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Healing a broken heart

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In the spring of 2009, Rhonda Harris had her life under control. She was pregnant and planning to take some time away from work after her baby was born. Then things started to go wrong. Within three months, Rhonda had lost her baby, her car and her house, and had hit a low point that would be hard to recover from.

The experience that helped her to survive, and even inspired her to take a new direction in life, was her treatment at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center by three nurses in particular – Donette Cobb, RN, Ginger Dockery, RN, and Karen Walker, RN.

Rhonda Harris (second from right) with three of the nurses working on the unit during her 2009 stay at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center–Jessica East, Ginger Dockery and Donette Cobb.

Her ordeal began in May 2009, when she was about eight months pregnant. A colleague at the home-health agency where she worked noticed her extremely swollen ankles.

“Two weeks later, I was in Forsyth Medical Center,” she recounted recently. Her memory is hazy about what happened when she got to the hospital, and it’s no wonder. Her records indicate that she had suffered an abruption of the placenta and had a large blood clot in her uterus. She had pre-eclampsia, and her blood pressure was dangerously high.

Emergency surgery was performed, and Harris survived. But the baby could not be saved.

When she came out of recovery, she found herself in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. She said the nurses on the unit immediately enfolded her in compassionate care. They cleaned and dressed her baby, and when she was ready, they brought him to her. They left her alone but waited nearby while she held her child.

“Those nurses went above and beyond, and always stayed close by,” Rhonda said. “I told them to go take care of the other patients, because they had physical heart conditions that could be fixed. I had a ‘mental’ heart condition that would only heal with time. But if I wanted anything, they were there.”

“It was not like they just had sympathy for me. It was like they had had a loss as well,” she continued. “I can’t express enough how grateful I am to have been under the care of such people.”

In the months after her hospital stay, in the throes of financial problems, she somehow found the determination to come back. “I said to myself, you’re either going to sit around, mope, and drown in your sorrow. Or you’re going to get up, and you’re going to go out and you’re going do something.”

The “something” turned out to be training to become a medical assistant. She got her diploma in March, and hopes to pass her certification this summer. “I thought about those nurses in the ICU on several occasions. I’ll take some of that compassion they had for me with me and try to give that experience to others.”

In May, Rhonda decided to try to thank the nurses in person. With the help of Janet Powell in Novant Health patient relations, she had a reunion in June with her nurses Donette and Ginger at the hospital, along with Jessica East, who was working on the unit during her stay, and others. (Donette is now clinical operating room supervisor at Novant Health Clemmons Medical Center.)

Harris said Janet was “awesome” in tracking down the nurses and arranging the get-together. For her part, Janet said she was delighted to do it.

“This is so heartwarming to hear how our staff made such an impact, for a patient to come back after five years to express her appreciation for the treatment she received,” Janet said. “This is what Novant Health stands for. This is the way we want all of our patients to feel.”