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Project Hope sends nurse to hard-hit Philippines

 

By 

When Wally Winter, a nurse and retired Air Force lieutenant colonel, boards a plane at Albuquerque International Sunport today, he won’t touch ground for about two days.

When he does, he’ll pick up where he left off a few months ago, nursing those touched by one of the worst typhoons in history, which ravaged the Philippines last November.

Wally Winter is shown at his home in Bernalillo, wearing a T-shirt with the name of the organization for which he volunteers as a nurse, Project Hope. He leaves today for his second tour doing disaster relief nursing in the Philippines. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

Wally Winter is shown at his home in Bernalillo, wearing a T-shirt with the name of the organization for which he volunteers as a nurse, Project Hope. He leaves today for his second tour doing disaster relief nursing in the Philippines. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

The 65-year-old native Oklahoman, who now lives in Bernalillo, spent six weeks volunteering around last year’s Christmas holidays in a poor hospital on an island in the Philippines hit hard by the typhoon, and today he goes back. When he arrives the morning of March 26, he’ll serve two more months on the same island, called Panay, through a Virginia-based nonprofit organization called Project Hope, the same one he served with before.

It sends doctors, nurses, pharmacy technicians and social workers to areas around the world in need of relief.

“I think it brings me closer to God and helps me be more thankful,” said Winter, describing what made him want to serve the first time and then return. “I feel I have been richly rewarded and I’ve really never had any major challenge in life, nothing devastating that I’ve been up against.”

Not so for the people of Tapaz City, located on the island of Panay. It was hard hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan – one of the strongest storms recorded on the planet. It smashed the Philippines on Friday, Nov. 8, killing more than 6,200 people.

A few days later, Winter’s neighbor, also a registered nurse, who is from the Philippines, told him about Project Hope.

“He said, ‘What company is that?’ and he said, ‘I really want to serve. I really want to go,’” recalled Veronica Rodriguez-Jumalon, a surgical care nurse at Presbyterian Hospital who came to the U.S. from Cebu 20 years ago.

Winter sent in his application and was quickly accepted. His two-day journey began Dec. 18 and took him from Albuquerque to Dallas to Japan to Manila to Panay Island. Rodriguez-Jumalon, who spent the holidays with her husband and 17-year-old daughter, joined Winter’s team a month later.

Wally Winter and Veronica Rodriguez-Jumalon, top, at Tapaz District Hospital, taking a report from the local hospitalist and one of the Project Hope physicians. (Courtesy of Wally Winter)

Wally Winter and Veronica Rodriguez-Jumalon, top, at Tapaz District Hospital, taking a report from the local hospitalist and one of the Project Hope physicians. (Courtesy of Wally Winter)

The team consisted of 19 people, most from Massachusetts and California and ranging in age from 25 to 72. Many, including Rodriguez-Jumalon, stayed about three weeks and then had to return to jobs and family. Winter, who is unmarried and retired and does not have children, spent six weeks.

“I tried to simplify my life, so I can walk out the door at the last minute and I’m gone,” he said.

They worked in the 25-bed Tapaz District Hospital, which has broken windows and falling ceilings and no air conditioning. Locals, many who had never before seen a doctor, walked five miles to get care, Winter recalled during an interview in a Northeast Heights coffee shop a few days before his departure.

At the hospital, the team got to work, performing vaccinations, circumcisions and simple surgeries. They also educated more than 25 local health workers about tuberculosis, STDs, hepatitis, infection control and hand-washing techniques.

“At one point, we saw 600 patients in one day,” said Rodriguez-Jumalon. “We’d treat their coughs and colds; we did some wound care, and another doctor from Harvard brought an ultrasound machine … It’s really, really a poor area,” she added. “They had a wheelchair that was made of a garden chair with some tire(s) attached.”

Having survived the typhoon, many also had high blood pressure, she said.

Winter recalled a girl helping her father carry his comatose wife six miles on a hemp hammock to the hospital. The wife was revived with dextrose in the hospital, whose intensive care unit Winter described as a “broken-down little room,” and whose operating room had collapsed five years before.

