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INSPIRING LOCAL HEALTH The Brookings Health System Story

INSPIRING LOCAL HEALTH The Brookings Health System Story


CONTENTS Introduction

5 Jason Merkley

Inspiring Rescues & Healing

8 10 11 14

Inspiring Spirituality

Inspiring Goodbyes

Inspiring Role Models

Inspiring Care for Our Families & Friends

Inspiring Outlooks on Life

Inspiring Experiences

Barb Booton Janie Isham Mindy Johnson Steve Bunkers

18 Candace Johnson 20 Laura Willert 22 Gregg TeBeest 26 28 29 31

Mary Oien Reed Amy Christensen Tammy Hillestad Lynne Thompson

36 Karen Weber 38 Shelly Deknikker 40 Louise Coull 44 46 47 48

Joan Smedsrud Vickie Alschlager Mary Schwaegerl Lynne Kaufmann

52 Lora Ficek 54 Ashley Sumner 56 Julia Yoder 60 62 63 64

Gordon Dekkenga Barb Anderson September Bessler Katy VanderWal


INTRODUCTION What does Inspiring Health mean? Inspiring Health is more than just a marketing tagline, medical science, or health technology. It’s not focused on medical charts or conditions or making money. And it’s not about prescribing medication or just looking at test results and X-rays. For us, Inspiring Health is a philosophy that reflects our mission: to provide high quality, compassionate, personalized health care. It focuses on the personal, human side of medicine. It’s caring for our community—our friends and neighbors—and treating them like our own family, delivering the high quality care they deserve. Inspiring Health means caring for the whole person. It’s listening to people and helping them in their times of greatest need, selflessly making an impact on their lives. It’s providing comfort to those at the end of life and allowing patients and residents to inspire us, carrying their memory with us as we help the next person. Inspiring Local Health is a collection of stories from our team, health care providers and support staff alike, who feel honored and humbled to care for such an extraordinary community. Our stories include our own personal health care experiences as well as memorable people we’ve cared for. I am proud of our team and the excellent care they provide. I hope you enjoy our story and perhaps find some inspiration for yourself between the pages. —Jason Merkley, CEO & President





t has been said that emergency medical services is a thankless job. My experience of 35 years has shown that statement to be true at times but certainly not always. There are the calls where you and your partner know that whatever you just did, such as clearing the airway, stopping the bleeding, or giving an emergency medicine, just saved that patient’s life. The patients and their families do not often understand that the emergency protocols we memorize and follow allow us to do the things we train for in the pre-hospital setting. At times it is absolutely the job that EMS performs that makes it possible to deliver a viable patient to the emergency department. Without a competent, skillful team there would be very different outcomes for the 911 patient. There are also times when a bad call is most apparent and everyone is quite aware that EMS just made a huge difference. There are calls we will always remember, like the cardiac arrest patients that wake up, the chain saw calls, the limb entangled in machinery calls. And then there are the calls that although we may forget, the patient never does. I was standing in the checkout line in HyVee when I noticed a young girl around ten years old. She kept looking at me with widened eyes and a timid smile. Her mother approached me and said, “My daughter wants to say something to you.” Just then the child threw her arms around me and with tearful sobs said, “You saved my life! Thank you for being at the accident and saving my life!” I didn’t recognize her, but I could not let her know that. I said I was so happy to see her doing so well and I hugged her back. Her mother continued to tell me what an ordeal the child had been through and I continued to try my hardest to remember the call. What appears to us to be minor may turn out to be major in someone else’s world. I know that every time the 911 tones go off somebody is having a very bad day. I know that the emergency responders in Brookings County are well-trained and caring individuals that know it is vital they do the best job they can when a rescue or resuscitation is needed. Every one of us has an unforgettable story about a call that either haunts us or gives us warm fuzzies. I am proud to have served with the great group of Brookings EMS/ Fire and PD. Brookings County is fortunate to have the level of competent care and devotion to the job demonstrated by its emergency responders. God Bless. —Barb Booton, Paramedic & Medical-Surgical Health Unit Coordinator



n thinking about inspiring stories, there have been so many, it is difficult choose. One in particular stands out and I am still reminded of it even years later… I was making oxygen rounds on the surgical circle one morning and upon entering the room, I noticed the patient was blue and not breathing. I immediately called a code-blue and began resuscitative measures. The other team members arrived and we successfully resuscitated her. Later that day as I was checking on her, I was visiting with her about what had happened earlier in the day. She told me that she could hear voices and activity happening around her but was unable to respond. Interestingly enough, she told me she recognized my voice because I have an accent and began thanking me with tears in her eyes. “You are my guardian angel; you saved me and I will be forever grateful.” I assured her that I only did what anyone would have done and how happy I was with the outcome. Many years have come and gone and I have had several chance encounters with this lady out and about in our community. At every encounter she always thanks me and tells whoever she is with, “This is Janie; she saved my life.” I know no greater gift than knowing that I truly made a difference. —Janie Isham, Respiratory Care Practitioner



feel very fortunate that I’ve entered a field that I truly love. We are the one’s responsible for helping the physician determine the course of therapy when patients enter Brookings Health System. We are responsible for the delivery of unfortunate news as well as phenomenal news. My profession has always been a bit of a mystery to others. When people ask me what I do for a living, the typical expression is blank. The first five years of my profession, my own mother told people I was a nurse; the next five years she told people I was a phlebotomist (she’s going to kill me for this). Now please don’t misunderstand me; those are noble professions, just not mine. We will probably always be thought of as the ‘vampires’, the ones who have a cloud of black around them… and work in a dark, wet basement. This is a very inaccurate description of our job (thank goodness!). Medical laboratory scientists work very hard to help the public understand what our true job descriptions encompass. Hopefully this will also encourage young adults to enter into our field. My job as a scientist is typically ‘backstage’. I love Brookings Health because my job isn’t just backstage. We interact with the patients entering our facility on a daily basis. This allows us to impact each patient as well as them impacting us. This, in my opinion, is very powerful. I remember every day that the patients I see could be me or my family. I expect to treat each person exactly how I would expect to be treated. We also work closely with all of the departments. The same respect and kindness toward co-workers is also extremely important. We work closely together and working as a team not only impacts us in a positive way, but impacts our patients that watch it unfold in front of them. We understand that we may see emotions from every spectrum. We all make every effort to understand the patient’s needs, from basic kindness and understanding to an empathetic ear. Quite frankly there are millions of stories that have impacted my life and my professional career over the years. Situations that made me laugh so hard I tried not to wet my pants. Some that made me wish I wasn’t the one who saw the leukemia first. As health care professionals we see new life begin as well as death, sometimes multiple times a day. Certain times it is very important to be able to decompress. Across departments we are able to help each other decompress and continue moving forward with a positive outlook. I feel very fortunate that I work with such wonderful co-workers. One patient I interacted with was a four-year-old little boy. He was so brave when I drew his blood. He had been feeling ill for a few weeks. I will never forget my reaction when I looked at his blood cells under the microscope. My heart sank; I immediately knew what I was looking at… pushed myself


