“Losing My Husband Changed My View of Medical Care”: A Conversation with Sue Hassmiller of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Share via
suehassmiller head shot
Sue Hassmiller

To the nation’s nurses, their work and their profession, Susan Hassmiller is something of a rock star. She joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 1997, where she’s senior adviser for nursing. In this role, she shapes, leads, and presents to groups around the world about the Foundation’s nursing strategies and the vital role nurses play.

Just a few months ago, Hassmiller’s world was upended when her beloved husband of 37 years, Bob Hassmiller, had a fall while riding his bike. His subsequent hospitalization, decline and ultimate death in the hospital would shatter her world, causing her to re-think aspects of her profession, her personal life, and her legacy.

In her trademark approach, evident throughout the blog she maintains at Lotsahelpinghends.org (you must sign up to read), Sue searches through the pain of her “new normal” to grasp and cherish the light – the affirmations, kindnesses, joys and faith that sustain her through profound loss. One of those lights is named Abby, a nurse Sue and Bob encountered soon after his accident. “When I looked into Bob’s eyes to explain what needed to be done,” says Abby, “I felt a soul-piercing sensation that Bob was a wonderful man. His serene nature and smiling eyes resonated with me.” What followed proved that though death is an ending, the healing process can and does continue.

I had a chance to talk with both women about their uncommon connection as patient and clinician, their hopes for the future of the nursing profession, and moving forward with grace in the wake of losing the love of your life.

When you hear from these women, I expect you’ll feel as moved and inspired as I did. We begin our chat with Sue (“SM”). Abby diGaetano (AdG) joins in later.

PM: Losing a spouse is one of the most devastating events in anyone’s life. But your relationship with Bob was one for the record books. Can you tell us about what made it so special?

Sue and Bob Hassmiller
Both Sue and Bob were deeply devoted to helping the Red Cross. In fact, Sue refused to date him all those years ago until he signed up as a volunteer (he happily and immediately complied).

SH: From the beginning I knew I had met someone who was honest, moral, kind, compassionate and oh so funny. He treated me as there was no one else on earth. He told me all the time he loved me and that he worshipped the ground I walked on. We loved to dance and we often danced throughout the house and really wherever we were…sometimes in the middle of a street. I always wanted to hold his hand. I think that says it all.

PM: Do you have clear memories of the day of the accident? Or is it all a blur? What can you share about that devastating day?

SH: I was in a meeting in Philadelphia and Bob was to pick me up at 11am. He was never late. I knew he was going out on his bike and I asked him to be safe. I was tempted to tell him not to go as we were leaving on a “trip of a lifetime” just two days later and I did not want any sprained ankles to hold us back. I received two calls close to the time my meeting was ending, but ignored them as I did not recognize the number. Once I went outside to wait for Bob and saw that he was not there waiting, I immediately felt doom and wondered if those calls had anything to do with his not being there. I called and it was a hospital trauma center. I asked to speak with Bob and when they said it was not possible I feared the worst. They said he had been in an accident and that I should come right away. A colleague brought me to the hospital where I saw my husband and learned that he was paralyzed from the neck down. He looked at me and tears were streaming down his face. I immediately knew those tears were for me. He could not talk to me as he had a breathing tube in his mouth. I told him not to cry as I was there and that I would never leave him. I told him not to feel bad about the trip and about the accident. I told him that we would fight this together; that we had always been there for each other and this was no different. Among so many regrets, I regret never hearing his voice again and knowing what his thoughts were (although I could pretty well guess) for the remaining days of his life. I remember being taken to a conference room with a friend and a nurse walked in by the name of Abby. I remembered her kindness and how she said she wished she could take away my pain. I remember her eyes and her name as it is the same as my beloved granddaughter. I don’t remember anything else about that day. Somehow I got home and arrived back at the hospital the next morning but I don’t remember who brought me home nor who brought me back the next day.

PM: Throughout the next days, how did Bob’s care and the situation evolve?

Hiking, biking, traveling…and dancing. The Hassmillers spent 37 years as each others’ best friends.

SH: The situation went from Bob being paralyzed from the neck down on a breathing machine to all of his systems failing one by one. It just went from worst to worst. On about day 9 I finally asked the doctor if he could refer me to an ethicist so that I could discuss my husband’s whole being instead of just one kidney or the lungs or his feet. There was only discussion about body parts and the infection of the day and I wanted to talk about the soul of this man and what he would want me to do. Although they were doing all they could, it all felt so brutal to me. When I asked to speak to an ethicist about what was happening, they finally referred me to a palliative care nurse practitioner and it was then that I began to grasp what seemed to be the inevitable. I brought my son and daughter in on this “end of life” conversation and with Bob’s Advance Directive in hand we decided we had to let him go. This was the hardest thing I have ever done. No one should ever have to do this.

