I Once Dreamed of a Life on Stage, But Now I Save Lives

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In March of 1987, I was a senior in high school preparing to attend college to get a degree in Musical Theatre and Dance. My grandmother, Frances, went to the hospital for an outpatient aortic angioplasty. I tried to skip school to go with her because I just felt like something was wrong, but my mother sent me off to school.

Maria E. VanHart, RN

Every day after school I’d go to my job at Dairy Queen, but that day I had to talk myself into going to work. When I arrived at Dairy Queen, my manager was waiting for me. She was at my car window before I could place the car in “park”. She told me the hospital chaplain had called and requested I come to the hospital.

When I got to the hospital, I was escorted to a private room where my mother and the chaplain were waiting for me. Together, we went to see Frances in the ICU. She was on a breathing machine and heart medicine. The ICU nurse caring for her was amazing.

A few days later, my mom consented to the removal of the medicines and machines that were keeping Frances alive. I do not remember the nurse’s name, but because of the love and compassion she showed a 16-year-old child who just lost the matriarch of her family, my path was forever changed. I started my journey into the world of nursing that August to help save lives.

Saving Lives and Providing Comfort

During my first clinical rotation, my med-surg nursing professor told me I would never be a good nurse. I wish I could find her today. After 30 years in nursing I have the alphabet soup behind my name, and I have countless letters, cards, and thank you notes from my patients and their families.

As a new grad nurse I held a grandmother as she collapsed at the bedside of her 4-day-old grandson, Nathaniel, as he released his last breath. While I always hoped I could save lives as a nurse, I came to realize the impact I could have on loved ones, as well.

As a flight nurse I cared for a victim of the 2017 shooting at the Las Vegas music festival, as my flight crew returned her and her fiancé home to Boston for her medical treatment.

While on a Live Aboard dive boat in the middle of the Atlantic, I provided emergency care to a friend and fellow diver who had a stroke while diving. We were about 12 hours from land when our friends came to find us. We got her to Nassau in the Bahamas and she was airlifted to Miami.

Last year, as a representative of the Veterans Administration, I deployed to a COVID-19 ICU where I held the hand of a retired nurse as she took her last breath. In her final days, her son would sit outside her isolation room watching and speaking to her via an …read more

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