My Journey to Becoming a NICU Nurse: April’s Story

By April Bell, registered nurse at CHOC Children’s and mother of CHOC NICU graduates Mikayla and Emma

I’ve been a nurse at CHOC for 15 years. I started working here as a nurse aide while I was in nursing school and after graduation, I entered the RN Residency program as a nurse in the medical/surgical unit. I learned a lot about time management and honed my nursing skills starting IVs, inserting feeding tubes and catheters, and giving medications. I enjoyed the time I spent on that unit, but after about five years I was looking for another challenge. The new pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) and new cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU) had just opened on the sixth floor, and I was considering a nurse fellowship in the PICU. However, before I could start that process, I found out I was pregnant with twins.

Not only twins, but very high-risk twins called monoamniotic-monochorionic, or “MoMo.” These types of twins share one amniotic sac and the risk is that their umbilical cords could become tangled and/or compressed. These rare twins have a 50 percent survival rate. I knew they would most likely be delivered early; my OB-GYN did not want to deliver past 32 weeks gestation. We ended up making it only to 28 weeks, as their cords were knotted together twice and wrapped around my daughter, Mikayla’s neck, twice.

Mikayla weighed only one pound, 13 ounces when she was born. Emma was two pounds, six ounces.

nicu nurse
April was a registered nurse in the medical/surgical unit at CHOC Children’s when her twins were born premature. Their family’s experience in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) inspired her to become a NICU nurse.

From the moment the twins were delivered, the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) team that was in my delivery room made a huge impression on me including the neonatologist who was present at the delivery, Dr. Daryoush Bassiri. I met Dr. Bassiri the week before my twins were born, when I was admitted to St. Joseph’s Hospital, next door to CHOC. He told me what I could expect if they were born at 27, 28, 29, 30 weeks, etc. The nurses who were at the delivery were also very supportive and kept me informed about what the plan was for the babies.

Both of my daughters need to be intubated right after delivery, but the nurses made sure I could see them briefly before they left for the NICU. The next few days were quite a roller-coaster, starting when Emma became very sick. Because her lungs were not fully developed, she was placed on a ventilator to help her breathe. The pressure of the ventilator caused her lungs to collapse. She needed two chest tubes to resolve her collapsed lungs. Her lungs also developed pulmonary hypertension (a type of high blood pressure) and pulmonary interstitial emphysema (where air collects outside the normal air space). All of Emma’s lung problems are common conditions in premature babies, but it was still a very scary time. I wasn’t sure if she was going to make it. She was given nitric oxide, a medication to treat breathing problems in premature babies, and finally she started to slowly improve. She took a turn for the better, only to face another setback: she was diagnosed with a heart defect called patent ductus arteriosus (PDA). In some premature babies, the opening between the aorta and the pulmonary artery does not close, as it does in most children.

Her sister, Mikayla, although smaller, was doing much better. She only needed to be intubated for about a day and a half and was on bubble CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure), non-invasive ventilation support for newborns. Mikayla had the same PDA diagnosis as her sister, and received medication to close her PDA. Emma could not get the medication because the doctors were worried about her kidneys, after how sick she had been. So the doctors decided that a surgical repair know as PDA ligation was the way to go. Once again, we were worried about her. She had an excellent surgeon, Dr. Brian Palafox, who explained everything to me and Emma’s dad. Although he told us what possible complications could come from the surgery, everything went very smoothly.

The next few months were filled with more ups and downs, but nothing quite as scary as the first few days. After they mastered breathing on their own, working on feedings was another struggle. They had an amazing team of developmental therapists, lactation consultants and of course, their bedside nurses. I learned so much from everyone that took care of my twins. As a medical/surgical nurse, I had floated to the NICU before, but I had no idea what each preemie went through.

Emma spent 75 days and Mikayla spent 77 days in the NICU. Towards the end of my twins’ NICU stay, I realized that the NICU was where I wanted to be as a nurse. I spoke with one of the NICU managers and told her I was interested in transferring to the NICU. I was surprised to learn that they were, in fact, just starting a nurse fellowship program. When I started my NICU fellowship, I went with the RN Residents to a special NICU consortium taught by the NICU educator at the University of California Irvine. We were there with nurses from NICUs all over Southern California. I finished the NICU fellowship when my daughters were just about 1 year old. I feel like the classes really helped me understand so much more about the development of the neonate and how to care for them.