PM: What impact did your being a nurse, with broad connections and a good support system, have on events as they unfolded?

SH: Although I knew my way around a hospital, I have not practiced in decades. Additionally, I was in shock and anxious and was trying to just stay calm and tell my husband I would never leave him and that I was trying to make decisions that would be in his best interest. Neverth less, being a nurse and with broad connections made all the difference in the world. I was acutely aware that the way I inserted myself into my husband’s care and in rounds was unique. I hated seeing so many people in the ICU waiting room crying and eating junk food with little way of inserting themselves the way I did. There was no invitation for family members (that I could see or that I experienced) to be involved the way I was. I felt so badly for those families. But maybe they did not know any different.

PM: What was the best example of caring you saw during this time, and the worst?

SH: There were three instances of great care from three separate nurses. One was from Nurse Abby who came to me in the first hospital that Bob came to. She was so kind and I truly, as in shock as I was, felt her compassion. Her eyes spoke volumes to me. The second was a colleague of mine who happened to be the Dean of the School of Nursing affiliated with the hospital where Bob spent all his days. She showed me kindnesses in so many ways, from sitting with me during rounds and taking notes, to making sure I was fed to rubbing my shoulders when I was particularly tense, to intervening with staff when that became necessary. On the last day of Bob’s life she ran to another building to get the pastor that I requested instead of the pastor that was provided to me. They said that the pastor I wanted was in a retreat and I would have to take the new pastor, which I refused. She never left my side. And the Third nurse showed so much interest in Bob and me as people, asking about our lives together, what Bob was like, commenting on the pictures that I brought in for all to see and telling me how beautiful our relationship was. She said seeing us together made her review her own marriage to determine how to make it better. She knew she had work to do. And then on the last day of Bob’s life she never left my side, guiding me through what she was doing with pain medication and his breathing machine. When Bob kept holding on and it was time for her shift to end, she said she would stay with me as long as I needed her to. She stayed past her shift to ensure Bob had passed peacefully and made sure I was alright. I was not, but I had no choice but to go home. I am so grateful to these three nurses.

Sue, Bob and granddaughter Abby

There were three instances of less than optimal care. The first was every morning when I saw the group of doctors, med students and other health professionals in white coats and stethoscopes (I call them the intimidators) standing outside the patient rooms and making decisions based on what their stand-up computers were showing them. They never looked at the patient or asked questions of the family. They just made their decisions. The second was when a very young resident was very disrespectful to me. I reported her to her boss and we had a “discussion” in a conference room where I role played with her asking that she envision her father laying in that bed instead of Bob. I forced her to role play until she could get the gist of the emotional upheaval I was grappling with. With tears in her eyes thinking of her own father rather than an inanimate object (which happened to be the love of my life) she apologized to me. I told her I did not want her apology, rather I wanted her to really internalize what she had learned today and then pass it along to others who were also going to be physicians. The third was when my son came in the middle of the night after work and with very little sleep to see his father. Driving far from home he only had a few hours to spend, but the nurses kept him waiting in the waiting room for over 90 minutes, having said previously they would come and get him when they were done turning Bob. Eventually my son came to the nurse to ask when he could see his father and she said she had forgotten to come get him. That was in excusable. 

PM: You have mentioned Abby, one of your nurses, and written about how she helped you and Bob both in real time, and after you lost him as well. What made this relationship so special that you wanted it to be the topic of this conversation?

Sue & Abby
Sue & Abby, the nurse Sue feels Bob sent to her

SH: Abby brought a much needed human connection to this tragedy. First of all, my spiritual side will start showing now when I say that her presence in my life was meant to be. I believe that my husband, always thinking of my wellbeing first above his own, guided Abby to me. Abby said she felt a very strong tug to come to me and tell me how special Bob was and how he had affected her and what she thought of our relationship. She could have ignored those feelings donning the cloth of professionalism to keep her distance, but she chose to connect…one human to another. Bob knew I would listen to a nurse and he knew especially that I would pay attention to a nurse who had the same name of my beloved granddaughter. She did and said things that were from her heart. And this did not take away from her professionalism. I could tell how competent she was. Rather this decision to connect only added to her professionalism. One of the most beautiful things was when she said she told Bob to think of something very beautiful when she was starting the procedure to insert his breathing tube and she knew in her heart that he was thinking of me. She turned the mechanics of a brutal procedure into one where I felt comforted. It was the warmth she conveyed, her touch, her desire to not hold back in her words of reassurance. If I had to sum up her specialness I would say that beyond her obvious competence Abby followed her heart when she chose her words with me and how she reached out to me.

