As a nurse at Broward Health, Grace Walker is known for her kind and grateful attitude. She often thanks those she works with and brings happiness wherever she goes. Her journey to the transplant department is an inspiring one.
“I’ve been here almost 15 years as a registered nurse initially. I worked on the oncology unit as a staff nurse then I got promoted to be an assistant manager,” says Walker.
It’s obvious she loves her job, but it is her role as a survivor that she is most grateful for.
In April 2007, she began to experience fatigue, sleepiness, extreme tiredness, loss of appetite, and nausea.
“As a nurse, I started diagnosing myself, I became jaundiced, I came to work one day and I said to a doctor ‘can you look at my eyes, they look kind of yellow’ and she said ‘Grace are you jaundiced? You need to go to E.R.’ And I went to the E.R. and they admitted me immediately when they saw my blood levels. My liver was in complete failure.”
It’s unclear what caused her condition, but it was evident that she would need a new liver to survive.
“I had no medical history of diabetes. No one had had a liver failure in my family. I was never stuck with a needle to get hepatitis B or hepatitis C. I was never a drug user, so when my liver completely failed it was very daunting. It was very scary to think that I had to wait for someone to pass away in order to save my life.”
She would wait at home, only to get a call that would bring her to the hospital, where her hopes would be shattered, time and time again.
“The first time I came in I got prepped for surgery the liver was too big, the second time it was too fatty, the third time the patient had some infection. Then the 4th time I was prepped for surgery with someone else, and whoever was sicker would receive the liver, and I did not, and I had to go home again.”
After eight months, the patient finally received a successful liver transplant. However, she soon experienced complications, including kidney and heart failure, and had to be placed on dialysis. She is thankful for the care she received.
“The team here was amazing, there was nothing that went wrong that they did not correct,” said Walker.
After spending 40 days in the ICU, Grace is now a healthy survivor who cares for patients in that same unit. Her transplant patients are very lucky to have her as their nurse.
“Every time I walk into a patient’s room I think of my donor, I think of the mom, I think of what they are going through, how old he would be now if he would be married if he had children,” she stated.
Dr. Emmanouil Palaios, one of the transplant procedure’s performing doctors, works with her daily.
“Grace always gives her best to the patients that’s why the patients love her. She always has been a great patient advocate. What a great inspiration for us, for the whole transplant team, to see a patient who was so sick, to help so many patients every day. That is a true blessing.”
Paying it forward is Grace’s mission and she volunteers for organ donor awareness and tells her story everywhere she can.
“My mission is to inspire others and to educate about the need for organ donors. One organ donor can save eight lives,’ she stated. And staying healthy is key to her advocacy.
She’s run several 5K races.
“I have to stay healthy because I have a mission to be an example for other patients and to give hope and inspiration that you don’t stay home and in a bed after you have a transplant.”
She has one more wish: to meet and thank the family of her donor one day.
“I am so grateful every day, every day I get up and I look in the mirror and I thank my donor for being so selfless.”