During the last seven years in the NICU, I have taken care of a variety of babies, from small micro-preemies to babies who have undergone surgery, and babies with heart defects. I helped open the CHOC Children’s NICU at St. Joseph’s Hospital. I have also had the privilege to care for babies in our Small Baby Unit.

After having two micro preemies of my own, I feel I can really relate to a lot of the parents. I have been on the other side of it and know how frustrating and worrisome it can feel.

I enjoy sharing my story with my patient’s families. I have seen firsthand how strong and resilient these babies can be.

I was working the night that we opened the new, all private room NICU. At the end of my night shift, I helped transfer my patients upstairs and get them settled into their new rooms. It was amazing to see how smoothly everything went that morning. It was also exciting to see the babies in their own rooms. My twins were always with other babies in a pod, and it would have been so nice to have a private room. I would’ve loved to have been able to stay overnight and sleep right next to my babies when they were in the NICU, like the parents can do now in our new NICU. It was hard to leave the NICU when my daughters were there. The noise in the pods could get loud at times, and occasionally a baby would be sick and need sterile procedures which meant all non-clinical staff had to leave the unit. The patients did not always have privacy. I am excited for the patients and families that will benefit from our new private room NICU.

Looking at my daughters today, you would never know what they have been through. They are almost 8 years old and they are just about to start second grade. They’re very smart and are excelling in school. They started reading in pre-kindergarten and have been reading at an advanced level ever since; they almost read better than their older brother, Joey. The only long-term effect from being born so premature and facing a mountain of health challenges has been with Emma, who has a raspy voice from left vocal cord paralysis, a common complication from the surgery. I am so grateful to have two healthy girls.

I am also very grateful for the way the CHOC NICU cared for my own children, and I am extremely proud to be part of it as a caregiver.

Take a virtual tour of our new NICU

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Surgical Team Gives Back Through CHOC Walk

Known as CHOC’s most anticipated event, the CHOC Walk in the Park presented by Disneyland Resort is set for August 27 this year. Many of our employees — among the more than 15,000 people expected to attend — will be proudly walking for CHOC in support of our patients and their families.

We spoke to Christina Portugal, unit assistant, surgical unit, and team captain of CHOC Walk’s team 3E Suture Heroes, who shared what inspires her to participate in this beloved tradition.

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Team Suture Heroes at last year’s CHOC Walk in the Park

Q: What inspired you to become part of CHOC Walk? How long have you been participating?

A: I was inspired to participate in the CHOC Walk in the Park when I was a volunteer, before I joined the staff. I was inspired to be a volunteer after losing my dad to cancer eight years ago. I was moved by all the health care professionals who treated my dad with such kindness and compassion. Through my dad’s illness I gained a profound passion for the healthcare industry and wanted to find a way to give back so I chose to volunteer at CHOC. As my volunteer journey began, little did I know this would be the place where I would give to others and in turn heal from my loss. Volunteering I meet so many brave children fighting through the most difficult times and still standing strong heroically, our true super heroes of this world, teaching me that I could also be strong. I decided after a few years of volunteering that I would make a career move into the healthcare industry and joined the 3E surgical unit. I am grateful to be amongst a team of hardworking, warm kindhearted people who care about helping others. When I started walking in the CHOC Walk in the Park as a volunteer it was another way to say thank you and now I continue to say thank you to CHOC for giving me more than I can possibly put into words. Team Suture Heroes of 3E has grown and last year we were 38 members strong and raised over $4,000!

Q: There are many ways that associates can support CHOC. Why do you participate in CHOC Walk every year?

A: I participate every year because it affords me an opportunity to raise funds that make an immediate impact on families at CHOC Children’s. I walk for HOPE and get to do so alongside my coworkers and community. It is a privilege.

Q: What is your favorite memory from a previous CHOC Walk?

A: Being amongst the thousands of people in our community all affected by and or supporting our families of CHOC is surreal. Walking alongside patients, families and teams supporting one another is what makes this event so memorable. Seeing the hundreds of banners, cheering crowds and smiling faces all walking with grateful happy hearts is an experience like no other.

Q: As a veteran of past CHOC Walks and leader of an experienced CHOC Walk team, what “insider tips” would you offer to someone participating in their first CHOC Walk this year?

