like for you during the pandemic?
SW: “I walk every morning between 6-6.30 (as almost no one is out at that time); I go to doctor appointments. I go to the grocery store occasionally. I wear a mask whenever I go out. But I don’t want all the time I have left to be spent in the house. My husband and I are actually planning a cross-country trip, and that’s going to be a big one for next year. Also, next month a friend of ours has a time-share, and we’re going to spend a week at the beach. We can get takeout and eat in the condo, so we don’t really have to be around other people. I just need to get out.”
DN: How has your health been lately? And has your medical treatment changed during the pandemic?
SW: “As far as cancer is concerned, I’m stable and have been since 2016. I’m still getting my monthly treatments—I’ll be in treatment of course forever—but I’m doing well, considering.
I still go to most of my doctor appointments [in person]. The only telehealth ones that I have are with my psychologist. With Zoom, I can see him, and we can talk, but you miss that… I don’t know. You can see someone’s facial expressions, but you can read a person a little bit better if you’re face to face. I pray that the isolation ends soon; it’s really a drill.”
DN: What would you say to someone who has just been diagnosed with MBC?
SW: “I always want people to know you should take somebody with you to your appointments. Get a notebook and write down your questions beforehand—because when you get there, all bets are off, and you’re not going to remember most of them. Stay off Doctor Google. If you Google everything initially, it will scare you to death. And just have an open, positive attitude.
Ask questions—please ask questions! Don’t take what someone says as the Holy Grail, and don’t let someone steer you into a direction you don’t feel good about. I actually fired one oncologist. Not only do you need to have that open relationship with your oncologist, but their staff is important too. Nine times out of ten, you’re going to talk to the staff before you talk to him or her. If you can’t have a positive, cordial, open relationship with the front staff, you should find somebody else. And you should tell them, ‘I left because your staff sucks.’ You have to find somebody that you’re comfortable with, because you’re going to forge a relationship with that person. They’re going to see you at your best and see you at your worst. You need to find somebody you trust, so you can come out being the best you can.
My first oncologist was the director of the hospice where I worked. He knew how hard I worked, how much I cared, and he knew that quality of life was very important. I asked him, one, ‘have you ever seen anybody with MBC?’—I mean, I didn’t know, and then, ‘are they still living, and how long has that person been living with it?’ And I said, ‘your goal is to make me have the best quality of life for as long as I possibly can.’”
DN: Finally, where should someone with MBC go to find reliable information?
SW: “You need up-to-date, evidence-based material. You can find that at the American Cancer Society, Living Beyond Breast Cancer, and Susan G. Komen. Those are my go-tos. They tell you what questions to ask on your first visit, information on side effects, financial toxicity, mental health—you can find all of that in one area, and they have help lines.”
Stephanie is also an ambassador for Facing MBC Together, a public education and patient support campaign that addresses isolation for people living with metastatic breast cancer (MBC). The Facing MBC Together website includes videos featuring Stephanie and 8 other people of diverse ages and backgrounds as they share insights about the challenges they face, sources of support, and offer words of encouragement for others living with MBC. For more information visit www.FacingMBCTogether.com.
Nurse of the Week Pamela Zeinoun was on the fourth floor of Beirut’s Saint George Hospital University Medical Center during the deadly August 4 explosions. As the blasts tore into the hospital and shook the entire building, the 26-year-old nurse was thrown into the neonatal ICU. After freeing herself from the rubble, she searched for her colleagues, then made her way to the incubator.
After a visiting father helped lift some steel shelves that had fallen over the incubating area, Zeinoun retrieved a pair of twins and a third baby, holding them close to keep them warm. With the elevators damaged, she and a St. George gynecologist carefully carried the small patients down four flights of stairs. It was a harrowing experience, she said. “I was scared of slipping, or any of the babies slipping, or me falling on them. I did not want to lose any of them and wanted to get them to safety.”
Zeinoun became an inadvertent media icon when a photojournalist snapped her balancing a phone between her shoulder and ear as she somehow managed to answer an emergency room phone–while holding the three tiny babies nestled against her chest. Having helped the unknown caller, she rejoined the doctor and left the hospital to seek a safe refuge for the infants. “We walked across the streets of Achrafieh area with the babies in our hands,” she recalled. “I asked bystanders, who volunteered to help, to give us their shirts to keep the babies safe. The three newborns are under 2 kilograms each and I had to cover them up and keep them warm otherwise they wouldn’t live.”
