The first day of a new job is always a mixture of emotions – excitement, nervousness, maybe even a bit overwhelmed. I had all of those feelings when I started at Cincinnati Children’s as a nurse on the liver transplant floor. But it also felt as if things had come completely full circle.
That’s because I had been here before. As in literally, on the same floor – even in the same room – as a patient. After spending so much time at Cincinnati Children’s, I knew I wanted to work there. And in that moment, I realized I had finally made my dream come true.
Dream to become nurse first imagined during severe ulcerative colitis flare
It all began in the summer of 2012, when I was 15 years old. I realized that I not only wanted to become a nurse, but I wanted to help kids who struggled with the same health issues as I did. This moment of realization happened while I was staying in the hospital for a severe ulcerative colitis (UC) flare. I had been airlifted from a hospital in my hometown of Detroit to Cincinnati Children’s because I was waiting for a liver transplant. The team wanted me to be stable and healthy enough so that if a liver became available, I would be able to receive it.
I vividly remember how rough the UC flare was. I went to the bathroom no fewer than 30 times a day and was severely dehydrated. There was lots of blood. Constant headaches. My temperature was 104. I could not even hold my head up. The nurses did everything they could to make me feel better. Their presence was calming. They were never rushed and took the time to listen to me. The nurses were so unbelievable during my stay that I wanted to be able to return that kindness to someone else.
The dream continued following liver transplant
My dream was solidified during another inpatient stay at Cincinnati Children’s when I was 17 years old. This time for a new liver, as well as removal of 95% of my colon, which required me to have an ostomy bag for one year. I wound up staying there for five months because I came down with a virus while recovering from the surgeries. It attacked my new liver, heart and kidneys. I was placed on a ventilator and spent a few weeks in the cardiac ICU before going to the cardiac stepdown unit and then back to the transplant floor. I wound up back in the ICU with a major bleed shortly after.
For background, I needed a new liver because when I was seven years old, I came down with a different virus that scarred my liver and it became cirrhotic. My doctors think that I had an overlap of two conditions called autoimmune hepatitis and primary sclerosing cholangitis. I was later diagnosed with ulcerative colitis in the 4th grade. They also removed my colon because when someone has severe ulcerative colitis like I do, symptoms dramatically improve with removal. Furthermore, the risk of colon cancer is high if UC is left raging in the body.
Back to that five-month inpatient stay, the nurses and entire transplant team amazed me with their calmness and kindness. The collaboration and planning between all five of the specialties was remarkable. The situation I was in was serious, but no one on the medical team gave up on me or panicked. Their confidence and care made a scary situation feel less daunting and gave us a sense of peace. I questioned if I could get through it, but the team and my parents supported me and fought for me. I knew I would strive to do the same thing for others one day.
Once the infection was under control and I was healthy enough to leave the hospital, I began a new normal. It was amazing. I didn’t have to run to the bathroom as frequently as I used to. I was able to absorb nutrients. I didn’t feel sick all of the time and had energy like I never had before. My quality of life drastically improved. Because of that, I was able to finish high school, attend college, and get my nursing degree.
Dream becomes a reality
On August 30, 2021, my dream to become a nurse on the same floor where I was treated became a reality. I stood in the same room and felt completely overwhelmed with emotions. I was so thankful to be here. Thankful for the new liver and the kindness I received along the way. Forever thankful to my organ donor who made this life possible. Thankful to be healthy enough to get a nursing degree and make the move to Cincinnati.
It’s now been a few months since I started this position, and I’m still learning how to use my personal story to help other families. Not every time is the right time. But when it feels right, I share that I too received a liver transplant. I think it helps them to not feel so alone, and to give them hope. They see that I had a liver transplant, continued to dream, and was healthy enough to make it happen. I hope that my story inspires other kids just like the amazing nurses who inspired me.