A: When you register, you will be given your own CHOC Walk personal page. I would encourage everyone to post this right away on all their social media sites. With a click of a button your friends and family can donate toward your fundraising efforts. Another helpful tool is the CHOC Walk FUNdraiser app which makes it easy and fun to track your progress in real time. For the morning of the CHOC Walk in the Park I would suggest you come extra early and give yourself enough time to walk to the entrance of the park since there are no trams running that morning. The parking can get quite congested and crowded and can delay your arrival to the CHOC Walk and you don’t want to miss out on the opening festivities.

Q: What would you say to a community member or fellow CHOC associate to encourage them to participate in their first CHOC Walk?

A: There is something very special about coming together to benefit others.  You gain a sense of hope in humanity. The quote that inspired me to not only participate in the CHOC Walk but to also begin my journey as an employee at CHOC was, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Q: What inspires you most about the care being delivered at CHOC?

A: I am continually amazed by the medical teams at CHOC and the outstanding care they provide our families. When I walk across the bridge from the parking structure into the hospital, I have a grateful heart that I can be a part of a loving, giving and supportive community. I am thankful for what CHOC has taught me― how to be a better human and to appreciate what you have in this world.

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Meet Dr. Seth Brindis

In addition to providing high-quality medical care, physicians and staff at the Julia and George Argyros Emergency Department at CHOC Children’s Hospital strive to make the experience less stressful for children and families. One physician has a few tricks to ease his patients’ fear and anxiety. Dr. Seth Brindis, a board-certified pediatric emergency medicine specialist and medical director of informatics, performs magic for his patients.

choc emergency department
Physicians in the CHOC emergency department strive to make the experience less stressful for children. Dr. Seth Brindis often performs magic tricks for his patients.

“For me, magic makes my job easier, instantly transforming what can be a scary experience for children to something fun. I incorporate magic into my physical exam as it makes the exam easier and more reliable when patients are comfortable with me and distracted. I tend to use coin tricks because they appeal to a wider range of ages, with the added benefit that the coins can be disinfected between patient contacts.”

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be an emergency in order to see Dr. Brindis’ magic. With help from child life, he occasionally puts on impromptu magic shows in the CHOC theater for inpatients, their siblings and parents.

Dabbling in magic since childhood, Dr. Brindis’ interest in magic was revitalized while in residency at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, where he realized that simple tricks with cards and coins could help make connections with patients and staff. Since then, he has continued to study magic, even taking courses tailored for magic in medicine. Seeing thousands of patients each year, Dr. Brindis gets ample time to try out new tricks and help patients and their families leave with positive experiences and smiles on their faces.

Exclusively dedicated to the treatment of pediatric patients, CHOC’s ED features 31 exam rooms, including two trauma bays, and three triage suites. The ED is staffed with doctors who are board-certified in emergency medicine and specially trained nurses who provide the very best patient- and family-centered care. Child life specialists work with patients to help them feel safe and secure, and make the process a lot less stressful for the entire family.

“The ED is often the gateway for many families who are coming to our organization for the first time. We’re working together to deliver the best care to those who need it most. My job is to understand what is distressing to a parent in the middle of the night and either educate and reassure the family or intervene when called for.”

As the only trauma center in Orange County dedicated exclusively for kids, CHOC is ready to treat injuries 24 hours a day. The trauma team is trained to care for children and their unique physiological, anatomical and emotional needs, and CHOC’s protocols and equipment are specially designed for pediatrics.

The ED saw over 49,000 patients in the first year it opened. This year, it’s on pace to see more than 85,000 patients – an incredible rate of growth, which Dr. Brindis credits to the coordination and cooperation between the ED physicians, EMSOC leadership, and nursing, as well as CHOC administration.

“I love being a part of this team. I feel like we provide exemplary care to every person who enters our doors. Often, I feel like the conductor of an orchestra of care. There is no way I could do my job without the incredible people I work with. It really is impressive to watch our team working in concert to stabilize a really sick child.”

Dr. Brindis received his medical degree from Vanderbilt University. He completed his pediatric residency and pediatric emergency medicine fellowship training at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance. In addition to caring for patients in the ED, he is actively involved with the training and teaching of pediatric and emergency medicine residents as well as fellows.