PM (to Abby diGaetano, Bob’s nurse mentioned above[1]) Tell us about your nursing background. What led you to this career initially, and how did you happen to be on staff where Bob Hassmiller was brought in?

AdG: Toting Band-aid clad cats and bandaged baby dolls from a young age, it is no wonder I wound up pursuing a career in health care. I have always been both a lover of people and science, so nursing seemed right up my alley from the get-go. As a 2010 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing, I garnered a well-rounded education with robust and varied clinical experiences, including an immensely inspiring summer internship with a Palliative Care Nurse Practitioner at UPMC Magee Women’s Hospital. Fresh out of school, I worked on a surgical oncology unit that was largely home to pancreatic cancer patients. This experience, and my time in the intensive care unit that followed, forged the person that I am today. Looking to further my education, I began to explore graduate school options and after much shadowing and investigation, nurse anesthesia unveiled itself as the right fit. Take one look into a patient’s eyes as they are preparing to undergo surgery and it is easy to understand why. They are the same uncertain eyes I gazed into as an oncology nurse and in the intensive care unit. They represent a side of humanity not often seen; a side of ourselves we seek to shield and protect, for frailty and fragility are viewed as weak and unwanted.

But in these moments, and the scared eyes that meet me in these initial preoperative interactions or in times of emergency in other areas of the hospital, there is beauty. For there is not only fear, there is hope and there is trust. Trust in the medical system, trust in spiritual beliefs, trust in me. I am honored to have graduated from the University of Pittsburgh Nurse Anesthesia program in 2015 and be entrusted to serve in such a special role. I am the patient advocate, their eyes and ears while they are asleep. I thoroughly enjoy acting in the role of applied pharmacologist, tinkering drugs and dosages to create patient-specific cocktails and performing complex medical skills such as endotracheal intubation safely. Currently employed at Capital Health Hospital in Hopewell, NJ and Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, NJ, I have the opportunity to provide anesthesia to a wide variety of patients ranging from pediatric patients and laboring mothers to trauma patients and emergency surgeries. It was in this role, that I met Bob Hassmiller…a typical 24-hour call with a routine number of pages to the trauma bay that turned out not so typical at all.

PM: What do you recall about first meeting Bob Hassmiller? Sue?

AdG: It was mid-morning on a beautiful fall day, when I was called to the trauma bay as Bob was being brought in after his bicycle accident. Given the nature of the trauma bay– an array of people doing many things at once, asking many things of each other and communicating information rapidly, the scene can appear chaotic. Yet, it’s a perfectly oiled machine although one thing that always stands out is the person who rightfully has no idea how this foreign environment functions, how they ended up there, and is in a state of marked distress–the patient. Bob stood out from moment one for a number of reasons. Despite the fact that he let us know he could not feel his body from the chest-area down, and that his neck was sore, he had a very distinct cool about him. (“A-ha” light bulbs went off in my head as I later read Sue Hassmiller’s blog and first learned Bob had been involved with disaster relief, had military experience, and was himself, a helper by nature.) Despite the strange environment, he was unusually relaxed. He was calm while he listened to the information being presented regarding the next steps — the need to keep his spine completely stabilized, quickly go to scans and the reason for needing to have a breathing tube placed to protect his airway. I did my best to reflect this calmness back to Bob and make him feel at ease as he drifted off to sleep for the purpose of endotracheal intubation. And as quickly as we met, he was whisked away to MRI and I was called back upstairs for an add-on surgery.

Despite years of health care experience, this set of circumstances weighed heavily on me. Perhaps it is because Bob reminded me so much of my own father, or perhaps it is because when I looked into Bob’s eyes to explain what needed to be done, I felt a soul-piercing sensation that Bob was a wonderful man. His serene nature and smiling eyes resonated with me. Later that evening, I was drawn to the intensive care unit Bob had been transferred to in hopes of connecting with his family. I met Sue briefly in the ICU waiting room and wished I could have done more to ease her palpable pain. I hoped in some small way knowing that Bob was coherent and calm in the timeframe I spent with him before we placed a breathing tube would provide comfort. I knew there was little more I could say or do as she was grappling with life’s worst news. This is the hardest part of my job. I was hopeful that positive updates might meet me when I next returned to the hospital but I was unable to gather any information as I learned that Bob had been transferred to another facility.