Finding a safe hospital to care for the premature infants entailed a long and arduous journey. Zeinoun said, “We walked around five kilometers until we found a car that could help us take the babies to a hospital a bit outside Beirut.” As she sees it, the hazardous trek was a natural extension of her job: “I was responsible for these children and I love them. This is the job that I love. I couldn’t go and leave them… Either I wait … until someone comes to help me or I take them down, and that’s what I did.”
The infants are safe and doing well.
For more details on Pamela Zeinoun and her experience during the Beirut explosion, click here.
Nurse of the Week Cathy Scholtens is known as a nurse who will go the extra mile for her neighbors and her pediatric patients… So well-known in fact, that the Missoula, Montana pediatric ICU nurse received two awards in one month!
First, Cathy’s hospital, Community Medical Center, presented her with their 2020 Mercy Award. The Mercy Award recognized her “Relentless dedication to go beyond the call of duty to serve patients and the community,” citing numerous instances in which Scholten extended her nursing work beyond the walls of the hospital, including fundraising efforts to get lung transplants for two young brothers with congenital pulmonary disease, organizing the donation of thousands of N-95 masks for her hospital, and providing home bedside care—from changing dressings and administering injections to managing medical appointments—for an elderly neighbor with cancer.
In her response to the Mercy Award, Scholtens’ first thought (unsurprisingly) was of others: “You don’t get this kind of award in a vacuum. To me it’s kind of my whole unit’s award. We have amazing doctors, amazing nurses and amazing staff. But I’m really proud to have my name on it.”
Later that month, when Scholtens rounded a corner and found a hall filled with staff, family, and friends, naturally “I thought it was a surprise party for having received the Mercy Award.” Or, so she thought until she saw the giant daisy displayed on a large wall-screen. Cathy, who has often made videos for Daisy Awards, realized that she was receiving yet another award, a Daisy Foundation Award for Extraordinary Nurses! According to the comments from her co-workers, her Daisy Award was also well-deserved. As one staffer said, “If Cathy could give CPR with one hand while keeping her arm around the parent with the other, she would do it.”
As she is retiring in two years, Scholtens found the recognition especially moving: “It’s nice to know that your life’s work is appreciated and that you are doing the right thing and you are doing it right.” Again, however, she is quick to share credit. Of the dual award accolade, she said, “It’s neat. I’m super proud,” but added, “I’m also blessed with a family that lets me do all this extra stuff while they do all the stuff that runs this house. I’m down on my computer making silly magnets for people and they are up there doing the dishes. Like I said, you don’t do anything in a vacuum.”
Nurse of the Week Ashleigh Lugar, a nurse in Waco, Texas, extended her nursing repertoire by spending a day as a hairdresser for 36 of her locked-down patients at the Heartis Senior Living Center.
As Director of Health Services at the Center, Lugar felt a deep sympathy for the plight of her isolated patients. Not only were they missing their regular haircuts, they were also in dire need of some one-on-one personal contact. On her Facebook account, Ashleigh noted, “The last three months have been hard, but harder for our residents. No family can visit. They have to eat in their apartments. We are not allowed to let a barber in to do hair. We are watching them decline mentally and physically…”
Older Americans living in senior residences have been suffering even when they escape the virus. In addition to being denied visits from their loved ones, many senior citizens are now living without social activities, community events, and services such as Meals on Wheels. Cut off from the embraces of family, and deprived of so many of the social interactions that help keep them grounded, the elderly are now more vulnerable than ever to severe depression.
After pondering the situation, Ashleigh came up with a unique way to treat her seniors to a combination of human contact and personal care. As she explained on Facebook, “I decided today to hang up my stethoscope and throw on a barber apron today. I am not licensed and did not charge for my services. But let me tell you after 3 months of no beautician it was time to step in. I did 36 haircuts and styles today. Watching my mom do hair the last 30 years paid off today. I didn’t have one unhappy resident. They were so thankful to just “feel like themselves again”. It felt so good to see them come back to life. 8 hours straight, no break didn’t even go in my office once today because I wanted to get as many as I could.”
Lugar was cheered when a local news outlet found her post and published a story, but she noted, “While the publicity is nice, I enjoyed the hugs and cards I got from my residents thanking me for what I did.”