away from the microscope and said out loud, “NO! He’s only four!” Acute lymphocytic leukemia. A year later I drew a gentleman in the ER and his wife looked at me and said, “Hey—you’re the one that drew my son’s blood.” Keep in mind, I draw hundreds of kids. She continued by stating his name and adding, “He’s now five; he handled chemo like champ and is doing awesome.” This nearly brought me to tears. I spoke with the parents for a bit, expressing my excitement at such a positive outcome. We typically don’t get to see the outcomes; we’re left wondering. I thanked them for sharing and wished them the best and a speedy recovery for the father. I remember a patient we saw frequently. She was a young woman with stage 3 cancer that unfortunately metastasized. She was having a rather rough day and really just needed to feel safe venting. When she was done she was profusely apologizing. I reassured her that it was unnecessary and that her thoughts and emotions were valid. Then I told her, “I would like to thank you.” She was a bit taken back, and then I explained. I told her that her daughter and my son actually graduated together. I explained that when first moving here, my son had a very difficult time making friends. Being challenged and socially awkward, fitting in at a new school was torture. Her daughter embraced his uniqueness and made him feel ‘liked’ as well as welcomed. He told me of many bad days he was having until a small act of kindness happened, a positive word of encouragement typically coming from her daughter. I thanked her for being such a positive role model and raising a wonderful young woman. She passed away shortly after. I’m glad I had the opportunity to thank her. I believe we see miracles every day. I think with our busy lives we forget how amazing every day is. I recall drawing a postpartum mom. When I walked into the room and introduced myself, I was completely engulfed in a positive energy, so much so I felt as if I was in a dream. Mom, dad and baby were in the room and there was so much love. They were so excited; quite frankly I was in awe. I thanked them and left the room feeling strange… and very happy. I recall I was trying to process what I just experienced. I came down stairs and told a co-worker what an amazing thing I had just experienced. I recall thinking, “I’m not sure, but I think for half a second I had the pang to be a mom again…” That feeling hasn’t happened since my twenties! Which is good…or I could have a few dozen children by now. Later that evening a high school friend from out of state was ecstatic about being a new grandma. She started posting pictures of her granddaughter.


A beautiful little girl. I was thinking, “She’s almost as beautiful as the little girl I had seen earlier in the day.” Then I saw a picture of her daughter with the baby and I thought, “Holy cow, I need to tell her she has a twin in Brookings!” I was a little slow on the take because the next photo my thoughts were, “Wow… even the rooms are similar… what are the odds?” only to come to a picture with baby wrapped in Brookings Health System attire! I let my friend know my experience and how moved I was from it. She was grateful for me sharing. She wasn’t able to be there in person. She felt the warm loving feeling surrounding the room were all the loved ones present and the great grandparents that had passed away. These are various thoughts and experiences I’ve encountered working at Brookings Health System. Thanks for the experiences! —Mindy Johnson, Lab Medical Technologist


A patient I will never forget: I started practicing anesthesia in a larger facility located in Michigan. However, with four boys under the age of five, I knew one of the best places to raise kids was South Dakota. I picked up an anesthesia journal the next day and there was an ad for Brookings Hospital. Well two months later I accepted a job at Brookings Health System. The year was 1989 and our Brookings Hospital looked different. The OB ward had a long, dark, dreary hallway where the labor and delivery rooms were located. I remember I was in my first week of work and wondering if I had made the right move to come to this hospital. I was working in the OR and got a stat call to come to the OB ward. I took off running. I rounded the corner into that dark, dreary corridor to find one of the older family practice physicians walking toward me. I recognized him as someone whose health was not the greatest. He had terrible respiratory issues. His face had a look of fear. Little came out of his mouth and all I could hear was his terrible wheezing. He was carrying a steel basin. As he drew closer I saw a newborn baby lying in the basin. IT WAS TINY! Well at that point I didn’t know who was going to need resuscitation more, the baby or the doctor. We whisked it away to the nursery. I remember thinking, “This isn’t good!” I was able to get the baby intubated and get an IV line started and got the baby warmed up and stabilized. That baby weighed in at a whopping 1 lb. 2 oz. The flight crew from Sioux Falls came and transported the infant to the intensive care unit. In time I forgot about that night. Well seven or eight years later I gave an anesthetic to a young girl for surgery. During the post-op round I was talking to the parents and the subject came up of how when this girl was born she was premature and weighed in at 1 lb. 2 oz. Well as they say, “The rest is history,” and I ended up staying at Brookings Health System. —Steve Bunkers, CRNA & Anesthesia Director