My heart continued to ache in the coming days as I pondered over how tragic it is that a person can be healthy and enjoying life one minute and then suffer a life-changing, devastating injury the next. How unfair and unsettling. My brief but powerful encounter with Bob and Sue is what compelled me to continue to seek updates and to contact Sue despite my concern that this may be frowned upon by hospital administration. (But at some point, you have to question why you became a nurse in the first place and follow your heart. And when our medical interventions, drugs, and best laid plans fail to provide cures, all we have left to give is our heart.) And so began a series of emails between Sue and I, where I learned that my instinct in the trauma bay was spot on- Bob Hassmiller was a very special person indeed and Sue Hassmiller was his other special half. An accomplished nurse herself, I was impressed by how Sue was able to so beautifully expose the emotions she encountered as she dealt with the aftermath of Bob’s death. And I was so grateful that Sue felt my presence in the intensive care unit waiting room, and the email communication that ensued, to be a positive contribution to her new life without Bob. It is moments like these that I am reminded why I became a nurse in the first place.

PM: How unusual is it that you or any nurse/clinician would reach out to the family of a decease patient, and why is that?

AdG: Health care providers, especially nurses, are confined in a number of ways. Time is just one of them. With a multitude of tasks and only so many hours in their shift, nurses are hard pressed to accomplish everything expected of them while keeping patients safe and content. I can vividly recall being a floor nurse on the surgical oncology unit and encountering this frustration near-daily. With multiple very sick and often end-of-life patients to tend to, I often pushed off my own bathroom breaks and skipped lunch times entirely so that I would not feel as though I was rushing through the interactions with my patients and their families. They needed me and I needed this time to give to them. But it’s no wonder that after a year of life on this unit I was burnt out and ready to jump ship. I didn’t want to abandon this special patient population but I also did not want to feel I was giving any patient sub-par care when things like patient to nurse ratio and an onslaught of charting requirements were out of my control. I would speculate that nurses in these sorts of roles would be more inclined to reach out to families if they weren’t going home frustrated and drained themselves. With only one or two patients to tend to per shift in the intensive care unit, I felt a bit more in charge of how I chose to spend my time and expend my talents. I championed the organ donation committee and instituted a monthly multidisciplinary team meeting to enhance end-of-life care for terminal patients. It was gratifying when deceased patient’s family members would send letters of thanks to the unit. But this communication tended to be a one-way street with mandated privacy acts omnipresent, making nurses think twice about contacting families they knew would otherwise benefit from it. If nurses were applauded for continuing appropriate communication with families in need after they walk through the doors of the hospital instead of scolded, health care may have a different face entirely.

PM: What has it meant to you personally to connect with Sue in this way?

AdG: Just like the trauma bay, healthcare at large is a well-oiled machine. Institutionalized medicine is positive and necessary in so many regards, but has negative ramifications as well. Too often, patients and their families are overlooked and the emotional connections healthcare providers can provide (and do so well!) are undervalued. Taking personal stock in such connections, I feel re-invigorated after connecting with Sue. There was no box to check off afterward, no deadline to meet, but the personal reward was well worth the effort. I am blessed to work in a position where I can be acutely reminded of how precious life is, and how powerful small acts of kindness are.

PM: Sue, you’ve been blogging about your experiences (note: it’s free to read the posts, but you have to sign up), starting with the day of the accident. Can you tell us how it started and why you’ve continued?

SH: I started the blog during the first few days in an effort to keep friends and family informed…to keep them from calling, emailing and texting me when what I needed to do was to be with my husband. After a while I found that writing helped me to process the surreal experience. It helped me to identify my all the feelings that were swirling aimlessly around in my head, heart and stomach so that I could begin to try to make sense of it all…and quite frankly, to function and care for my husband. And now I still continue because I have heard from and still hear from countless individuals as to how the blog is helping them…or helping others that they send the blog to…everything from help with their own grieving process, to help with troubled relationships, to simply never taking for granted what you have.

PM: What do you hope people are taking from the blog? If you had to pick three, which are your favorite posts?

SH: What I hope they are receiving is what it’s like to go through the grieving process and the hope that must always stay alive.

I don’t really read backwards as it is still too painful, but off the top of my head I would say that “Unruly Classroom” really helped me identify and process what was happening to me in real time; “Purple is the New Pink”, because it made me realize that joy could be found again but I had to look to the future and not rely on how joy was defined in the past; and “Speaking Up When Speaking Up Matters” because I am on a personal and now a professional mission to ensure that what three individual nurses gave to me would be the norm rather than the exception.

