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Greatest gift of all

Image: Juice Images Photography | Veer

What’s the greatest gift you could imagine receiving? Some would say a winning lottery ticket. Others would argue that the car of their dreams or house they’ve always wanted would suffice. And some would stray from the material world and deem that marrying your soul mate or seeing your kids grow up into successful adults would be the greatest gifts of all.

What about the gift of life itself? I’ve never worked in labor and delivery, but I’ve always been envious of those nurses who do. They are constantly bringing new life into the world and seemingly experiencing this great gift that parents receive as they are handed their new baby for the first time.

I treasure our profession because it allows such an opportunity to experience life’s greatest gifts nearly every work day. After some deliberation, I decided that, similar to a labor and delivery experience, children on my unit are handed the gift of life a second time around when they go through open heart surgery.

I have always been intrigued by heart transplants. The concept of placing a stranger’s heart into another body is complicated, amazing and nearly miraculous. The hardest thing I had to overcome when I first started my job was getting past the sad fact that another child had to lose his or her life in order for this organ to be available. I have accepted this as a professional, but to this day I’m not sure I would be able to accept these very raw facts as openly as a parent of a child receiving a heart transplant.

Some of my most emotional and touching experiences as a nurse thus far have been related to heart transplant recipients. I have seen blue babies come out of surgery a new robust shade of pink in mere hours. I have listened to a child who didn’t eat for months ask for a meal of chicken fingers and macaroni a few short days after her transplant. Then I proceeded to watch her finish her meal.

I have witnessed a boy who couldn’t walk to the bathroom without getting short of breath come back to visit a year after his transplant to brag about the sports he is playing. I have cried with a parent when they were told the transplant was a last-ditch effort and the chances of rejection were high, and later cried with the parent when the little girl took her first steps two months after the transplant. I have witnessed a teenage girl at camp show her scar to her friends, a scar that had been re-entered three times with each subsequent transplant she had received.

A mother, who I am very close with, recently shared with me that she received a letter from the parents of the child who her son’s organ donor. This letter reached the mother’s hands three years after her son had his heart transplant. It detailed the donor child’s name, some hobbies he enjoyed and why everyone who came into contact with him loved him. The mother told me how sad she felt for this family, but she realized now how perfect of a match the heart really was–regardless of blood type and antibodies–because her son was very similar to the boy. This letter embodies an example of the gift of life being given a second time around.

Although I would love a million dollars or even a year-long vacation around the world, I still believe the greatest gift one can receive is life. What other profession outside the medical realm allows you to see this gift being given on such an intimate level on nearly a daily basis? Whether through heart transplants, a recovering trauma patient, or witnessing the birth of a child, the nursing world is filled with life. People sometimes say it takes a special type of person to be a nurse, but I feel confident in saying it’s the profession that is special and I’m honored to be a part of it.

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Nicole Lehr

Nicole Lehr is a pediatric nurse. She can be described in three adjectives: content, thankful and fortunate. All credit for the aforementioned description can be given to the love she has for her profession as an RN. She graduated from University of Florida with her Bachelor’s in Nursing and moved to Atlanta to work at the Cardiac Stepdown Unit at Children’s — her dream job.
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