nspiring Health can come in many different ways—tears, compassion, sharing a moment, making a connection, being a role model, and of course, laughter. The one moment in my nursing career that has left the biggest impression on me not only as a nurse but as a Christian was when I was caring for a patient on the surgical floor. He was a gentleman who was probably in his sixties who had a diagnosis of cancer. He did not receive many visitors, was not easy to talk with, and seemed to be always frowning and unhappy. I would go in every morning to do the a.m. assessment and try to engage him and discuss his care and ask if he needed anything. He would rarely make eye contact and seemed like he couldn’t wait until I was done and out of the room. Now I would like to tell you that I am this wonderful Christian who follows the teaching of Christ in all ways and at all times, but I’m not. I struggle on a daily basis to be the person Christ wants us to be, and sometimes I succeed, and lots of times I fail. But on this one day I succeeded. I went in one morning, did my a.m. assessment, and at the end instead of leaving the room, I sat down on the bed beside him, picked up his hand and held it, looked him straight into the eyes and said, ”I want you to know that I prayed for you last night.” He squeezed my hand back, looked straight at me, said a simple, “Thank-you very much,” and had tears in his eyes and a smile on his face. For one small moment, that gentleman knew that someone truly cared for him. I am also fortunate to work with a tremendous group of staff in the OR department. They help to inspire me every day in so many different ways. Some have this positive, cheerful attitude and greet their co-workers and their patients with this great energy; others have a great work ethic, others have the patience and tolerance to explain something over and over, others have high technical skills, but most of all, they always want to do it right. Whether it’s working early in the morning or late at night, they all want to deliver the best care. Thank you for being role models at Brookings Health System. They say laughter is the best medicine, and I would have to agree. I don’t think this story is inspiring, but if it brings a chuckle, you might start to feel better. This story goes back to my training days at good old Presentation


College, home of the Catholic nuns, hundreds of female nursing students, and few men. (Trust me—you could be short, wear horn rimmed glasses and have a severe case of acne, but if you were a man, you could have several girls hanging on you). My final project as a senior nursing student was to follow through during an assigned maternity case from the second trimester to the amazing birth. The weeks and months dragged along and aside from the mother getting larger and complaining of her swelling feet, nothing too much exciting happened (we didn’t do ultrasounds routinely in those days). Finally I am awakened at 3 a.m.; my assigned mother is going into labor! I get to St. Luke’s hospital, change into my scrubs, and spend long agonizing hours at the bedside trying to coach the mother to breathe and stay out of the way of the maternity nurse and her anxious husband. The maternity nurse takes me aside and explains to me that there is little inhaler called penthrane that the mother can inhale to take the edge off her contractions. Finally, my big moment has come when I can do something helpful! I bring the small device to the bedside and ask the mother in a serious tone, “Would you like penthrane?” The mother looks at me, looks at the device, and shakes her head, “No thank you, I’m not Catholic.” Needless to say, the maternity nurse had to explain that I wasn’t offering her communion or the last rites, just an inhaler to help ease the contractions. We had a good laugh about it after the baby was born. At least I was inspired to make sure the patient always has a thorough explanation. —Candace Johnson, RN & OR Director


Why are we in health care? I can not actually point to one event in my life where I said, “I want to be a nurse,” because I have always wanted to be a nurse, to the point of being dressed up as a nurse for my kindergarten Halloween party. There are many stories of great success and great loss over the years of my nursing career, but no one story is greater than another. So what keeps all of us coming back day after day, year after year, to care for the many patients that we serve? In trying to think of what my story was going to be about, one patient and situation keeps coming to mind. Many years ago there was a large woman that was a repeat patient in the medical unit with a variety of problems. She was large enough that it took a minimum of four staff members to lift her up in bed so she was dependent upon the staff for any comfort that she hoped to have while in bed. One evening after the night time routines were completed and repositioning done, this woman asked the staff assisting her if we were Christian women. When learning that we were, she then asked if we would please say the Lord’s Prayer with her. So there we were, all holding hands and saying a good night prayer with her. With all the technical and clinical skills that we provided to this patient, what was important to her was the spiritual part of her life. As a newer nurse, this was intensely powerful and a reminder that our patients are not just a number, a room, or a diagnosis. —Laura Willert, RN & Emergency Department Supervisor



Providing end-of-life care to our patients and their families is very rewarding for me. Oftentimes family members experience special times of reconciliation as their loved one enters eternity. Reconciliation is the focus of my story. One of our long-time Brookview Manor residents had taken ill with a respiratory issue. I was called by staff who notified me of his illness and requested a visit for spiritual care to his room at Brookview Manor. I visited the resident and found that he was struggling to breathe. When I called his name, he opened his eyes and smiled, recognizing me, but was non-verbal. He denied being afraid and acknowledged that his wife, who had preceded him in death, was waiting for him in heaven. I didn’t expect him to continue very long, perhaps days or only hours. So I sat with him for a while, prayed with him, and gave him drinks from his cup. After sitting for a while longer, we said our goodbyes. Later in the day while rounding on inpatients, I got a call from the family who said they were at Brookview Manor and would like me to stop by for a visit. When I arrived, a daughter, grandson, granddaughter and her toddler children were all in the room. The grandson asked me to take a seat against the wall. As I took my seat, he put his chair between mine and the door. I then realized that this family was serious about my visit and that I would probably be there for a while. After introductions the family rehearsed much of their history, sharing that an estrangement had taken place among family involving the resident. The daughter told me she hadn’t spoken to her father for quite a few years over an issue between them. The grandson shared that the resident’s illness provided the opportunity for family members to speak with the resident about love and forgiveness and that reconciliation had taken place between the daughter and her father. The daughter and grandson in particular expressed, through their tears, happiness with being able to heal and look to the future. As the visit came to a close the grandson, apologizing for “barricading me in the room,” as he put it, requested prayer. I prayed for the family and then each family member shared a personal prayer. After the prayer the resident opened his eyes but was unable to speak. He then closed his eyes, became unresponsive again, and lingered for another day before passing away. After his death I spoke with staff at Brookview Manor who said that this resident had “nine lives.” He had come close to death many times before. Evidently he wasn’t ready to die until now. I believe the reconciliation that took place within this family provided the resident with the peace he needed to leave this earth and enter eternity.


