This summer I celebrated my 39th birthday. As the opening of the John R. Oishei Hospital approaches, I wanted to recognize those at Women and Children’s Hospital of Buffalo who helped me reach this birthday milestone.
At 6 months old, I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. This began a lifetime of care from a group of highly skilled and dedicated staff at the Women and Children’s Hospital Lung Center, led for 25 years by Dr. Drucy Borowitz.
Throughout the thousands of hours I have spent at the hospital since diagnosis, I have been in contact with hundreds of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and child-life professionals who have devoted their lives to helping people like me.
When my journey began in 1977, my parents were told that CF has no cure; there was no chance of recovery. There still isn’t. Lung failure occurs in CF patients as a result of repeated infections and scarring. Lung transplant at that time was still highly risky and experimental.
Beginning at age 15, I started staying at the hospital for a week at a time because oral antibiotics prescribed at home weren’t effective anymore against repeated lung infections. During these extended hospital stays, I stayed on Variety 10, which is called the “adolescent” floor. Staying on V10 as a patient for a week or more at a time, in my teens and 20s, was challenging. However, the staff made the visits much easier.
Nurses at the hospital did more than bring me my medications. They were familiar faces with genuine smiles. They knew about my daily health burdens that I tried to hide from everyone else: the breathing treatments, pills with every meal and coughing fits. They witnessed my fear, anxiety and struggle to breathe. In the midst of my difficulties, they kept the mood positive. Whenever I returned for another admission with my suitcase, pillow, coffeemaker, books and family in tow, they always welcomed me. I saw familiar faces and I knew I would be in good hands. These nurses became my extended family.
Respiratory therapy was administered four times a day by a respiratory therapist. I remember one particular RT who had worked on the floor for many years. Every time he came in to administer a breathing treatment, there was a smile on his face. He regularly volunteered to work extra hours to cover for therapists who called in sick to work so that patients would not have to suffer without a breathing treatment.
All of the health care professionals I encountered through the years chose their career and they got paid for doing their job. But what makes them stand out is their ability to go over and above their daily tasks by showing concern or lending a sympathetic ear. Not because they had to, but because that’s the kind of people they are.
Women and Children’s Hospital will soon be closing its doors, but what remains intact is far more important than the building itself. It’s the people inside who made the hospital a center for healing, help and care. I am so grateful for the nurses and care team at the hospital and I have benefitted tremendously from their life’s work.
After getting a lung transplant in Pittsburgh in 2013, thankfully I no longer need extended hospital stays. I do miss the nurses and staff from time to time. However, I celebrate my birthday, and every day, believing that it was those dedicated, talented individuals who helped me get this far, and I will not forget them.