Twenty-seven years ago Karla Ennis became a new mom. And a nurse.
Not at the same time. But, close. When she left Presbyterian Medical Center with her newborn son in her arms, she also carried a certainty that she had found her calling and set course on an entirely different career.
That’s the power one nurse can have. Labor and deliver nurse Beth Stiltner didn’t just bring Ennis’s first child into the world. She inspired Ennis to change careers. And in turn, Ennis would affect many others.
“I had a long labor – 21 hours,” said Ennis, now supervisor of community health and wellness at Novant Health Matthews Medical Center and a 2017-18 recipient of a Remarkable Nurse award. “Beth was with me for most of that time. She was so caring and so happy. Then, I thought: Of course , she’s happy. Look at what she does every day. She’s part of one of the most important events that ever happens in your life. I just knew this was what I was supposed to do, too.”
Follow the ripples
In college, Ennis majored in fashion merchandising and retail management, assuming she’d have a career in retail. Since she didn’t like the sight of blood, nursing never crossed her mind. That was before she saw Beth Stiltner in action.
The connection they made in April of 1991 set off a chain reaction that no one could have predicted. After Ennis became a nurse, she ended up having a serious hand in four other people joining the health care profession. (If you have trouble following the turn of events, it’s summed up in a list at the bottom of this story.)
Think of Stiltner as the first stone thrown into a lake. The ring of ripples that set off are the nurses who chose the profession as a result of Ennis’s connection with Stiltner. (That makes Karla Ennis the first ripple in the water.)
Stiltner wasn’t aware she had changed the course of someone’s life. That is until she met Trey Ennis, the “baby” she delivered 27 years ago. He was working at Novant Health from 2015 to 2017, met Stiltner and told her: “You’re the reason my mom’s a nurse!”
Keeping up so far? Things are about to get even more intertwined. Trey recently became a father himself. His daughter, Tilly, was born April 21 at Matthews Medical Center – the hospital where Ennis works. One of the nurses involved in the delivery was Kyla Ormiston, who was inspired to join the profession by none other than Karla Ennis.
Ormiston had moved across the street from the Ennis family on the day Trey was born. She was just 12 at the time. Over the years, she baby-sat both of Ennis’ boys. After Ennis saw how kind and caring Ormiston was with little ones, she encouraged her to go to nursing school.
“When Trey became a dad, I cried more than anyone in the delivery room,” Ormiston said. “He’s like a little brother to me.”
Liesl West is Ennis’s counterpart in Novant Health’s Huntersville Medical Center. But the two met more than two decades ago when West was a student nurse and Ennis was her mentor. Ennis also – you see where this is headed, right? – delivered West’s baby, who’s now a senior at Wake Forest University planning a career in – you guessed it – healthcare.
That “baby,” now 21, is planning to become a physician assistant. “Karla is still a mentor to me,” said Liesl West. “We reconnected when we were both involved with Union County Public Schools. I was intrigued by her role as a community nurse. When a position came open at Novant, she told me about it, and I got the job.”
West is the third ripple. But there are more still.
Rachel Hester and Ennis bonded immediately when Ennis helped deliver her baby 17 years ago. She had a clerical position in a doctor’s office, but decided to go to nursing after connecting with Ennis. Hester, the fourth ripple, now works in Employee Health at Novant Health. She’s also studying to become a family nurse practitioner at Duke University and expects to graduate next year.
Lastly, Seth Ward – now a nurse in the emergency room in Matthews – was delivered by none other than Karla Ennis. Ennis was later his science teacher in Stanly County public schools.
There are actually more connections, but it’s best to stop counting at this point. Said Ennis: “I get so excited when I think that all ‘my people’ are here at Novant Health, living our mission.”
Like most nurses, Ennis does her job with little fanfare. Every birth is a miracle, and she’s humbled to witness each one. She hopes every delivery is a celebration – but she’s been at this long enough to know better.
One of her most unforgettable work experiences involved a pregnant college student who was in her care more than 20 years ago. “She had no support from anyone,” Ennis recalled. “Her parents didn’t come. There was no boyfriend in the picture. It was just the two of us all day during my 12-hour shift.”
The young woman had already decided to allow her baby to be adopted, but it was overwhelming for her to hold the child she knew she’d never see again. “She needed to be reassured,” said Ennis. “We shared a tight bond that day. I’ll never forget her.”
Ennis’s career in real estate seems like a lifetime ago. On becoming a nurse, she said, “I call this a ‘God thing.’ It was supposed to happen.”
Cast of Characters
Need help keeping up with who’s who in this story of one wonderful thing leading to another and then another? Here’s a primer on the main characters.
0. It all starts with Beth Stiltner, RN . “She was my labor and delivery nurse and the one who inspired me to go to nursing school,” said Karla Ennis. Stiltner, who’s been a nurse since 1977, has been in Labor and Delivery for 35 years. “It’s fun to see miracles every day,” she said of her profession.
1. Karla Ennis, RN. Inspired to go into nursing after watching her own labor and delivery nurse in action, Ennis has encouraged a slew of others to join her in the profession.
2. Kyla Wheeler Ormiston, RN. Kyla, then 12, and her family moved in across the street from Ennis the day Trey Ennis was born. “She helped me raise my boys,” Ennis said. “She would baby-sit Trey and (second son) Brady so I could study in nursing school.” Ennis was the prenatal nurse for Ormiston’s twins 12 years ago. Ormiston delivered Ennis’s granddaughter in April.
It’s not surprising that Ormiston has a former patient – a single mom whose baby she delivered – who is now a nursing student. And guess what? That former patient, Casey Allen, knows Karla Ennis, too! “Mrs. Ennis was my health science teacher,” she said. “Her stories were always helpful. You can tell she really cares about her job and students.”
3. Liesl West, RN, BSN is the Community Health Nurse at Novant Healthy’s Huntersville Medical Center. “I was Liesl’s student intern mentor when she was a nursing student, and I delivered her first baby,” Ennis said. Ennis also referred West to her current job.
4. Rachel Hester, RN, Employee Health. Ennis delivered Hester’s second baby 17 years ago, and they bonded instantly. “I encouraged her to go to nursing school, and now we both work for Novant Health,” Ennis said. Hester recalls: “Karla was like my new best friend or long-lost sister; I’m not sure which.”
Hester said the birth of her child was “peaceful, warm and loving – everything you’d hope.” But the aftermath was scary. She had a post-partum hemorrhage. “Suddenly, my situation became an emergency,” she said. “I got to see Karla in action. She and the team saved my life.”
5. Seth Ward, RN . “I delivered Seth many years ago, only to end up having him in my health science class,” Ennis said. “When he finished nursing school, I helped him get a job in the Emergency Room at Matthews Medical Center. The rest is history.”