Though I feel any good listener could have provided this family with the care they needed that day, they apparently felt the need for a minister. Their time of reflection and confession seemed to provide healing at a crucial moment in time. Being included in this very personal experience was an honor for me. It validated my feelings that through providing spiritual care to our patients and their families I am fulfilling my calling as a minister of God. And I love what I do! —Gregg TeBeest, Staff/Hospice Chaplain




My Last Gift... I hugged a man today While going about my task Of making sure he was comfortable So he wouldn’t have to ask. I hugged a man today Because I could sense some fear He was so very, very sick And death was creeping near. I hugged a man today Whose eyes couldn’t hide his worry He joked and laughed and smiled at me My tears made my vision blurry. You see, I knew he wouldn’t probably live To see very many more days So, I held him, smiled, and visited with him ...cared for him in the kindest of ways. I wanted his last moment To be his finest one I wanted to be his angel And know God’s work was done. You see...he died a few days later With his children at his side I was glad I had hugged a man that day My last “gift” before he died. —Mary Oien Reed, Operating Room RN



I have been around health care for as long as I can remember. When I was little, my mother worked at a nursing home and she would take my sisters and me with her so that we could swim at the local swimming pool while she worked. When we were finished, we would walk to the home and have snacks with the residents. When I was nine years old, there was an elderly man from my home town that I would always sit with to have cookies and juice. He would listen to me talk on and on about what I was doing and the activities that I was in. He wasn’t a talker so the set up was great because I sure was. I remember he always laughed at my silly jokes. A week before school started my mother came home from work and told me that she needed to talk with me. My special friend that I always had snacks with passed away that morning. I cried a little and my mom told me that she would take me to his visitation to say good bye. At the visitation I said good bye to my friend and as I turned to walk away from him, his daughter came up to me and gave me a hug and a small gift. She said that everyday her dad looked forward to snack time because his little friend would be there to keep him company. She told me that it was the highlight of his day. One small act of kindness can mean the world to a person and I am thankful to work for a health care facility that incorporates that into their work everyday. —Amy Christensen, Human Resources Assistant



was a new nurse working in a 65 bed skilled nursing facility. I was just getting comfortable with the responsibilities of being the only RN on the nightshift. All my hard work in nursing school was finally paying off. I was excited about my work as a nurse. One summer night, I punched in and headed for the nurses station for report. I could see by the charts all over the nurses’ station that it had been a busy day. I was greeted by the day shift charge nurse. She commented, “We got quite the admission today! I was told that no other facility would take this one! He doesn’t have any family with him and because of his condition he can’t speak, so I haven’t been able to get any of the admission information. All I know is he can have morphine through his g-tube every two to four hours and g-tube feedings every six!” At that point, I was a bit worried about what the night was going to bring. I’d had enough experience to know that the first night in a new environment was typically pretty scary for patients. I wasn’t sure how I was going to communicate with him and care for his complex physical state. His name was Tom and he was in his late sixties. When I first saw him, I was quite taken back. He was a cancer victim, some type of oral cancer that had eroded through the side of his face, evident by an open wound. He had a tracheotomy and a g-tube. He appeared pretty emaciated. It was apparent that the chemotherapy and radiation treatments had taken their toll on him. Tom and I connected. I wasn’t really sure why. He seemed to be calmer and more cooperative on the nights I was working. We learned to communicate through gestures. He was able tell me when he needed pain medicine as well as most of his other needs. The disease progressed at a pretty rapid pace. He was having increasing periods of confusion and restlessness. He would pull on his g-tube, remove his dressings, and strip his blankets off his bed. I started to get calls at home on my days off to see if I would be able to come in and settle him down. His wife would often come during the day to be with him. She was gone by the time I would come on shift so I did not have an opportunity to meet her. This was a second marriage for both she and Tom. The marriage had caused a separation in the family and his children had disconnected from them because of it. His final days were tough. He was receiving high doses of morphine which seemed to control the pain but contributed to confusion and restlessness. I received a call on my night off. The charge nurse asked me to come in and sit with him just until his wife arrived. The end was near so I sat down beside


the bed and held his hand. He opened his eyes and looked at me. He then closed his eyes. His respiration became further and further apart until they ceased. His wife came into the room soon after his last breath. She thanked me for being with him. I told her I was happy to give him some kind of comfort with such a horrific disease state. I mentioned to her that I wasn’t sure why he responded to me the way he did. She shared with me that I resembled his daughter and that he regretted not making amends with her. It all made a bit more sense to me at that point. I had mixed feelings at the time because I felt that I had portrayed someone that I wasn’t, but when I reflect back, I am happy that I could help Tom pass peacefully. —Tammy Hillestad, RN & Chief Nursing Officer


The Easter Bunny

There is something about the atmosphere when working evenings

and nights on a nursing unit that provides an opportunity to develop a relationship with patients and their families, especially if a patient is hospitalized for an extended period of time. Years ago there was a young woman in her forties, I will call her Judy, who was hospitalized at Brookings Hospital on and off over several months during her fight with colon cancer. Her last hospitalization lasted for many weeks, and when I think of her I also think of her husband, whom I will call Dean, their almost grown children, and of my coworkers from that time in my life as a nurse. Judy’s last hospitalization started in the late winter. She had an abdominal surgery and was left with a very large open abdominal wound which required a dressing change two times per day or more. At this time in health care we did not have the advanced wound care products available now to enhance the body’s natural healing, and the only way to contain the very large amount of drainage from her wound was to merely change the saturated dressings with fresh sterile dressings, packing the wound as best as we could so that she could have the most relief possible before the next change was necessary. Healing was very slow and all we had available to help us was time, patience, and 4x4 gauze. These dressing changes allowed for much chatting time between the two nursing staff doing the time consuming task and Judy. She had a congenial disposition which made us all grow very fond of her, even love her. I remember that she did not ever get cross with us about what we were doing to her laid open belly time and time again. She just laid there having friendly conversation with us as if we were sharing a Diet Coke in the cafeteria. Judy’s husband, Dean, was at the hospital every evening. We all became fast friends with Dean. He was such a sociable guy in spite of the worry and anxiety he was feeling as Judy was becoming more and more ill. The winter nights turned to spring nights, and I was working Easter weekend that year. Dean and their daughter came to the hospital on Easter eve, with Dean hopping down the hallway dressed as the Easter bunny bearing a basket of candy for all of us. I felt honored to be at work that evening, to be a part of this event. I would not have wanted to miss this, and it moved my thoughts away from the plan in the back of my mind to race home from work in the morning to ensure that the Easter bunny had properly hidden the candy filled eggs for my own children. As the days and weeks went by it became apparent that the end of Judy’s hospitalization would be the end of her life. We and Dean and their kids had become a cohesive group, all there with a purpose that slowly became helping