At night, his team slept on air mattresses, four or five to a bedroom, or outside on the porch. They woke up at 4 a.m. so everyone could shower before heading to the hospital, where, besides caring for patients, they also painted the beds and walls and replaced mattresses.

“I saw how overwhelmed everybody was,” Winter said. “It was like, you don’t even know where to start.” The hospital had no clean water, so sometimes it was re-used, he said. In some parts of the town, there was no electricity, although the hospital did have it.

Tapaz District Hospital had a bed capacity of 25 patients but often took care of 35 or 40 at one time, with beds in the hallways and other spare floor space. (Courtesy of Wally Winter)

Tapaz District Hospital had a bed capacity of 25 patients but often took care of 35 or 40 at one time, with beds in the hallways and other spare floor space. (Courtesy of Wally Winter)

His service in Tapaz City seems like a natural extension of his work in the Air Force. His last deployment was to Iraq in 2005, and he oversaw nurses in a trauma center who medically evacuated those who had been hurt. During most of his military career, which took him through Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan during times of war and peace, he was an aeromedical evacuation nurse himself. “You saw those poor soldiers, they had no ears, no eyes – they had all been burned off – and you were there to hold their hand, tell them how much they are appreciated. You look at them and it just breaks your heart.”

After retiring from the Air Force, he worked at Rust Presbyterian and taught nursing at Apollo College and Grand Canyon University.

Going to the Philippines was quite a departure. “Project Hope picked that area because no one else wanted it,” he said. “We’d go into the far jungle areas and set up clinics,” intended for those too far away from the hospital, said Winter.

Project Hope pays for their flight – Winter’s ticket cost about $4,000 – housing, and meals, but otherwise doesn’t offer any salary.

A relative of the mayor of the town of Tapaz offered the volunteers a four-bedroom house to stay in. A cook prepared them meals including rice, vegetables mixed with cooked meat, lumpias (similar to eggrolls) and fried bananas. Winter used about $200 of his own money per month for other transportation costs and to buy food for people who had not eaten for days, he said.

Hea_jd_24mar_philippines mapLocal soldiers escorted his team to the hospital every day because there had been a terrorist threat in the area, Winter said.

This time, Winter will return by himself, and will stay until May 29 in the same house. He will teach nurses some infant care and advance their skills in reading an EKG. He will also assess the work his team did during the first trip.

And, he said, “I’ll probably be able to sleep in the bed this time.”

Jumalon plans to return in June. “It’s not a long-term impact, but at least it makes impact to their lives,” she said of the work they are able to do. “It gives them hope.”

And, she added: “It’s a very rewarding, a very humbling experience as well. It made me realize how lucky we are over here with our health care.”

Source: Albuquerque 

New York nurse blends art, healing

 
bildeAs a registered nurse in the cardiac surgery ICU at Beth Israel Medical Center, Valley Fox, RN, BSN, MA, AP, CCRN, witnesses the spectrum of life and death. 

Her days are full of pharmaceuticals, imaging studies and other visual elements, which she reinterprets into an artistic language that explores the relationship between body and spirit.

“I take inspiration from the hospital because that’s where I spend my time,” Fox said. “Being in the presence of those images and bodies, it comes through instinctively.”

In one piece of artwork Fox donated to the American Heart Association and the cardiac surgery unit, she subtly embedded a heart in the middle of a flower. Many people did not notice, but her colleagues on the unit spotted it immediately. 

“The heart is the center of everybody,” said Cathy Sullivan, RN, BS, MSN, FNP, CCRN, director of patient care services, Beth Israel Medical Center — Petrie Division. “Without your heart, you wouldn’t have a body or soul.” 

describe the imageBeth Israel Medical Center nurse Valley Fox, RN, recently completed abilde (1) month-long art exhibit at New York University’s medical sciences building called “Origins of Medicine.”
Mary Anne Gallagher, RN, MA, BC, director of quality, standards and practice at Beth Israel, envisioned a fetus and baby in one of Fox’s paintings, which the artist had not intentionally set out to create. “When you are in her presence, there’s a feeling of peace and comfort,” Gallagher said. 

