By Dillon Phillips
It’s been said that nursing isn’t a career—it’s a calling.
In this edition of Called to Care, we’re featuring three nurses who heeded that call, going above and beyond in their service of others. As a result, they’ve lived deeply moving experiences with patients, and we’re grateful they shared these personal stories with us.
Crystal Hanley: A Parent Becomes a Patient
Crystal Hanley’s mom was her best friend. They worked together for years—first at a hotel and then at a nursing home. Although some might shudder at the thought of working so closely with a parent, for Hanley, it was a great privilege.
“For the majority of my career, she and I worked at the same places,” she said. “I was super close with her and very fortunate that I got to work alongside her for so many years.”
But as the years passed, life took Hanley to a new job in a new place. Living in Cheyenne, Wyoming, 100 miles away from her hometown of Sidney, Nebraska, she saw her mother less frequently. Their visits were limited to birthdays, holidays, and other special occasions. That was until 2020.
Hanley’s mother had been diagnosed with cancer in 2018, running through a gauntlet of surgeries, chemotherapies, and radiation that had varying degrees of success. But when Hanley and her family came to visit for Easter in 2020, like they did every year, it was obvious that something was seriously wrong.
“She was pretty out of it,” she said. “When we walked into the house, it wasn’t super well-kept like she usually had it. She didn’t even know what day it was.”
Hanley expected the worst and coordinated with her siblings to take her mother to the hospital—85 miles away. When they arrived, they soon learned just how serious things were. As Hanley suspected, the cancer had returned, but it was worse than she could have imagined. It had spread to her mother’s brain and other vital organs, ravaging her body and mind. Her time was short, and it became the family’s mission to make her comfortable for her final days.
Finding end-of-life care can be difficult regardless of the circumstances, but doing it as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up proved nearly impossible.
“We found out that because of COVID-19 there was no home health care hospice,” she said. “We tried to make multiple phone calls, but there were no services that we could get.”
With nowhere to turn, Hanley thought back to her time working alongside her mother at the nursing home. She’d taken a CNA class and worked a few shifts on the floor there. She had the experience, and her mother had the need. So, she and her three siblings decided to move in with her mother, turning her mother’s living area into a makeshift hospital room.
For the next 13 days, Hanley, her siblings, and two of her friends who were nurses provided hospice care to her mom. It was incredibly difficult, but it brought comfort and fulfillment: Hanley knew her mother was receiving the proper care because she was the one providing it.
“Even though it was the hardest thing that I’ve ever done, I wouldn’t have had it any other way,” she said. “Being able to take care of her and spend those times with her and knowing that she was comfortable and not in pain and all the things were taken care of was everything.”
After her mother passed away, Hanley returned to Cheyenne with her four children. But she had been forever changed by the experience, deciding to return to nursing so that she could make sure others received the care they deserved.
“It gives you a whole new perspective when they tell you to care for these people like they’re your own,” she said. “Because I had literally done it with my own, I wanted to give that same care and compassion to the next person.”
Today, she’s a CNA currently working in Julesburg, Colorado. She says the job isn’t easy, but she’s found the career change fulfilling in a way that’s “self-rewarding.”
“It’s rewarding knowing that for those 12 hours I was there, I took care of them to the best of my ability and made sure that they had all the things they needed,” she said. “So, there’s no thank-you necessary because they are taken care of, and I know I gave them the care that they deserved.”
Jamie LeProwse: A Patient Becomes Family
Jamie LeProwse didn’t particularly want to be a respiratory therapist. In fact, it was something like her fourth choice after an injury on the job left her unable to meet certain lift requirements.
But sometimes, when it seems like life is throwing a wrench into things, it’s really just giving you the tool you need.
In the 23 years since, LeProwse has worked in all areas of the hospital and with all age groups. One assignment in particular, though, has left a lasting impact.
In August of 2020, LeProwse was working in the NICU at Jordan Valley Medical Center just outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. There, they had a 33-week gestation girl with esophageal malacia. LeProwse quickly took to her.
“It seemed like everybody was half-afraid of her,” she said. “Her breathing was kind of harsh and ragged. But that’s what I do for my job, so she didn’t really scare me.”
LeProwse was able to get the baby to eat, and because she worked the night shift, she had plenty of time to cuddle and soothe her. A bond soon formed.