In his spare time, Dr. Brindis enjoys spending time with his wife, son and daughter. He also enjoys cooking, painting and, of course, working on his magic.

Learn more about emergency services at CHOC Children's

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Meet Dr. Alyssa Saiz

CHOC wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Alyssa Saiz, a postdoctoral fellow in pediatric psychology and neuropsychology.

Q: What is your education and training?
A: I attended Pepperdine University to complete my doctorate in clinical psychology. My clinical internship was at the University of Health Science Center San Antonio. I am currently near the completion of my two-year postdoctoral fellowship in pediatric psychology and neuropsychology.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?
A: My clinical interests are working with children and teens with depression and self-harming behaviors, as well as somatic symptom and related disorders. I also am developing my specialty in pediatric neuropsychology. I love being able to help people during the most confused and vulnerable time in their life, and hope to give them a future they can thrive in.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?
A: Three years.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?
A: CHOC is in the process of building both an intensive outpatient program and Mental Health Inpatient Center for children and teenagers through the Mental Health Initiative. This is very exciting because the services provided by both of these programs are greatly needed in our community and will help us provide even better comprehensive and intensive mental health care.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?
A:  Somatic symptom disorders, depression, and anxiety.

Q: What would you most like community/referring providers to know about you or your division at CHOC?
A:  As a department, we are growing and evolving with the community, working on research developments and supporting CHOC’s mental health initiative – all for the happiness of the population here. We are here to serve them, and working hard with them in mind each day. For me personally, I would love for people know how much of a passion this is for me – I’m here doing this work because I truly love it, and admire the courage of my patients and coworkers.

Q:  What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?
A:  The aspiration to always give more and provide better services to the children and families we work with, as well as the commitment to training the future generations of medical and mental health professionals.

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A: I am insatiably curious and always wondering how to improve a situation. I also love to connect emotionally with people and understand their journey. So naturally, I was always drawn to psychology as an area of study and found myself looking for opportunities to work with children and teenagers who were experiencing hardship or mental health concerns.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?
A: I would be a florist or have a ranch for rescued animals. Both very different paths, but in the end they’re creating beauty to enhance someone else’s life and provide joy.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
A: I love to cook (usually anything pasta or cheese-filled) and be outside (hiking, walking my family’s dog, and being in the sun). I am also currently learning Spanish, which I am very excited about!

Q: What is the funniest thing a patient has ever told you?
A: When I told a young patient I was going to get her mom from the waiting room, she replied, “Well, she’s probably getting coffee. She can’t live without coffee!” I can relate. Kids hear and take in everything!

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative.

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Meet Dr. Elisa Corrales

CHOC Children’s wants its patients and families to get to know its specialists. Today, meet Dr. Elisa Corrales, a pediatric psychologist.

Dr. Elisa Corrales
Dr. Elisa Corrales, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC Children’s

Q: What is your education and training?
A: I completed my bachelor’s degree at the University of California, Davis where I majored in psychology. I earned my master’s and doctorate degrees in clinical psychology at The University of Rochester in New York. While there, my research interests included studying factors of resilience in maltreated Latino children and identyfying patterns of neuroendocrine functioning and behaviroal outcomes in maltreated and non-maltreated populations. After graduate school, I completed both my predoctoral internship and postdoctoral fellowship at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA), where I gained specialized training in parent-child interaction therapy, individual child and family therapy, and the diagnosis and treatment of children with various developmental disabilities including autism spectrum disorders. At CHLA, I also completed the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilitites (LEND) Training Program and gained vast experience working with interdisciplinary teams and pediatric populations.

Q: What are your administrative appointments?
A: Currently, I am working as a pediatric psychologist in CHOC’s co-occurring clinic, which specializes in working with children who face both a chronic medical condition and mental health concerns. I recently joined one of our primary care pediatricians in a clinic focused on ensuring the safety and well-being of children and families in Orange County who have been referred to social services often for suspected child abuse or neglect. In this clinic, I provide needed mental health consultation, psychoeducation, case management and support.

Q: What are your special clinical interests?
A:  Throughout the years, I have specialized in working with children who often present with difficult or severe behavioral issues. I also specialize in treating children who have been victims of trauma or child maltreatment.

Q: How long have you been on staff at CHOC?
A:  One year.