PM: You’re now back at the RWJF, where I understand your colleagues have been tremendously supportive. What has changed for you?

SH: I suffered such an enormous tragedy that I don’t think many people knew what to do with me; what to say to me. I was the personification of their worst nightmare. I think the blog helped to break the ice with some. They could talk to me about the blog and what it meant to them…when they could not find the words to express how sorry they felt. My blog about what to say and not say to a grieving person helped. As to how I have changed. I no longer think the unimaginable can happen. It can and it did. Work is still important to me and I have always been enormously mission oriented, but now it is about honoring my husband’s legacy. It is about taking what I am feeling and learning and making sense of it all. I was most struck by how uninvolved patients and families are in their own care; in their own decision-making and my aim is to somehow change that. I also have the opportunity to speak with and influence nurses nationwide and I want to convey just how important it is to make a human connection. It is so intimidating and scary to be in the hospital. People are comforted by competence, but they are also comforted by a touch, a look, a hug, and a sincere invitation to speak up when speaking up really matters.

PM: How valuable do you think it is for a patient and family to feel “seen” and comforted? Why don’t or can’t nurses, physicians and other clinicians do more of it?

SH: After safe competent care, feeling seen and comforted is most important. And as not to think this is the “soft” stuff, including patients and families in their care in a very action oriented and invitational way provides an extra set of eyes and ears in regard to quality and safety. Nurses, but especially doctors cannot possibly be in the room with patients 24/7. They must depend on the patient and family to help with safety issues.

As for why they can’t do more of it, doctors and nurses alike are very, very busy and they have the additional burden these days of having so many boxes to check. So much of their work is on the computer.

AdG: It has been my experience that patients and families value having a voice, and being included in their care, above all else. They are more receptive to news—both good and bad—when that news is delivered in a compassionate way. They are more eager to engage in therapy when the healthcare provider is encouraging and treats them with respect. They are happier when they are “seen” and treated as people—with families, and lives outside the confines of the hospital setting. One reason this gets bypassed though is the silo method of medicine. Professionals from a variety of disciplines tend to patients and too often in isolation. Communication and collaboration is fragmented leading to patients and families feeling isolated in return. Conflicting information can cause the healthcare team to appear disjointed and even if the individual silos are caring and compassionate, the patient is still left with an overall feeling of confusion and unease. Combine this with an ever-changing staff mix from day to day and the hospital environment can feel like a fun-house that is more scary than smile-inducing. Nurses, who report information directly to each other from shift to shift, are in a position to relay information to the patient/family more succinctly, take questions back to the healthcare silos, and serve as conduits of compassion. However, as previously mentioned, the demands of the job—charting, a multitude of tasks, and being stretched thin, make this difficult to do.

PM: What in your opinion would change this dynamic? Training? Workflow? Increasing staffing? Something else?

SH: I think the payment structure is in place to reward patient satisfaction scores. Awareness is a first step. Although very busy, practitioners can step away from the front of their computer to make eye contact, provide a touch, and listen with an understanding heart. Awareness should start in training, but we must also do our best to admit the right kinds of students with the right kinds of motives in medical and nursing school. Improving staffing levels for nurses would certainly help. There is just so much to do and nurses are legally bound to pay attention to things that don’t always related to making a human connection and displaying care and compassion. I think it also helps to measure patient engagement through surveys. You will pay attention to that which is measured, and especially if that is tied to payment.

AdG: A decreased workload for nurses, either through increased staffing or a more efficient workflow, would allow healthcare to be a more personal experience for the patient. Nurses, free to divvy up their time more equitably between the art and science of nursing, have much to contribute and are well equipped to do so. In addition, in an era of high-tech and fast paced communication, this increasingly disjointed approach to healthcare needs brakes applied. Greater multidisciplinary communication, with the patient/family at the heart of the discussion, must be implemented.

Sue on left, with Abby diGaetano holding Sue’s granddaughter, also named Abby.

PM: After good, safe care, what do you think is most important to a patient/family in the hospital?

SH: I really do think patients want to feel that they are being cared for, listened to, and respected for their opinions and decisions. Patients and family members must be invited to participate in their own care. They are intimidated and this must be mitigated. They cannot be expected to know how the system works and how they might be more involved.