Judy toward her death. Dean’s and the kids’ pain was as difficult for us to watch as Judy’s pain, but we had no medication to offer them that would bring the somnolence that we could bring to Judy. We each wanted to be, yet didn’t want to be, on duty when Judy took her last breath. I was at work for another twelve hour night shift several days after Judy died when I looked up and saw Dean coming down the hall toward South Circle. We greeted each other warmly and Dean sat down at the nurse’s station. My coworkers and I visited on and off with Dean as we were doing our work with our patients, with much of the conversation about Judy. He stayed for a while, then left, and repeated this routine for many evenings on and off after that, then gradually did not come anymore. He must have needed to see those of us who spent the last weeks of Judy’s life with them as he was grieving and trying to learn the new normal of life without Judy. I think of Dean and Judy, and their children, every once in a while. The whole experience had a meaningful effect on me and the other nursing staff who had the privilege of caring for this family during the end of this too-short life. —Lynne Thompson, RN & Case Management Director





My Mom, My Inspiration I had always thought that I would make a good nurse. Understanding science and the workings of the human body came easy to me; however, these things are learned. It’s the character of the person that truly defines them and sets apart the good from the great. As I entered the nursing profession, I prayed that I would have what it takes to be a GREAT nurse. I’m not sure if one is born with these positive traits or if those too are learned. If that is the case, I was lucky to learn from the best. When asked what or who inspired me to be a nurse, my mom is the first person that came to mind. She is an amazing person with the gentlest soul. She dedicated her career to caring for the elderly, retiring from nursing in 1999. On the day she announced her retirement, I sat down at my kitchen table and wrote her this letter which she saved in her cedar chest. Dear Mom, I am so happy for you—you deserve to enjoy life! No more stress, no more schedules. It’s time to focus on spoiling Dad and the rest of us! I am a little sad, too. It’s hard to see your career in nursing come to an end. You have always been such a wonderful advocate for the elderly— the voice for those who can no longer communicate—the crutch for those unable to bear their own weight—the shoulder for everyone to lean on. Your coworkers, residents, and families will miss you but they will never forget you. They will always cherish the treasure they had in you. When I was young, I would sit on the edge of the vanity and watch you get ready for work. Dressed in a freshly-ironed, bright white uniform, I thought you were the most beautiful person in the world. I can still see the color of your lipstick and recall how you would blot your lips on a piece of tissue. It was at that point in my childhood that I knew I wanted to grow up to be just like you—and to become a nurse. However, it wasn’t until after frequent visits to the Colonial Manor Nursing Home and watching you interact with the residents that I truly understood what it would take to become a GREAT nurse. It isn’t knowledge—anyone can learn the skill of nursing—it’s your personality. It’s your quiet, calm demeanor, your gentle touch, your patience. It’s your soothing voice, your sense of humor, and your genuine concern for the wellbeing of others. That is what makes you SPECIAL! I pray that I have some of those same traits in me.


Be proud of all you have accomplished during your nursing career for you have touched many lives. As you retire, I will carry on in your footsteps and strive to be that SPECIAL kind of nurse. Mom, you have always been my role model and my inspiration. I love you with all my heart, Karen As an emergency room nurse, I thrived on the adrenaline rush of caring for a critical patient. However, when I look back on my 29 years of nursing, that is not what comes to mind first. I remember the times I consoled a frightened child, reassured a worried patient, comforted a grieving spouse, shared a funny story, or just took the time to listen. This is what makes my work worthwhile. This is what, I feel, makes me a GREAT nurse. And it all started when a little girl aspired to be just like her mom. —Karen Weber, RN ; Medical-Surgical & Emergency Department Director



y story started when I was in high school and wasn’t really sure of what I wanted to do in life. Tammy Hillestad was a nurse at the time in the nursing home in Lake Preston and at the hospital. She suggested that I try working as an aide at the nursing home. I hadn’t been exposed to anything in health care at this point as none of my family works in the health care field. I don’t remember wondering how I was going to do it, but I remember how much I loved the residents! She was right. Health care was the field for me! If Tammy hadn’t asked me to try this work, I’m not sure where I would be today. Tammy has always inspired me to be in health care; she’s a great role model. It doesn’t hurt that she’s family and is stuck with me, so I don’t have to suck up to her! —Shelly Deknikker, Home Health LPN




y mother was a nurse and that is all I ever really wanted to be when I grew up. She had such a calm and caring manner and made people feel better. I wanted to be just like her. I was a very shy, timid student in high school and it was a huge undertaking to go to a college away from family and friends. We were sent to the hospital to work as student nurses only three weeks after starting our freshman year at school. Life and school were much different in 1970 than they are now. One of my first patients was a 25 year old guy in skeletal leg traction after a motor vehicle collision. He was depressed and in pain—and he was my patient for 8 hours. I felt so young and uneducated on what I could do to make his day better—and it was a stranger I had to talk to, help with a bed bath, do physical therapy with (whatever that was!) and everything else that day. Somehow I made it through the day. The next day the student nurses received a report on how they did the following day with their patients. My patient had given me a glowing report, how I was patient and cheerful with his crabbiness, how I was careful with his care and did not give him more pain than what he had already, and that he thought I was a great nurse. I read the report and thought, I am a nurse? Wow, maybe I can do this. I still remember him as he gave me the incentive to keep with my studies, to embrace the profession of nursing. My goal in life has been to work every day to make someone’s day a little better one way or another. —Louise Coull, Emergency Department RN