Art came first for Fox, who was born with severe myopia. Her inability to see clearly beyond 10 inches went unrecognized until she was in kindergarten, when she received glasses. “As a child, I was always drawing because that’s how I processed reality,” Fox said. “I would play with Play-Doh. I was constantly doing artwork as a child.”

The school allowed Fox, a gifted student, to paint twice a week in her elementary school years, where she developed her skills and creativity. “Everyone has creative capacities,” Fox said. 

Her parents encouraged Fox to pursue “a practical degree” rather than art. After completing her nursing school prerequisites and waiting to be admitted to a nursing program, she turned to Chinese medicine. She completed a master of oriental medicine at the Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., but the timing was not ideal to set up her own practice as an acupuncture physician. 

bilde (2)Still, healthcare intrigued her, and the opportunity to travel, move around and practice in different places cinched her decision to become an RN. She worked in Florida, Illinois and upstate New York before settling in New York City. Nursing is a career path she has not regretted. 

“Being a nurse is incredibly rewarding, to help patients when they are in tremendous need and offer support and listen,” Fox said. “I get to share intimate moments with total strangers, and then there are critical moments where we work together as a team and save someone’s life. It’s an incredible opportunity.” 

Fox credits her artistic background with the intuitive skills she draws from as a critical care nurse. She considers the interconnectivity of the mind and body and draws from her experience in medicine to pick up subtle clues. 

“Sometimes, that right brain element comes through, and we can sense a patient may code and prevent an emergency,” Fox said. 

Fox professionally displays and sells her paintings and recently completed a monthlong exhibit at New York University’s medical science building called “Origins of Medicine,” in which she explored the relationship between the mind and body in medicine.

“Valley looks at the patient as a whole and anticipates,” Sullivan said. “That’s the type of nurse you need, one who pays attention to detail. And artists pay attention to details.”
Source: Nurse.com

The Role of a Certified Nurse-Midwife

 
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Are You the Best Leader You Can Be?

 

“Nurses serve in a variety of professional leadership positions, from administrators and unit managers to chief nursing officers and hospital board members. Today, the challenges of leading in an increasingly complex health care environment are great; therefore, nurses need to take every opportunity to develop and hone their leadership qualities and skills. The question for every nurse—no matter the stage of her or his education or career—is: Are you the best leader you can be?” writes Sue Hassmiller, senior adviser for nursing at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and director of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, and Julie Truelove, student at the University of Virginia School of Nursing, in an article in the January 2014 issue of the American Journal of Nursing.

The article, “Are You the Best Leader You Can Be?,” discusses the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations on nursing leadership in the 2010 report, The Future of Nursing: Leading Change, Advancing Health. The recommendations call on the health care system to “prepare and enable nurses to lead change to advance health,” by developing leadership programs and providing increased opportunities to lead. The article features a table of nurse leadership programs for nursing students and professional nurses as well as a nursing leadership resource list.

Table: Leadership at Every Level -  Click here to view the full table. 

“Nurses with strong leadership and management skills are better prepared to serve individuals and their families and the community, and to collaborate with colleagues,” the authors write. Regardless of where you are in your career, “a leadership program is a step toward becoming the best leader you can be.”  Read the full article here.

Source: CampaignforAction.org 

Nurses Save United Pilot Having Possible Heart Attack Mid-Flight

 

By 

Talk about high drama.

In an emergency situation called straight out of a movie, two nurses saved a United Airlines pilot having a possible heart attack mid-flight last month.

Thirty minutes into a flight from Des Moines, Iowa, to Denver on Dec. 30, an intercom announcement requested medical expertise. Linda Alweiss of Camarillo, Calif., and Amy Sorensen of Casper, Wyo., answered the call. Directed to the cockpit, Alweiss told KTLA in Los Angeles that she found the pilot slumped over and mumbling, with an irregular heartbeat.