AdG: As previously described, patients place great value on having a voice and being included in their care. Explanations needs to make sense in their terms, time needs to be given to process information, and attention needs to be given to the follow-up questions and concerns that arise. The healthcare team needs to come together as a united front comprised of talented and unique individuals that are ultimately seeking to help patients and families feel respected and understand the care they are receiving.

PM: What is your best advice to them?

SH: Speak up and be aware of what is going on. Participate in keeping yourself (or family member) safe. Say what you need. Be aware of the pecking order so you know who to go to if you need help.

AdG: Ask questions and don’t be afraid to ask for clarification if things don’t make sense the first time around. Healthcare terminology is like a foreign language and after living in this world for so long, many providers fail to realize that explanations can be completely un-translatable to patients and families. Jot down notes in a notepad as you are speaking with members of the healthcare team. It will be easier to organize your follow-up questions and concerns when you are able to more acutely recall the information initially presented to you. Be present. As a family member, do not fear introducing yourself to staff as they come in and out of the room. Healthcare providers can be intimidating but they are all in a position to answer your questions or make sure you are connected to someone who can.

PM: What is your best advice to nurses entering the profession? What do you think is the path forward for the nursing profession? Where would you like it to go?

SH: Nursing has made enormous strides in professionalizing itself. And they have worked hard to understand the science and evidence behind their care and treatments and following best practices. Many are rising to be leaders in their own institutions and nationwide. In all of this, nurses cannot forget what is so critical to the healing process…the ability to make a human connection and provide the warmth, care and compassion that a very sick individual counts on.

AdG: My advice for nurses entering the profession is to treat your patients like you would treat your own family members. Deliver care that is safe, comprehensive and cognizant that the hospital is an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment for most people. Include measuring your success in whether or not you can make your patients smile. Because I have spent several years as a bedside nurse, I have seen the issues created by the nursing shortage and understand that advocating for the profession, recruiting new students, retaining nurses, and fostering education for future generations are vital to the health of nursing.

PM: How has this experience changed you?

SH: I used to shy away from the word Nurse and Care in the same sentence. As our profession strove to get ahead, professionalize itself, and work to provide only the best evidence based care, including the need to be technologically adept, somewhere along the line care and compassion slipped to the background.

We need to bring this forward…not to substitute for competence, but to bolster it. Nurses have always been known for their care and compassion and its time we embrace this identity with open arms.

AdG: Through this experience, I am reminded of why I pursued nursing in the first place. It has been interesting to reflect back on my experiences as a nurse in various stages of my own career and decipher where I think nurses are making the difference versus missing the mark, and why. I feel re-invigorated to fulfill an educational role for nurses in the future and to become a more active force in the strong organizational bodies that define the nursing profession so that both nurses and patients/families walk away from their own experiences more fulfilled. I am so grateful to have met Sue and her family, to learn about what an incredible man Bob Hassmiller was, and to live my life more passionately each and every day because of this experience, which I will certainly never forget.

PM: Anything you’d like to add?Screen Shot 2017-07-20 at 8.43.31 PM

SH: I am grateful for my new awakening regarding the importance of care and compassion and the need for patients and families to have a full and active voice in their own care. I am only sorry it took this tragedy to reawaken this in me. To honor my husband’s legacy I will strive to do all I can to keep this flame alive in nursing going forward.

Note: This interview was first published July 20, 2017 on WHAMGlobal.org

[1] Abby Di Gaetano is a 2010 graduate of the University of Pittsburgh School of Nursing. She worked as both a surgical oncology nurse and an ICU nurse before returning to the University of Pittsburgh to study nurse anesthesia in 2013. Abby is a 2013 Cameo of Caring Scholarship recipient, 2014 Cameo of Caring Scholarship recipient, 2014 PANA Scholarship recipient, 2015 Dean M. Cox Memorial Scholarship recipient and received clinical honors for her role as an SRNA while at UPMC St. Margaret Hospital. She represented the program at the AANA 2014 College Bowl in Orlando, Florida and served as a planning committee member of the 2015 Spring Anesthesia Seminar. Abby served as the Academic Integrity Board Graduate Student Representative and as a student tutor in the nurse anesthesia program. Completing the program with a 4.0 GPA, she was awarded the “academic excellence” and “above and beyond” distinctions at graduation. Abby is now employed as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist at Capital Health Hospital in Hopewell, NJ and Capital Health Regional Medical Center in Trenton, NJ. In this role, she is able to utilize her anesthesia skills to provide care for patients across the spectrum, from pediatric patients and laboring mothers to trauma patients and emergency surgeries.


Share via