Q: What are some new programs or developments within your specialty?
A:  As part of CHOC’s mental health initiative, the psychology department will be starting the intensive outpatient program within the next year. This program will be dedicated to working with children who are struggling with complex issues. The aim of the program is to prevent re-hospitalization.

Q: What are your most common diagnoses?
A: The majority of children I work with are often stuggling with issues of depression and/or anxiety.

Q:  What inspires you most about the care being delivered here at CHOC?
A: A few years ago, my youngest child suddenly and unexpectedly became very ill and I found myself living at CHOC for approximately two weeks. It was one of the most frightening and emotionally difficult times in my life, but I was able to experience firsthand the amazing care provided by both the CHOC medical and mental health teams. Despite the fact that we were one family among many in the unit, my family was always treated with compassion and sensitivity; everyone who walked in the room was dedicated to helping my family. I am forever grateful for the support I received, and after that experience I decided that the CHOC team was without a doubt one that I wanted to join.

Q: What excites you most about CHOC’s mental health initiative?
A: I am excited that we will be able to help even more children in Orange County and provide specialized care to populations of children in critical need.

Q: Why did you decide to become a doctor?
A:  Before I applied to graduate school, I was working as a probation officer in the Sacramento County juvenile hall. I worked with children on a daily basis who were in need of mental health treatment and not incarceration; after this experience, I was committed to working with struggling youth.

Q: If you weren’t a physician, what would you be and why?
A:  I would love to be a chef or attend culinary school.

Q: What are your hobbies/interests outside of work?
A: I love dancing —salsa and cumbia are my favorite. I also love cooking.

Q: What have you learned from your patients?
A: Never underestimate resilience in children. In the face of extreme adversity, many children can succeed and will accomplish just about anything.

Stay Informed about Mental Health

CHOC Children’s has made the commitment to take a leadership role in meeting the need for more mental health services in Orange County. Sign up today to keep informed about this important initiative.

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CHOC Nurse Following in her Mother’s Footsteps

Spending her lunchtime with her young daughter Monica was something Maria Arreola always enjoyed when working her shift at CHOC Children’s Hospital. Proud of both, she looked forward to the times when Monica could join her at the hospital. And Monica enjoyed it, as well. Little did the two know then just how much of an impact those times together would have on their futures.

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Maria Arreola joined CHOC in 1981 – a dream come true. Eager to get a foot in the door, she accepted a position with the environmental services department in hopes she’d eventually land a spot as a clinical assistant (CA). Six months later, she was working as a CA in oncology.

She loved her job, and particularly enjoyed when her daughter Monica would visit her for lunch. Maria’s co-workers would frequently ask Monica what she wanted to be when she grew up. Her reply was always the same: “a nurse.”

“I saw something very special in Monica, something that told me she would be a wonderful nurse,” says Maria.

Though she didn’t tell her mom. Monica wasn’t always so sure. What she did know, however, is that CHOC was unique.

“Even at a young age, I knew CHOC was different, and I thought it was so special because it was just for kids,” recalls Monica.

The kids are what drew her mom to CHOC.

“I love working with children and their families; it’s my passion. And being at CHOC means I get to care for patients, as well as provide support to their parents. It’s wonderful to be able to make such a difference,” explains Maria.

That desire to make a difference lured Monica to follow in her mom’s footsteps. She joined CHOC in 2007 as a CA in the neurosurgical unit. At the time, Maria was working in that same unit.

nurse
Monica grew up visiting her mom, a registered nurse at CHOC Children’s Hospital, on lunch breaks. Inspired by her mom’s work ethic and compassion for patients, she grew up to be a registered nurse at CHOC.

“Whenever we had the same shifts, I admired my mom’s work ethic and was inspired by her passion and her ability to connect with families,” says Monica.

And like her mom, Monica enjoys practicing patient-and-family-centered care.

“I love being an advocate for my patients, and a voice for those who perhaps can’t verbalize. As care providers, we need to partner with our patients and their families to really understand and meet their needs,” explains Monica.

After a few years, and with encouragement from her mom, manager and co-workers, Monica decided to become a registered nurse. She continued to work part-time as a CA while completing her education. The support from everyone was amazing, says Monica.

Most recently, she completed CHOC’s RN Residency Program.  And, to the delight of her mom and her co-workers, of whom many watched her grow up, she was hired as a registered nurse in the neurosurgical unit. Monica’s mom still works at CHOC, in the neurosurgery clinic. So, while one Arreola works with CHOC Children’s Neuroscience Institute patients on the inpatient side, the other gets to interact with them as outpatients.