"He was clearly suffering from a possibly fatal arrhythmia,” she told NBC4 News.

Passengers helped the two women pull the captain into the galley, where the nurses set up a defibrillator and an IV, according to KTLA. In the meantime, the jet was rerouted to Omaha, Neb.

"This is what happens in movies," Sorensen (spelled Sorenson by some outlets) told ABC News. "This isn't what happens in real life."

A co-pilot safely landed the plane in Omaha, where medics were waiting to further treat the pilot, outlets noted. As the women retreated to their seats, passengers cheered the nurses' efforts, the Star-Tribune wrote. The pilot survived.

In a statement released to media United said: “United flight 1637, a Boeing 737 operating between Des Moines and Denver Monday evening, landed safely in Omaha after the captain became ill. United accommodated the customers overnight, and they continued to Denver the next day.”

A United spokeswoman told The Huffington Post that it was not releasing anymore information on the pilot. She added that she wanted everyone to know "the passengers weren't in any danger."

Sorensen, for one, said her actions weren't really heroic.

"I really don't see myself as a hero," she told ABC News. "I did what I know for a patient that needed it."

Source: Huffington Post 

Nurse returns from Philippines disaster with renewed zeal

 

By: Mike Creger

Six nurses began a journey to the Philippines earlier this month. They were strangers in a land torn by Typhoon Haiyan in November. They came out of their two-week medical mission as a team.

That’s how Duluth nurse Anna Rathbun described her time hopping from makeshift medical facilities across Panay Island, which took a direct hit from one of the fiercest and deadliest typhoons in history.

“We ended up working really well together,” Rathbun said of her tour with five other nurses — three from the East Coast, one from Arizona and one from California. She also worked with nurses from other countries.

Rathbun is a registered nurse in the intensive care unit at St. Luke’s hospital, a job that had her well prepared for whatever might come a world away.

“Nurses, especially intensive care nurses, learn to work as a team,” she said. “It’s so important to be flexible and adaptable to change.”

The team went from village to village across the island, setting up in whatever building still was standing, mainly churches and schools.

Rathbun said her only expectation was that she would be treating wounds from the typhoon. She was surprised to see so many people come in for chronic conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory conditions.

“It was everywhere we went,” she said. “We got the biggest thanks for the smallest things,describe the image like handing out vitamins.”

She provided wound and respiratory care and helped deliver a baby.

Those coming to the islands had their own health issues to deal with, Rathbun said.

“The air quality is so poor that we all had sore throats and stuffy noses almost immediately,” Rathbun said. “I got a sinus infection and upper respiratory infection.”

Rathbun is one of 3,200 nurses from across the country who signed up for a relief effort organized by National Nurses United. It raised money to pay for expenses nurses would encounter traveling to the Philippines. Rathbun couldn’t have gone otherwise.

She had just a two-day notice that she had been chosen for a mission leaving Dec. 9. She was grateful her manager at St. Luke’s was understanding and could grant the leave from work. “I had the go-ahead from day one,” she said.

“It was a whirlwind,” she said of preparing for her journey.

“I’ve always wanted to do some disaster work,” Rathbun said. “I became a nurse to help people.”

But her mother was nervous about her going overseas, Rathbun said. Now that her daughter is home and she has seen and heard of the work she did, Mom is OK.

“She’s really proud,” Rathbun said.

Coming home last Saturday was “reverse culture shock,” Rathbun said.

“You spend two weeks with people who have absolutely nothing. They lost everything,” she said. “And here, we have everything.”

That was especially true in coming home during the last commercial rush before Christmas, a holiday that had a deeper meaning for her after Panay Island.

“I follow local stories and what’s going on (in the U.S.) and I want to say, ‘Hey, there are people on the other side of the world who need help.’”

Anyone who has thought of doing a similar mission should do so, Rathbun said without hesitation.

“If you’re thinking about doing it, take the plunge,” she said. “It will change your life.”