That past December, LeProwse had lost her niece, Bobbi Jo, with whom she and her husband were very close. Her niece’s sudden death left LeProwse with a void in her life. She wasn’t expecting to fill it so soon.
“I was just kind of bummed and sad because my niece was a big part of our life,” she said. “She spent lots and lots of time with us. She grew up with us. And then here’s this little girl.”
Naveah, the baby girl, was in the NICU for nearly three months, and as time went on, LeProwse became more and more attached to her. Then, a few days after Naveah was discharged, her mother called LeProwse.
”She called me one night and said, ’If I give you my address, can you come over here? I’ve got an important question to ask you,’” she said. ”It kind of freaked me out a little bit. I’m like, ‘I don’t know what to expect.’
“I went over ’cause it at least gave me the opportunity to see the baby one more time, and she just told me, ‘You bonded with my little girl, and we liked the way that you cared for her. You became part of our family. We would like for you to be her godmother.’”
LeProwse, of course, accepted. Now, she sees Naveah, who turned 2 in February, every other week. LeProwse drives to Salt Lake City to pick her up and brings her back to Pocatello, Idaho, where LeProwse lives with her husband. When she visits, they enjoy playing in the backyard, going to the park, and eating fresh strawberries. They’ve even taken her out to ride horses and four-wheelers.
“It’s changed me and my husband’s life profoundly because we have this cute little stink in our house every other week,” she said. ”Her family loves it, I think, just as much as we do.
“The whole thing still kind of baffles me a little bit, but I’m glad. I think Bobbi sent her to me for a reason.”
Crystal Brown: Tragedy Turns Into Recovery
Crystal Brown can remember exactly when she decided to be a nurse.
She was in fifth grade, and her grandmother was admitted to a nursing home after breaking her hip. Brown and her family visited so often that some members of the staff thought they worked for the state.
“It was comical,” she said. “We were like, ‘No, just trying to check on our grandma.’”
As her health deteriorated, Brown’s grandmother struggled to eat. She would let only two people feed her—one of the nurses on staff and Brown. Providing care that was so personal to a loved one showed Brown just how powerful a career in nursing could be.
Once Brown completed nursing school, she was working at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital in Louisiana. They’d admitted a patient whose prognosis appeared dire—a military pilot arrived in a vegetative state after contracting a mysterious illness while on a flying assignment.
“When he came to us, we didn’t know what the heck was wrong with him,” she said. “When they finally did figure it out, the physicians were at a point where they thought he was at his new baseline mentally.”
While the patient was in the facility, Brown and the rest of his caregivers had been in contact with his mother, who lived 1,000 miles away in California. She was in poor health and unable to travel to see him, so she sent him a cassette player with a recorded message.
Every night, usually when Brown was bathing him, she would play the recording for him. Every night, he was unresponsive. But then, one day, everything changed.
“One night we put it on, and it was just different,” she said. “He had like a spark in his eye. I turned and looked and saw a tear on his cheek. That’s when I called his name.
“He didn’t look at me, but I called his name again, and I’m like, ‘If you can hear me, close your eyes tight,’ and he did.”
Each day after, he slowly but steadily improved. His cognitive skills were progressing and so was his appetite.
“I was bathing him one night, and he had this like death stare at the TV,” she said. “I looked up, and it was a Taco Bell commercial. I was like, ‘Are you hungry?” And then he looked at the TV, then he looked at me, and then he blinked real hard.
“I’m like, ‘All right! You want Taco Bell?’ And he did the same thing. So, I actually sent someone to go order the inside of a bean burrito and gave it to him. He ate that like it was going out of style.”
Finally, he reached a point where he could be transported to a rehabilitation facility in California to continue his recovery closer to his mother. Brown isn’t sure what happened to him after that, but her memory of her time with him has stayed with her.
“Pretty much everyone had written him off,” she said. “They were arranging for the military to ship him over there to a long-term nursing facility, and then all that ended up changing. They had to arrange for him to go to a rehab facility instead.
“So many times, patients just get better, and they leave. It’s just a change of pace to have someone actually be appreciative of what you’re doing. You could tell that he was, and his mom definitely was.”
We thank these amazing caregivers for sharing their stories of care. If you would like to share why you answered the call to care or an impactful experience you’ve had as a traveler or healthcare professional, then send your story to CalledtoCare@medicalsolutions.com, and we’ll reach out to you if it is chosen.
Dillon Phillips is a content specialist for Medical Solutions.