n life I have learned from my husband to grab the moment when the opportunity presents itself. My father-in-law moved to an assisted living home. Between my husband’s family and myself, we all made sure that he received a visit from one or more of us on a daily basis. He moved in on a temporary basis through the winter with the possibility of coming back to his home in the summer. At winter’s end, he chose to stay because he enjoyed living there. On a particular Saturday evening when I was visiting him, he asked if we would take him to visit his sister who was failing due to cancer. After getting home, I told my husband what his dad was asking and wondered when we could think about taking his dad on the day trip to visit his sister. My husband immediately said, well there is no better time than the present, we will take him tomorrow. So I made arrangements with the home and plans were made to take him after church on Sunday. My husband and I picked his father up and made the trip. We had a lovely visit with his sister, giving them plenty of private time to be together. On the way home we stopped at Hardee’s for his favorite meal of a roast beef sandwich and strawberry shake! After stopping back at the assisted living facility to bring his dad back to his place, we went home. After being home only a few minutes, the phone rang and it was his dad’s sister’s nursing home telling us that the sister had died shortly after we left. Shocked at the news, we called my husband’s sister who was going to visit with her dad after our day trip out. She was going to tell him the news when she went to visit their dad. When she got to her dad’s assisted living place, he was sound asleep. She called my husband asking what she should do, wake him up to tell him or let him tell their dad in the morning. They discussed that it should wait until morning, not wanting to wake their dad just to upset him. At 3:00 a.m. we got a call from assisted living that my husband’s dad had also unexpectedly passed away. What a shock to lose two such special people so close together! But the inspiring point of this story is the fact that when an opportunity presented itself, my husband didn’t hesitate. What a beautiful memory the day has been for us and that memory certainly helped us in a time when we needed something to hold on to. —Joan Smedsrud, Human Resources Specialist




t has been five years since I lost my wonderful mother very suddenly to cancer. Prior to this my father had been diagnosed with mild Alzheimer’s/ dementia. My parents had been school sweethearts and lifelong companions and the loss of Mom accelerated Dad’s disease. The day of her funeral, my dad begged me to allow him to stay in their home until God called on him, so I arranged for home health to assist with his care as I was working fulltime and lived about an hour away. One month after we laid Mom to rest, I received the dreaded call from home health informing me that the time had come to make a decision regarding his care as he kept falling and couldn’t remember to push his life line button. I dreaded this day and knew it would take a toll on me to remove him from his home, knowing he would never return. I called the clinic to make an appointment, but since he was quite sick at the time, they got him in the same day. His doctor informed me that he would need to be hospitalized until all of his vitals were stable, so I had to admit him to Brookings Health System. The short drive from the clinic to the hospital was overwhelming and something I will never forget as he kept begging me to take him home. Once we arrived at the hospital, he became very upset with me and was saying things that were very hurtful and not normal. I knew that Dad’s hurtful words were more of the disease talking than him, but it still hurt very deeply and I could feel myself losing control. Mom had worked at the hospital for twenty seven years so some of the nurses knew me and of our situation. Shortly after we were in the emergency department room, the nurses pulled me aside to talk. They were so compassionate and understanding. They reassured me that what I was doing was the right thing and that I needed to get the strength to follow through for Dad’s own well being. At that time they asked me to take a break and walk away for awhile and they would get him settled down. Later on that day I came back to see Dad in his room upstairs and he seemed very content. A few days later we had to make the adjustment to the nursing home, which wasn’t an easy transition, but with time he seemed to adapt quite well for the remaining four years of his life. Without the help and support during this confusing time, I don’t know what I would have done. Doctors’ and nurses’ interactions with families during difficult times can make a significant difference. I will always be grateful for the help and guidance that all the health care workers from home health, the clinic, hospice and the hospital provided me during these trying times. —Vickie Alschlager, Human Resources Specialist


Being an obstetrical nurse, it is hard to find one moment that stands out

as inspiring for me. Every birth is special and a gift from God. I think the thing that inspires me most in nursing is the personal interaction I get from helping people. My real inspiration comes from why I got into nursing. When I was a teenager my best friend was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease. I spent many days and nights sitting by her side as she went through the long process of surgery, chemotherapy, and then radiation. I missed many school events in order to be with her. Being by her side seemed to take her mind off of her discomfort. We would laugh, cry, and talk for hours. From this experience, I gained an insight to the importance of compassionate care. The reason I am in health care is to give quality compassionate care to someone’s family member or possibly someone’s best friend who is battling cancer. —Mary Schwaegerl, RN & Obstetrics Director


Shortly after starting work in home health here in 1994, I began seeing a

patient on a weekly basis under our health maintenance nursing program. The purpose of my visits was to fill her pill box weekly because she was not able to do that herself and her daughter lived out of state. She had been living independently in an apartment for several years prior to my seeing her but had recently been getting more forgetful. She and her family were worried that she would have to go to a nursing home soon if she didn’t take her medications correctly. Through my weekly visits with her, we became quite well acquainted. You get to know patients in their homes on a more personal level than is possible in a facility. She would visit about her family and any big events going on with them. I felt like I knew her grandchildren personally because she would talk about them frequently. When her daughter came to visit from out of state, she would schedule her visit to coincide with the day I came to see her mom so I got to know her as well. Through our weekly visits to fill her pill box, she would take her medications daily with very few errors. She was able to maintain her independent living at home for over 14 years with the assistance of the nursing visits. When she was no longer able to live at home, she transferred to a nursing home. I still felt a pull to go to her apartment building every Tuesday since I had been doing that for so many years. A few months later, we received a hospice referral for this patient. I was able to see her at the nursing home where she was currently residing and connected with the daughter again at that time. I hope that it was comforting for both of them to have someone who knew her so well involved in her care as she was dying. —Lynne Kaufmann, RN; Home Health & Hospice Director





A quote I often keep in mind is, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass… it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

I’m not one that thinks it’s always raining in life. Most days life is filled with sunshine. But when the storms roll in and it rains, I try and make the best of the situation whether it’s my personal or professional life. I feel that it’s up to you if you want to be an Eeyore (“Nobody likes me…”) or if you choose to be happy and outgoing despite what life might throw at you. Having said all of that, at times I can find it hard to follow what I believe. There are days, moments, and situations when I feel upset or sorry for myself and get the “nobody likes me syndrome.” I love working at Brookings Health System because there’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t go home thinking, “I’m so very glad for my life, my friends and family and for all of the blessings in my life.” One patient I will never forget was an outpatient that came in every single day for one week each month. In getting to know him I quickly learned two things about him: he had been through a lot of difficult situations in his long life and he never let anything get him down. I can only remember one day that he actually said something negative. Almost anyone else would have broken down years before with everything he was going through. I always found this both amazing and refreshing. He would come in for treatments that were keeping him alive for longer. When I would ask him how he was doing, without skipping a beat, he’d tell me, “Fantastic!” I could tell he wasn’t lying or being sarcastic. He’d ask me how I was doing and he would give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek and we’d talk for a while. At the very end of his life, the last time I saw him, I asked him again how he was doing fully knowing that the end was near. I’ll never forget how he looked at me, smiled, and said, “Fantastic!” I sat there with him next to his hospital bed for several more minutes just holding his hand. We ended our time together by giving each other a hug and a kiss and an, “I love you.” I have bad days. I have days I don’t feel well. I have days that people upset me. Every time I feel myself feeling this way, I think of this patient and everything he went through and how he rarely complained about his pain or situation. He went through a lot more in life than I ever have and so I feel that if he could get through without complaining, there’s no reason why I need to or should complain. So if you ask me today how I’m doing? “I’m fantastic!” —Lora Ficek, Emergency Department Registration & Support Supervisor