She didn’t want to leave Panay because there is so much medical work still to be done. She’s assuaged a bit by the knowledge that the National Nurses United effort is a long-term one.

“The goal is to continue to provide care,” Rathbun said.

Her group was the third wave to enter the typhoon area. The next group will come from California, New York and Texas. They are expected to depart in early January. Nurses from 50 states and 19 nations have volunteered to help.

“There is still so much work that needs to be done,” Rathbun said. “People can’t afford their medical care, they can’t afford their meds. A lot more has to go on.”

Source: Duluth News Tribune

Nurse Gives Christmas Card To Entire Airplane Crew

 

One airplane pilot says he and his whole crew got a touching surprise from a grateful passenger while they were working on Christmas.

"Today, a passenger gave our crew Christmas cards with this note inside," theunidentified pilot said on Reddit. The note was apparently from a nurse who cares for cancer patients at NYU Langone Medical Center.

Airplane crew members on Reddit seemed to support the idea that such a small gesture makes a big difference.

"As a former FA [flight attendant], I can confirm that it is always appreciated when passengers were nice, or acknowledged us in this way," user MonorailBlack wrote on Thursday. "Flying over the holidays isn't fun - missing Christmas with your family for more than 10 years gets really old. The little things made it more tolerable."

Trailblazing Nurse Leader Champions Diversity

 

By RWJF

Barbara Nichols, a national nurse leader who broke through color barriers to become the first Black president of the American Nurses Association, likes to point out that she entered the profession in its dinosaur days—before the advent of cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, intensive care units, and pre-mixed narcotics.

It was also prehistoric in another way; Nichols became a nurse in the 1950s, when a national system of institutionalized discrimination kept minorities from entering and advancing in nursing.

In those days, many hospitals were segregated, as were many nursing schools. Those schools that weren’t often capped the number of students from racial, ethnic, and religious minority backgrounds with rigid quota systems. Few minority nurses earned baccalaureate or advanced degrees, and fewer still rose to become leaders of the profession.

But Nichols overcame those hurdles and eventually made history as the first Black nurse to hold national and state-level nursing leadership positions. Throughout her career, she has been helping others from underrepresented backgrounds enter and advance in the profession—a mission she continues at the age of 75 as director of a diversity initiative in her home state of Wisconsin.

“My whole career has been spent raising the issue of the need for racial and ethnic inclusion and looking for specific ways to involve and include more minorities in nursing,” she says. “That has been my passion.”

Born during tail end of the Great Depression and raised in Maine, Nichols was active in children’s theater and considered becoming an actor; but she ultimately decided against it because of limited professional acting roles for Blacks. Instead, she pursued a different, more “practical” dream, and became a nurse. “I was born in the late 30s, and the job market and occupations for Blacks were very limited,” she recalls. “Pragmatically, nursing was one of the fields you could go into.”

Not that it was easy. Nichols landed a highly coveted spot at Massachusetts Memorial School of Nursing in Boston, where she was one of only four Black students in her class. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing at Case Western Reserve University, where she wasbarbaranichols one of two Black students in her class. She took a job at Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was the only Black registered nurse (RN) on staff. She then joined the U.S. Navy, where she was one of a handful of Black nurses on a staff of 150.

But life as “a speck of pepper in a shaker of salt,” as one reporter put it, never held her back; rather, it propelled her forward as a nurse leader and advocate for diversity in nursing. As a young staff nurse, she recalls, her suggestions were ignored because of her race. “Nurses would say, ‘Well, who are you to tell us what to do,’” she recalls. “That’s when I decided to get into a leadership role. It was a direct result of being ignored, and of the impression I got that my ideas weren’t worthy of consideration because I was Black.”

And lead she did. In 1970, Nichols became the first Black woman to serve as president of the Wisconsin Nurses Association. To this day, she is still the only ethnic minority to serve as the organization’s president in its more than 100 years of existence. In 1979, Nichols went on to become the first Black president of the American Nursing Association—an organization that once banned Blacks—and served for two terms. In 1983, she became the first Black woman to hold a cabinet-level position in the state of Wisconsin when she was appointed to serve as secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing. She was named a Living Legend by the American Academy of Nurses in 2010.