“I am so proud of my daughter, of the human being and of the nurse she became. I also still love working at CHOC,” says Maria, who recently celebrated her 25th year. “Having my daughter part of my CHOC family, as well, is amazing.”

When Maria and Monica aren’t working, they enjoy spending time with their family, going on hikes and enjoying Maria’s cooking.

Have you been inspired by a nurse at CHOC? Nominate them for the Daisy Award

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Inspiring the Next Generation of Nurses

In honor of National Nurses Week, and as part of CHOC’s week-long celebration of our incredibly skilled and caring nursing staff, we asked several members of our nursing leadership team what advice they would offer to the next generation of nurses.

nurses
Melanie Patterson, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer

Melanie Patterson, senior vice president and chief nursing officer

Q: What advice do  you have for those pursuing their professional aspirations?

A: Recognize your strengths and spend time building on them. Don’t waste time focusing on your flaws; instead, strut your strengths! Know who you are and be that person always. Don’t beat yourself up when something doesn’t go perfectly. Sometimes, what we consider our biggest “mistakes” can make the biggest wake. Realize you make a wake, whether rough waters or not, so make that wake count. Showing your humility in the face of adversity is many times the best gift you can give another person or group.

nurses
Nancy Kraus, service line director of critical care, director of clinical education

Nancy Kraus, service line director of critical care, director of clinical education

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring nurses?

A: In any profession there are a variety of roles and responsibilities you can have throughout your career. Typically you choose “A” and think you might progress to “B” or “C.” Don’t rule out “D thru Z.” Sometimes you find what you are most passionate about by stepping outside your comfort zone. Take every opportunity that is offered to you large and small – all will become growth experiences that help you progress personally and professionally. As a young nurse just starting my career I never would have imagined I would have had the opportunity to be a bedside care provider, a college professor, a national public speaker at conferences, a global health volunteer, a peer leader with my physician partners, assist in research, lead an organization to a Magnet award of excellence, mentor others, be “the neighborhood nurse,” and now a director over critical care. All of these opportunities came because early on I decide to say “yes” when opportunities were offered to me to try something new, when someone asked for help, when I joined a group project or chose to be engaged and participate outside of my primary position.

nurses
Alisa McCormick, nurse manager, pediatric intensive care unit

Alisa McCormick, nurse manager, pediatric intensive care unit

Q: What is something you wish you would have known when you began your career?

A: I wish I would have had the advice that a friend gave me recently. The advice was to always have someone behind me that I am helping to grow and develop, and someone ahead of me that is a mentor, helping me to grow and develop. Embracing such a simple concept of balance as a new nurse would have helped me focus and develop my career much sooner. I waited over 20 years to return to school mostly out of fear. Returning to school allowed me to gain the skill and confidence to step out of my comfort zone, become a manager, participate in evidenced-based projects, lead hospital-wide initiatives, mentor and develop my staff, and most importantly support the development of a unit-based mentor program for new nurses in the PICU.

Susan See, nurse manager, neuroscience unit

Q: What advice do you have for aspiring nurses?

A: Everyone has their own unique story. It is up to you to determine what your story looks like. Whether you are early in your career or you have been in healthcare for years, there is no better time than right now to keep your passion alive and active by embracing opportunities and striving to reach new goals. Decide what is most important to you, make deliberate choices, and run full force to attain your goals. There is something magically satisfying about doing what you love. It makes you better at what you do, and best of all, you will shine that satisfaction. Thoreau said, “Never look back unless you are planning to go that way”. Be uniquely you and continue to create what you want your story to look like!

Have you been inspired by a nurse at CHOC? Nominate them for the Daisy Award

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Oncology Patient Grows Up to Become CHOC Oncology Nurse

When most adults think back to their earliest memory, they might remember a field trip in preschool or a vacation with family. But Caroline, a registered nurse in the Hyundai Cancer Institute at CHOC Children’s, remembers CHOC. She was diagnosed with cancer at age two, and spent the next two and a half years in and out of treatment.

nurse
Caroline was diagnosed with cancer at age two. Years later, after winning her battle, she returned to CHOC as a registered nurse.

