story and photo by James Coburn, Staff Writer
Rachel Hardage, RN, did not realize the job of a cardiac ICU pediatric nurse existed before she came to work at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health, located in Oklahoma City.
“It was brand new to me and I can truly say that this specialty provides miracles to families,” Hardage said. “In the last 20 years of medicine, the surgeries and the surgery outcomes that exist now did not exist then. And we see children who did not have much of a life expectancy go on to fulfill whatever they want. We see that here and it’s pretty amazing.”
In 2018, Children’s Hospital was where her career began. She had achieved a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree at East Central University, located in Ada.
“I would whole-heartedly recommend East Central University,” she said. “It was a great four years I spent there. I actually met my husband there.” (click here to view)
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Her husband is an OU Physician working in internal medicine. They have made life-long friends from East Central and often return there to visit faculty.
Following her graduation Hardage worked in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) at Children’s Hospital before serving in the cardiac unit.
“I always wanted to work with children. When I was very young, my sisters and my mom and I were in a car accident,” she explained.
Her baby sister was in the PICU for nearly two weeks before rehabilitating at Bethany Children’s Health Center. Since then, she has wanted to help children as a nurse. Hardage was also hospitalized at Children’s Hospital. She recalls bits and pieces of her care.
“I just remember the environment and the care that they provided my sister and I, and just how comfortable we were at being here,” she said.
Her mother would tell her of the helpful support she received from the Children’s hospital nurses. And today, Hardage works with two of the nurses who were at the hospital when she and her sister were patients there.
Hardage said her goal is to mirror the care she experienced by the Children’s Hospital nursing staff. She projects that type of compassion with her pediatric patients to help put them at ease.
Her goal includes not only caring infants, but also their parents. She makes sure parents are involved in their child’s treatment plan with an understanding of the care provided to their child. Having a child hospitalized with heart conditions is a new experience for moms and dads.
Parents are educated to care for their children once they are released from the hospital. They learn to recognize if their child’s health declines, and they need to be readmitted.
Infants comprise most of the children admitted to the cardiac unit. Some infants were diagnosed with congenital heart defects before their birth, often as early as 20 weeks into a pregnancy. An infant’s health is closely monitored by the cardiology team.
“After they’re born, they come to our unit until their open-heart surgery,” she explained. “And then they come back after the surgery the same day. We recover them and continue until they are discharged from our unit.”
She makes sure that parents understand what the goal of their child’s surgery was and how successful it was. Dr. Harold M. Burkhart specializes in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery at OU Health and is one of the top surgeons in the nation, she said.
“We are able to use that as a sense of encouragement and pride,” she said of Burkhart’s phenomenal outcomes.
Nurses strive to comfort families and one another. The close sense of unity among nurses feels like family, Hardage continued. They know each other outside of work on a real-life basis.
“We work very well together. If someone is having a really hard day, the ones that don’t [have a hard day] step in and make it easier,” Hardage said. “We’re able to share the hard times and the good times together.”
The nurses’ spirits are uplifted when parents bring their babies back to visit them. A lot of the children have public Facebook pages that the nurses are allowed to follow. They can watch them grow, go to the zoo, and live life outside of a hospital.
“That is always really sweet to see,” she said. “It’s very fulfilling. All of us hope we are able to provide some sense of comfort and light to them while they’re here with encouragement and hope.”
Seeing children succeed in reaching their goals of a normal life is a heartwarming experience, she said.
For more information, visit: https://www.ouhealth.com/oklahoma-childrens-hospital/