“I’ve been a role model who says that Blacks can achieve and can participate in meaningful ways in issues that are central to the profession,” she says.

A Long Way to Go

A lot has changed since Nichols first entered the profession. Nursing schools are no longer segregated and no longer use quotas. Employers are working harder to recruit and retain nurses of color, she adds, and more nurses from underrepresented backgrounds are seeking higher degrees.

But there’s still a ways to go before the nursing workforce reflects the increasingly diverse population it serves. The RN workforce is 75 percent White, almost 10 percent Black. and less than 5 percent Latino, according to a 2013 report by the Health Resources and Services Administration. A more diverse nursing workforce is needed to provide culturally relevant care, improve interaction and communication between providers and patients, and narrow health disparities, according to the Institute of Medicine (IOM).

After six decades in nursing, Nichols is not giving up. A visiting associate professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee College of Nursing, Nichols recently took a position as project coordinator for the Wisconsin Action Coalition to help diversify the state’s nursing workforce. Action Coalitions are the driving force of the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action, which is backed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and AARP and aims to transform the nursing profession to improve health and health care. It is grounded in anIOM report on the future of nursing released in 2010.

“Our goal is to embed, and ground, all our activities with a diversity component,” Nichols said. To do that, she and her colleagues are gathering data about the diversity of Wisconsin’s nursing workforce, partnering with interested parties, raising money to sustain efforts to diversify the profession, and analyzing ways to promote diversity through policy and practice.

She also supports the Campaign’s national efforts to implement diversity planning, recruit and retain students and faculty from underrepresented groups, and promote advanced education and leadership development among minority nurses.

 “We have a big job ahead of us,” Nichols says, adding: “Prejudice is still out there.”

Source: RWJF

How to talk to your child about cancer: Oakland nurse pens book after diagnosis

 

By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

After a routine mammogram in the fall of 2011, Laurie Thornberg learned she had breast cancer. Over the next nine months, as the Oakland woman endured surgery and roundslaurie of chemotherapy, she watched as friends and loved ones attempted to explain her condition to their children.

Some struggled. One person described Thornberg’s cancer to her children “like I had the plague,” she said. Others were more comfortable, including a close friend and neighbor Thornberg ran into while out for a walk.

“[She] told her children in a kind and gentle way,” Thornberg, a registered nurse, wrote in an email.

Thornberg chronicled the encounter with her neighbor in her new children’s book, “Julie’s Dream,” which she hopes families will use as a tool to talk with their children about cancer and its treatment, as well provide hope to cancer victims and their loved ones.

“Children, even young ones, can be very aware of their surroundings and have questions when they notice family members being upset, someone who is sick a lot, or even as simple as a person suddenly has no hair,” Thornberg said.

In the book, Thornberg’s neighbor explains to her children, “See our friend? She wears that bonnet to cover her head because she got sick and had to take a special medicine that made her hair fall out.”

One of the children turns to Thornberg, asking, “Why don’t you take off that bonnet? I’m sure you’re beautiful under there.”

The book goes on to detail the main character’s dream about magically being healed. Thornberg’s friend and the book’s illustrator, Juliana Muzeroll, had that very dream about her, Thornberg said.

“I liked this approach a lot because it gives the reader freedom to interpret the outcome to fit their own personal situation,” she said. “Meaning, that whether the loved one survives or passes away, there is always healing at the end of a cancer journey.”

juliesdreamThornberg remains in remission 18 months after her last round of chemotherapy. She now realizes that the disease freed her from stressing over the demands of a life as a full-time hospital nurse, mother, and daughter caring for her disabled mother, said Thornberg, who now works in home health care and said she’s able to focus on what’s really important in life.

“Getting cancer took me away from my excessive stress,” she said. “I often say ‘cancer healed my life.’”

“Julie’s Dream” is available in softcover or as an e-book on amazon.combarnesandnoble.com, and authorhouse.com, by searching the title and author together.