“I remember the playrooms, my nurses, the child life specialists, and the friends I made in the hospital,” she recalls. “Several families got really close because of our shared experiences and regularly got together for years after we all finished treatment.”

Caroline now works alongside several of the nurses and physicians who helped her beat cancer as a young child.

Karen DeAnda, a registered nurse at CHOC, was the first one to care for Caroline after her diagnosis, and started Caroline’s very first IV.

“I do recall the day Caroline came in for the first time. She was tiny, and I was a brand new nurse,” DeAnda says. “Those initial first days when a patient is being diagnosed is very difficult on the entire family. I clearly remember the day she was diagnosed and helping her through that first evening in the hospital. It was a surreal experience to see her so many years later as a grown woman; it made my heart pound. She is truly an inspiration to our patients and families.”

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Caroline was a young child when she was at CHOC fighting cancer. Today, she’s a registered nurse at CHOC standing alongside patients fighting their own cancer battles.

Caroline’s parents were at her bedside as often as they could be, but when they weren’t able to be there, her nurses stepped in.

“My nurses were the people who were always there with me when my parents couldn’t be. It was like a big family,” she says. “My mom was a huge worrier, and for her to trust my nurses was a big thing.”

Although Caroline was very young when she was diagnosed with cancer, she has a unique connection to the patients she now cares for and their families.

“Caroline’s compassion and firsthand experience is a gift to our patients and their families. Whether or not she even shares her story with her patients, the fact that she has walked that walk, regardless of her young age at the time, allows her to have immense empathy and understanding for what the entire family is experiencing,” DeAnda says.

The impact that Caroline’s care team had on her as a patient directly influenced her career path.

“I’ve always been interested in medicine,” she says. “There was never a question about what I wanted to do when I grew up; I always knew that I would become an oncology nurse at CHOC.”

For a short time during her undergraduate studies, she momentarily lost sight of that goal, and was struggling in school. At the time, CHOC was in the midst of constructing the Bill Holmes Tower, and Caroline’s dad arranged for the two of them to have a behind-the-scenes tour. One of Caroline’s primary nurses during her cancer treatment, Melanie Patterson, now the vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer at CHOC, showed them the new technology and amenities that would be coming to CHOC, and it reignited Caroline’s passion.

She applied to nursing school the next day, and began volunteering in CHOC’s oncology unit, two things that made her former nurse very proud.

“I remember Caroline’s beautiful hair the day she was diagnosed. This beautiful toddler girl— my heart melted for her immediately. She was very young when she was treated, but this prepared her for the emotional, mental and physical toll of oncology nursing” Patterson says. “We have many former patients working at CHOC, and it makes my heart and soul glow knowing that CHOC nurses have impacted kids growing into adults that way.”

Once on the receiving end of the small acts of kindness from nurses — who once went out of their way to pick up Caroline’s favorite food when she was sick from treatment and wouldn’t eat—Caroline now understands the importance of going the extra mile for patients and families.

“Remembering how a mom takes her coffee in the morning, or seeing a child who is cold and bringing them a heated blanket when they didn’t even know we had those, can sometimes be the thing that changes their outlook on the whole day, and such a welcome surprise for them,” Caroline says.

Transitioning from patient to nurse did not happen without a few unexpected revelations.

“When I became a nurse, I was surprised at how much this career is a labor of love. When I was a patient, I had no idea how much work nurses did behind the scenes when I wasn’t looking,” Caroline says. “I felt like the center of their whole world. I didn’t know they had a lot of centers of their world.”

As much as Caroline enjoys caring for pediatric oncology patients the way she once was cared for, she loves even more when she gets to send them home.

“What I love most about working at CHOC is seeing patients get healthy and sending them home, where they belong,” Caroline says. “I also love seeing so many people come together for one child’s health. Seeing that happen day after day is really powerful.”

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Cancer Patient to Caregiver

When Kim was seventeen, her life looked much like a typical teenager’s. She had a part-time job, enjoyed trips to the beach with friends, and was anxiously awaiting her senior year of high school.

But when she found herself short of breath more often than her friends were, her mom brought her to a local emergency room , just in case. She was ultimately diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

She would spend the next 26 months in and out of CHOC Children’s fighting cancer, but always with an end goal in mind: to return someday as a hematology/oncology nurse at the Hyundai Cancer Institute, which she did, ten years after her diagnosis.