hat is a patient? By definition it’s a person receiving or registered to receive medical treatment. But they’re so much more than that. Every single person that comes through the ER is a different story, situation and scenario, and that’s what I love most about my job. I can’t count how many times people have walked in, whether that’s to be treated or to be part of a support system, and have either given me a life lesson or made me appreciate life that much more. I’m going on six years here now and I wouldn’t trade a single second of it for anything. Here at Brookings Health System, we work together, not against, and strive to make each situation have the best outcome possible. We are supposed to share an inspirational story, and that’s hard for me because I’ve had so many that have affected me in different ways, but this is one of my favorites… When I signed up to be an ER receptionist, I figured, “Hey registering patients; no big deal—I got this!” Honestly, the first couple months I started here, I wanted to give up and quit. I didn’t think I could handle some of the emergencies and the moods of certain patients, but there was one guy who made it all worth it. Now I’m sure there will be multiple co-workers with similar stories about this young-at-heart stud. He was like an adopted family member to all of us. He definitely had the V.I.P. treatment every time he came to see us. And regardless of how he was feeling mentally and physically, he’d always say, “I’m doing great!” Seeing someone slowly deteriorate, knowing we were only helping postpone the inevitable, and still have the positive attitude and outlook he did astounds me still to this day. I looked forward to seeing his name on the list, but only because I knew I was going to get a hug and kiss from him that day. We’d talk about the old days compared to how it is today, to family life, and even relationship advice. I remember one time he goes, “My heavens, what is wrong with men in this town, are they blind?” I fired back, “Oh, you’re too cute; if you were only 50 years younger!” And we had a good laugh. He was one of those once in a lifetime kind of people you meet. After you talked to him once, you were hooked. He was so genuine, quick-witted, and fearless. Unfortunately, the day came where I got a call he wasn’t doing too well and had been admitted to the hospital. I made an effort every single day he was here, whether I worked or not, to go up and check on him. One of our last moments we had together, he was lying in the hospital bed, in and out of


consciousness and somewhat confused. I grabbed his hand and whispered in his ear, “I love you.” He looked back at me and said, “I love you too, sweetie.” I kissed him on the forehead and I got a peck on the cheek. It meant the world to me to hear those five words. I walked away from whole situation sad but glad, and it confused me how that could be. It took some time, but I realized I was sad he was dying. But I was glad I got the opportunity to say goodbye, knowing he was going to be at peace without any more suffering, and felt blessed that God placed him in a path where ours roads were able to cross. He taught me selflessness, determination, and to never take any one moment for granted, good or bad. After all, you’ve only got three choices in life: give up, give in, or give it all you’ve got. —Ashley Sumner, Emergency Department Patient Services Representative


Although I am not a medical professional and do not have direct, regular contact with patients, as the marketing & PR director, I do have the opportunity to interview patients and tell their stories. But before I even worked in health care, there were two people who left an indelible mark and inspired my outlook on life.

One is my husband, Ryan, who was violently mugged almost five years ago. The assailant hit him with a logging chain on the right side of his head, causing a traumatic brain injury (TBI). This created contractures in the left side of his body, affecting his left leg, arm, voice and numerous other functions. He underwent several surgeries and has been through intensive therapy. Because of the TBI, he relies on a wheelchair, walker or cane for mobility, has very limited use of his left hand and arm, and speaks with difficulty. However, ever since I’ve known Ryan, he hasn’t felt sorry for himself. Instead, he looks at the positive things the TBI created in his life, like an opportunity to go to school and earn his degree, our meeting and marrying, and now having a baby together, among others. His determination and will to be as independent as possible keeps him continuing to work toward walking independently again, improving his speech and gaining more function from his left arm and hand. He believes you play the hand you’ve been dealt in life to the best of your ability, and often finds alternative methods to “skin a cat” given the abilities he does have. His positive attitude and constant rehabilitation gains are pure inspiration. The other was a young woman I interviewed for a Make-A-Wish® article I wrote nearly eight years ago. She was only three years older than me, and at age 11, she had been diagnosed with Neurofibramatois Type 2 (NF2), which causes non-malignant brain tumors by the auditory nerve. She kept defying the odds. Doctors told her she wouldn’t make it to her eighteenth birthday and kept telling her she only had so many years to live. Instead, she proved them wrong by living to see three different doctors retire. She underwent 55 different surgeries and procedures to remove tumors, disfiguring her face. She had lost her hearing, had impaired speech, and had to start using a walker. But at no point did she feel sorry for herself or ask why she was chosen to endure the pain. Instead, she led life to the fullest, taking advantage of every moment life had to offer. She inspired and encouraged others around her, passing along hope and sharing her vibrant spirit to other Make-A-Wish® kids and families. Finally after surviving twice the time of her first predicted life expectancy, she passed away last summer at 37. But in those 37 years, she truly lived. —Julia Yoder, Marketing & PR Director