Source: Bangor Daily News

Quick action by Children's nurse helped protect young patient during chaos

 

Rita Higgins, a nurse at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, took bold action while working on Thursday to protect a mother and 11-year-old child when an armed man entered the seventh-floor neonatal unit and was shot by police.

By Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel

Rita Higgins was caring for Natalie Engeriser, her 11-year-old patient, when Natalie's mother, Katie, walked into a hospital room on the seventh floor of Children's Hospital of Wisconsin.

There's some kind of disturbance in the hallway, Natalie's mother told Higgins Thursday.

"When she said 'disturbance,' I was thinking one of the kiddos was having a hard time," Higgins said Saturday.

"I stepped into the hallway and I immediately realized something was wrong," Higgins said. "There were two nurses at the nursing station and by the looks on their faces, I knew something was wrong. I heard one of the nurses say, 'Oh my God, they are shooting. Call an active-shooter code.'"

A man police later identified as Ashanti Hendricks was armed and police were trying to arrest him. But Higgins, 37, a registered nurse who started working at Children's last February, didn't really know what was unfolding.

But Higgins, a mother of two just starting her third career, knew what to do, as did the rest of the medical staff.

"I immediately turned back around and I said to Natalie, 'Honey, I'm going to need you to get out of bed and me and your mom are going to help you get into the bathroom.' I was going to need them to go into the bathroom and lock the door behind them," she said.

Higgins wanted to be sure she didn't scare Natalie. The girl is one of Higgins' favorite patients. In fact, when Higgins arrived for work on Thursday, she had been assigned a different floor. Higgins was disappointed because she liked working with Natalie and had made strides in her care.

"A co-worker saw how disappointed I was," Higgins said. "A fellow nurse traded with me, basically. She said, 'Hey, Rita, I know you want to take care of Natalie.'"

Later, as the hospital went into lockdown, she was unsure what was unfolding on the unit. That's when she helped get Natalie out of harm's way.

"We got her and the medical equipment in the bathroom with mom," Higgins said. "I told her to lock the door. I looked them straight in the face and said, 'Don't open the door until I tell you to open the door.' I looked at Natalie and said, 'It's going to be OK.' And I closed the door."

At Children's, doors to the hospital rooms don't lock. But next to the closed door was a small window. As Higgins stood guard, protecting a mother and her little girl, she managed to peer out, trying to make sense of the noise, the chaos.

"Looking back on it, in the period of time when we truly did not know what was going on, we didn't know if someone was just literally shooting, and we didn't know police were involved," Higgins said. "There was that unknown period of time when you think, 'Is this door going to open with a guy with a gun?'"

"For all three of us, that was pretty horrible. All I know is that someone was on the unit with a gun. Shots had been fired," Higgins said.

At some point Higgins saw another nurse in the hallway who was watching a TV monitor where she could see police handcuffing the man elsewhere on the floor.

"That's when I stepped out of the room, looking at the monitor," Higgins said. "Seconds later, I heard more scuffling and the man was suddenly running onto my side down the hall and past me. I went back in the room and closed the door."

Police finally subdued him.

"I knew it was loud and so much stuff was going on," she said. "God knows what (Natalie and her mom) were thinking.

"I told them I was going to stay in here. I told them a bad guy was captured. I told them they were going to hear a lot of stuff."

Natalie and her mother came out of the bathroom. Higgins told Natalie and her mother to turn on the television and turn the volume up loud. Drown out the noise outside.

Two days after the ordeal, Higgins was full of praise for Natalie, her mother and the other nurses on the floor who performed calmly, admirably and courageously.

"I was thinking I was glad I stayed on the floor that day and that I was able to be there for Natalie," Higgins said. "You build up trust and she trusted me."

Later that night, when Higgins was about done for the day, a music therapist came with a guitar to visit Natalie.

The therapist played the Katy Perry hit, "Firework."

"That's the way I ended my shift, rocking out with Natalie with 'Firework,'" Higgins said.

Source: Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel

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