“Even back then I thought that when I was better, I was going to be a nurse at CHOC,” she says. “I don’t think I chose my career; I think it chose me. Ever since I got sick, there was never an option to do anything else, anywhere else.”

Despite spending so much time in and out of the hospital while fighting cancer, Kim says she never felt like a patient, something she credits to her nurses.

“I was very involved in my care because I was fascinated by medicine,” she says. “They had protocols to follow and did everything they needed to, but I never felt like a patient. I was always Kimberly.”

Despite knowing the hospital setting from a patient’s perspective, there were a few surprises when she joined the care team.

“At the time, I didn’t realize all the behind-the-scenes work of being a nurse,” Kim says. “No matter what stressful situation had occurred to them earlier that day or just before they came into my room, it didn’t matter. As soon as they would walk into my room, it was all about me, and they were leaving their stress at the door.”

She now works alongside several physicians and nurses who cared for her when she was a patient.

“A lot of times when I see them, despite the hustle and bustle of working in a hospital, they’ll take a moment to come up to me and hug me extra tight,” Kim says.

One of her nurses, Dana Moran, lights up every time she sees Kim. The two bonded over TV shows, movies and anything else Kim had wanted to talk about when she was a patient.

“At that age, it’s easy to become discouraged and shut down emotionally, but not Kim,” Dana says. “She was scared and she was sick, but she never lost her sense of humor. She remained strong and positive for the people around her who were worried about her.”

Small acts of kindness from nurses like Dana have stuck with Kim for more than a decade.

“My mom would tell me how the nurses brought her hot coffee every morning, and how much a small gesture like that meant so much to her. So, I try to tap into the little things like that, since I know they make such a big difference to patients and families,” she said.

Kim’s pediatric oncologist, Dr. Lilibeth Torno, met Kim’s ambulance upon her initial transfer to CHOC, and they now work side by side.

“I admitted Kim when she was first diagnosed. Her mom had a bouquet of flowers which she handed over to me,” Dr. Torno recalls. “As a former patient, she truly understands, more than anyone else, what it is like to have a life-threatening diagnosis. She experienced firsthand the difficult procedures and treatment her diagnosis entailed, and it has made her an effective advocate for her patients. It is a joy and privilege to walk this difficult journey with our patients. It truly makes my work meaningful to see them move on in life.”

Kim’s time as a patient also affected her career on a very detailed level.

“Whenever I do a task, no matter how small, I can remember when that was done to me, and I think it brings a softer touch to what I do,” she says. “My whole heart is in what I do. I treat my patients’ families like they were my own.”

Celebrating important milestones for patients is an especially heartfelt part of her role as a nurse.

“As much as we love seeing our patients here, there is nothing better than being able to send patients home,” Kim says. “I remember how happy I was to be sent home at the end of a hospital stay, and I love being able to help them celebrate by singing, “Happy Last Chemo to You.”

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A Heartfelt Thank You to All CHOC Nurses

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Melanie Patterson, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer

By Melanie Patterson, vice president of patient care services and chief nursing officer

Every day we are inspired by the compassionate care our nursing staff provides for patients and their families. But as we celebrate National Nurses Week, we take an extra moment to celebrate the extraordinary skill and empathy you bring to CHOC Children’s.

All of our nurses are committed to every patient and family that walks onto the campus. CHOC is grateful for the way you partner with parents as valued members of a patient’s care team. Our nursing staff cares for the entire family, and we know we cannot be successful without a strong partnership with parents. You are often tasked with walking a difficult journey alongside your patients. Thank you for understanding that often small acts of kindness make a big difference with the families that entrust us with their child’s care.

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Our organization’s commitment to nurture, advance and protect the health and well-being of children is brought to life by our world-class nursing staff. We recognize and appreciate the sacrifices you often make in order to provide the best care for kids in Orange County.

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Throughout my 24 years at CHOC, I’ve been blessed to work alongside many of our outstanding nurses. Several of you first came to CHOC as an oncology patient,  and I had the privilege of being your bedside nurse. Seeing the brave way you battled cancer, and then seeing you grow up and return to CHOC as oncology nurses makes my heart and soul glow knowing that CHOC has impacted kids growing into adults that way.

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Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for the miracles you perform every day. It’s my honor to work alongside each and every one of you.

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