At the age of 13, everything seemed difficult for me. My body was changing, and I knew there were distinct things happening both socially and emotionally in addition to all the crazy hormones whirling around inside. Pile on school stress, peer problems, moodiness, and bullying, and every day felt like a challenge.
Then, on a snowy day in February 1966, I lost my father to a massive heart attack. I had never experienced such sorrow and found myself becoming lost in grief very quickly. I didn’t know how to grieve, so each year became harder.
During my senior year in high school, I was struggling with what I would do following graduation. I knew I liked art and thought I could pursue a career as an artist. My mother had a different idea for me.
“Become a nurse,” she said, “that’s a perfect profession for a young girl.”
I thought about this long and hard and realized we couldn’t afford the cost of nursing school. I talked to my guidance counselor, and he suggested I write to the American Heart Association. He told me that every year the agency offers financial aid to students enrolled in health profession training. So I completed the application and applied for student aid to enroll in the Reading Hospital School of Nursing.
I didn’t realize the application required that I talk with the local American Heart Association board of directors and answer their questions. I was quiet and shy and horrified by the thought of an interview with such an important group of community leaders.
The day came for my meeting. There were several other girls who had applied for the student aid who were also there for an interview. We all sat quietly, waiting for our name to be called. I was sitting there, terrified, just wanting to run away from what I knew would be an awful experience.
Feeling sorry for myself, I was startled when a tall, attractive woman came out and called my name. There I was with my worst fear realized. I walked into a room with a huge oval table with 16 people sitting around it. I nearly passed out right at the doorway. As I took my seat, the questions quickly started.
“Why do you want to be a nurse?”
I gave the best answer I could think of at the time: “Because my mother told me to.”
WHAT?! I thought to myself, did that really just come out of my mouth? The questions kept coming, and I felt I was losing the one opportunity I had to make my mother proud of me.
There was a gentleman to my left who saw how I was shaking and knew I was uncomfortable and intimidated by such a large group of important people. He took my arm and said to me, “I want you to take a big breath. It is OK. You are doing fine.”
At that moment, this kind man became the center of my attention. He started by asking about my mother and father. I told him about my mother who worked two jobs.
“Two jobs,” he said.
“Yes, you see my father passed away a few years back from a heart attack,” I said, “so my mother is doing her best to keep things together for my older brother, younger sister and myself.”
He said, “Oh, so you are a middle child, huh?” He chuckled and I did, too.
This kind man, who knew nothing about my past, kept asking me questions, and the answers came easy when I was speaking right to him. It was almost as if my dad was there by my side helping me to tell my story. I will never forget this gentleman’s face, warm heart, and kindness to me. The interview ended and I ran to my mother’s car in tears knowing there was no way I would be chosen.
Four weeks went by, and I was feeling so sad that I had lost a great chance to go to nursing school. Then one day when I came home from school and I had a letter from the American Heart Association waiting for me on the kitchen table. I nervously opened it up, and it read, “We are proud to let you know that you will be given a full scholarship to nursing school.”
I could not believe it. At that very moment I vowed I would focus my career on cardiac health. It was the least I could do after this wonderful gift I received. But, as with most things in life, our aspirations evolve through experience, and I fell in love with obstetrics nursing.
As I reflect back on my 42-year career, my passion for childbirth and patient education is stronger than ever. And I didn’t forget my vow of service to individuals with cardiac issues. For many years I lectured to women across the country, encouraging them to take care of themselves, to reduce their health risks, and improve their heart health. I became a great storyteller, with lessons on how to eat well, maintain a weekly exercise schedule, reduce stress, create a positive self-image, and start each day with a purpose to help keep their hearts healthy. My stories are never ending, as I continue my own personal journey with everyday challenges in personal heart health.
Throughout the month of February, Customized Communications Inc. is donating 5 cents to the American Heart Association’s Go Red For Women campaign for every Customized Communication Inc. book sold. Our goal is to reach $5,000! It makes me proud that I work for a company that supports such an important goal — supporting heart health initiatives for women!