CAREERS IN NURSING
COMMITMENT TO CARE: BRINGING HOPE TO PATIENTS IN DARKEST HOURS
by Traci Chapman – staff writer/photographer
April Matchen has spent her career in one place, a place that’s grown as she expanded and developed her skills, a place she says she can’t ever see leaving.
That place is Oklahoma Blood Institute. She was 18 and just out of high school when Matchen’s mother told her about a job at OBI. Graduating in May, the young woman applied in December, hired quickly as a phlebotomist.
Although young, Matchen’s OBI supervisors recognized her drive and talent, and her way with individuals donating blood to help others. For 11 years, she not only drew blood, but eventually worked as both a center and mobile bloodmobile supervisor, also responsible for training OBI personnel.
Married to her high school sweetheart, John, in 1993, life intervened in Matchen’s career in 1999, with the birth of the couple’s first child. It was time to make a detour in her path, she said.
“We got custody of my niece and nephew; my sister died when she was 27,” Matchen said. “I had my first baby when I was 29 and left OBI at that time.”
She settled into her second “career,” as a stay-at-home mother. The couple welcomed their second daughter about a year and a half after their first, and Matchen set her work at OBI – for 13 years.
But, OBI wasn’t finished with her, and she wasn’t finished with it. The decision to return to her old employer wasn’t difficult, but Matchen did not want to go back and just take up where she left off.
“I decided to go back to school to become an LPN, just wanted to do more, wanted to learn more,” she said. “It was hard to leave OBI in the first place – I knew that I wanted to become a nurse and I knew where my heart was.”
That’s exactly what Matchen did, graduating in 2012 as a licensed practical nurse from Canadian Valley Technology Center in Chickasha. She returned to OBI, as she always believed she would, taking a position working with hematopoietic stem cells, or HPC.
That was five years ago, and her new OBI experiences have been even better – and much different – than those she had in her early career, she said.
Matchen’s four-member team works with cancer patients, extracting stem cells those individuals will later utilize as part of their own treatment. It’s not an easy job – many of the team’s patients are desperately ill, going through the pain, the fear and the emotional and family turmoil that comes with a cancer diagnosis. Some have no family support at all, experiencing something that, no matter the outcome, will change their lives.
But, along with the uncertainty of their ordeal is courage and hope. Although these patients have gone through – or will go through – chemotherapy or radiation, they come to OBI to generate stem cells that could save their lives. In the process, they find new family members who will be there during some of their darkest and most difficult days.
“The most important part for me is the interaction with the patients, a lot of them with no family and going through this alone,” Matchen said. “They come in with a lot of fear of the unknown – we work to make them comfortable, we let them know they’re not alone, that we’re here for them and working for their recovery.”
Patients’ personalities are as different as their family situations, ages and backgrounds, Matchen said. Some agonize over their situation, while others take a more pragmatic view, facing their condition with humor, others with remarkable composure.
“It’s amazing how different our patients can be,” she said. “We’ve had some who come in gruff and tough and leave just as a big old teddy bear.”
One aspect of her job is the greatest and, yet, sometimes the most painful part of it – the closeness Matchen, her fellow nurses and the rest of the stem cell team develop with their patients. While many of those patients come back to let them know how they are doing, some don’t.
“It’s difficult to say goodbye at the end of the treatment, and it’s awful when someone doesn’t make it,” she said. “But, sometimes we don’t know the outcome, and that’s hard too.”
No matter the challenges, the difficulties and the sadness that can go along with the treatment and care Matchen gives her patients, she said every day since she returned to OBI she’s been reminded why it was so important for her to return.
“OBI’s where my heart is – I love what I do, love touching lives, who I work with, the patients,” she said. “I really wouldn’t trade it for anything.”