Lindsay Arenas has a special connection to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital where she works as a registered nurse. She has celebrated numerous holidays and birthdays at the facility but not just as a nurse. She and her three siblings were all diagnosed with a rare bone disease, called multiple hereditary exostoses (MHE). She underwent various treatments and operations at All Children’s, but now she is known for putting smiles on the young kids’ faces.
As a RN, she loves cracking jokes with her young patients and listening to their stories, anything to help them forget about their medical troubles.
“Those are the things that matter and those are the things you remember years down the line,” Arenas said.
Her relationship with All Children’s started back in the 1980s. Both her parents worked at the facility, her dad a respiratory therapist, and her mom, a neonatal nurse. She would often stop by the hospital as a child on holidays for a quick mid-shift meal with the family.
“I have a lot of different memories growing up as a daughter of the hospital,” Arenas says. “I remember my mom setting up a tablecloth in the hospital cafeteria during a lunch break for Father’s Day and coming in almost every Tuesday for Chicken Tampico in the cafeteria.”
Her mom and dad met and fell in love at the hospital, but they never could’ve imagined that all four of their children would spend so much time there.
The family first noticed a bone growth under Lindsay’s brother’s arm, which turned out to be a cancerous tumor. He soon underwent chemotherapy when doctors found similar growths on Lindsay. She ended up developing painful nodules on her legs, spinal cords, and ribs and underwent a total of 20 surgeries at All Children’s by the time she was a teenager.
“I was a handful, and it was a difficult time in my life,” she says. “I had a lot of issues with pain control after surgery. A lot of the memories I have as a patient were the advocacy of the nurses and other caregivers at the hospital, and their ability to recognize what I needed.”
The nurses that took care of Arenas as a child remember the experience as well.
“I remember taking care of her post operatively, and she was in a great deal of pain,” says Pam Gehrich, an RN at the facility. “Due to her extensive surgical history, she understood what to expect, but anticipating the pain was part of the traumatic experience for her. Luckily, I was able to collaborate with her and the entire family. They knew what worked well, and what didn’t work for her pain. I was able to advocate for her throughout my shift, ensuring all of Lindsay’s needs were met and pain was minimal.”
Her time at the hospital inspired her to pursue a career in medicine, just like her parents.
“When I was going through nursing school, I asked my mom what floor I should work on. My mom told me I should go to 4 south, where I was in the old hospital as a patient,” says Lindsay, referring to the surgical unit. “She felt I could identify with those patients well.”
Having been a patient at All Children’s gives Arenas a unique opportunity to relate to the children she now cares for as an RN.
“A lot of the same things that we treat surgically, I had it done to myself. So I can relate to the patient that has a chest tube and I can relate to the patient who had spinal surgery. And I can tell you all of those things and those feelings,” she said.
She often finds herself counseling the kids and families through what can be a difficult process.
“I think I can bring a different ear and a different perspective and maybe a calming attitude that we’re going to get through it and it’s going to be okay. So I think that’s very special to do,” Arenas said.
Arenas said she never set out to work at All Children’s Hospital when she started nursing school, but now she can’t imagine working anywhere else.
“I went through that for a reason. There was a plan with that and now I can take those experiences and make other kids’ experiences easier and make other kids’ experiences better,” she said.
She also knows what it’s like to be the parent of a sick child. Her seven-year-old son was recently diagnosed with the same rare condition Arenas was diagnosed with as a child.
“It can be easy sometimes and it can be hard because I can know as a nurse all these different angles that I need to watch for with him and then to separate that as my role as a mom, I definitely struggle a little bit with that balance, but it’s nice to be reminded that my team has my back,” Arenas said.
But she loves knowing that her son is being cared for by some of her best friends.
“All Children’s is family. So, I feel very lucky to have the opportunity for them to take care of my own family,” she said.