There have been many experiences in my years in EMS when I have been

taken aback by sights, sounds or smells, times when I knew I was not in control of the outcome. And if it was going to be a favorable outcome, it was totally in God’s hands, not mine. Whether in the back of an ambulance or helicopter, a bedroom or a ditch, I just wanted to have a positive effect on a patient, and if that was not possible, to at least be there to support the family. This is a story of being thrust into one of these situations which prompted me to follow a path I had never planned on taking. I was a volunteer with a small town ambulance when I began my EMS career. My actual job was a meat cutter at a local grocery store/meat locker so I probably saw most of the town residents weekly. One beautiful summer morning, a young father was cleaning out a semi fuel tanker trailer between loads. He was on the inside of the tanker scrubbing it down and his two young sons, who got to hang out with dad that morning, were on the catwalk of the tanker. Apparently the light the young father was using in the tanker shorted out and caused an explosion. The explosion could be heard and felt in town one-and-a-half miles away. The force of the explosion blew a hole in the tanker, killed the father and blew the two young boys off the tanker. The boys began walking toward town and were picked up by a passerby. In the ambulance, my partner and I met the pickup on the highway with two blackened, burnt boys sitting in the front seat. After I recovered from the initial sight of their burnt and unrecognizable bodies and was able to regain my composure somewhat, the smell of burnt flesh and hair overtook me. My EMT training had not prepared me for this. As I began to cut a Vikings t-shirt off of one of the boys in the ambulance, I remember him looking me straight in the eyes and saying, “Gordy, please don’t cut my new t-shirt; I just got it!” These words were coming from the mouth of a boy who I did not recognize, a boy I couldn’t believe was alive. As we transported them to a local hospital and then on to a burn center, we were allowed to watch and be a part of the treatments they were providing for the boys. I was awe struck with the compassion and skill of every person who had a part in taking care of these two boys. In the weeks and months to come, I was able to befriend a little boy in his brand new Jobst suit. He had lost his father, then he lost his brother, and it was now just him and his mom. I felt so blessed to be a part of seeing them smile after all they had been through. I recognized that there is so much more to patient care than a specific skill or a specific person. After this experience I began to feel a need for more


education and a desire to make it a profession. Situations like this would present themselves over and over in the years to come, and I just thank God for allowing me to be a part of so many lives though for a very limited time. —Gordon Dekkenga, Paramedic & Ambulance Director



nspiration comes in many forms when accepting gifts given to the Brookings Health System Foundation. A young couple still grieving the loss of their seven-and-a-half month old son, Isaac, to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) approached me, looking to make a lasting impact to help keep his memory alive in the hearts of many. The result is the Team Isaac Gift Pack program, giving gifts and information to increase awareness of SIDS and Safe to Sleep practices to the family of every baby born at Brookings Health System’s birth center. A woman who lost her husband to cancer came asking how she can show her thanks to Brookings Health System Hospice and make a difference in the lives of other families experiencing end-of-life of a loved one. Her gift resulted in a computer system with Skype capability, allowing hospice patients to say goodbye to friends and relatives living far away and a beautiful reverie harp, creating soothing music which vibrates the very heart of the patient, family member or hospice volunteer playing the instrument. An entire community came together giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to make our new The Neighborhoods at Brookview a comfortable home for residents, their families and staff. But one of the most touching moments was when little nine-year-old Alaina appeared at my office door, offering her Ziploc baggie full of cash. She sold goodies at her momma’s rummage sale and gave all of her earnings to Brookings Health System Foundation to get something special for children in the hospital. The focus of my work is to inspire people to support Brookings Health System through philanthropy, but, in turn, I receive inspiration from those who give and from seeing the impact Brookings Health System has on the lives of so many. —Barb Anderson, Foundation Development Officer



’ll never forget the day that my mom and I were driving along on a beautiful sunny day and came upon a tragic accident at a four way intersection where four cars had collided head on. Two of the vehicles were totaled and the passengers had gone through the windshield and lay on the side of the road. Another vehicle had a woman who was pinned between the driver’s seat and the steering wheel and she appeared to be unconscious. The woman’s little girl was standing outside of the vehicle crying hysterically and yelling, “Mommy, please be okay,” over and over again. The other vehicle was a truck and both the driver and passenger appeared to be severely cut with glass from the windshield and also pinned in the vehicle. There was a truck driver that was two vehicles ahead of us that witnessed the accident and called it in to 911. Due to the accident, no cars were able to pass through the intersection. Many people were getting out of their vehicles and helping with what they could until help arrived. It wasn’t long before the ambulance crew, police, jaws-of-life and fire squad arrived and worked together as a team to help the injured. The scene was so sad and my heart was breaking for the little girl that appeared to be losing her mother, those that were injured and those that did not survive the crash. It was truly amazing to watch how people pulled together in time of need to help others. Although this accident happened many years ago, I can still remember the tragic scene. When I think about it today, I am reminded how blessed and thankful I am to be part of a health care facility that provides quality care and makes a positive impact on people’s lives on a daily basis. —September Bessler, Human Resources Director



hen preparing for college, I had ideas of computer programming and agricultural education on my list of career choices. With some help from my mom and a fresh look at some new options, I decided that nutrition was a great area to study. Who wouldn’t want to study food? I have never been so glad that I re-thought my career path. There is nothing better than inspiring health through nutrition and wellness! As a new dietitian with all kinds of energy and a plan to save the world, I struggled to understand how my patients needed to use flower pots to describe their cereal bowls! Where can you buy GrapeNuts by the pound? How can a small child describe their daily milk intake by the gallon? And how could someone possibly eat NO fruits or vegetables for a whole week or maybe even a month? Well this was only the beginning. Each patient I saw had a story, their own good and bad habits, and each one usually had some room for improvement in working toward a healthy lifestyle. My goals changed from saving the world to inspiring change in the world. I knew that it was going to be a long road from a flower pot cereal bowl to a one cup serving of cereal, but I was up for it. I have learned something new from each patient I have worked with. I learn about lifestyles, personalities and foods that I never knew existed. I also learn about learning styles and readiness to learn. I have taken each experience and have applied them to how I teach. I now savor the ‘Ah-ha!’ moments with patients when I am teaching. At that point I know that I have successfully delivered my message in a way that they understand. What an awesome feeling! Just this week while sitting side-by-side with a patient in a room full of students, her ‘Ah-ha’ moment brought tears to her face as she hugged me. She was so thankful for someone who would spend the time to sit, listen and teach her even though it took a few different teaching methods for her to understand. She then proceeded to give each of the students, and myself, a few lessons in life. Coming to work each day is exciting; you just never know what you might learn from the people you care for. Why would I want to miss a day? —Katy VanderWal, Dietitian


300 Twenty-Second Avenue Brookings, SD 57006 Phone: (605) 696- 9000

Inspiring Local Health - The Brookings Health System Story  
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