After losing her son, Colton, to CHD, Britney Gibson realized what she had gone through as a mom was guiding her next great calling – becoming a nurse. Below, Britney shares how her experience helps her relate to the parents of her new patients and how her love for her son inspires her work.
If you asked me if I ever dreamed of being a nurse, I would have looked at you as if you were crazy. I would tell you I didn’t have it in me. That all changed when our son was born with three severe congenital heart defects. We thought we were having a healthy little boy, but instead we were given much more. When we were in the hospital with our son, we became a part of the care team. Pitching our ideas trying to save our son’s life. Countless hours reading journal articles to find some sort of cure. Ultimately, we were faced with a new diagnosis, pulmonary vein stenosis, it was beyond severe and unfortunately took Colton’s life. We lost our son and the team that we were a part of, we were alone. Our hearts were completely shattered, but as I laid in bed I couldn’t shake the feeling that something else was missing. As much as my heart ached, I knew I needed to help others. That moment, I knew I wanted to be a nurse.
Fast forward a little bit, I am now a nurse in the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital, the same unit we called our home, working with the same nurses that took such great care of our son. When I started, many looked at me as if I was crazy, but many more welcomed me with open arms. I was another new graduate nurse just trying to keep my head above water. I learned early on that my past experiences helped me in a different way. Many nurses don’t want to work in pediatrics because of the parents, that’s what draws me in more. It’s easy to learn defects, medications, pressures, and how to place IVs, but it isn’t easy to put yourself in a family’s shoes to understand why they might be frustrated with everything going on. In a parent’s world, their job is to raise their child, hold them when they want, feed them when they need to be fed, but when you have a sick child in a hospital, your rights as a parent fade. In medicine there are orders. Some say you can’t feed your child unless it is through a tube, so they don’t aspirate. While many parents understand why this is necessary, many staff members don’t understand what was just taken from them as a parent. As a parent you then just give your child as much love as you possibly can. If they are able, you hold them as long as you possibly can.
Then it hits you, “you will never understand how hard this is”. In medicine, the one comment you are never supposed to say is “I understand how hard this may be.” You don’t understand, you NEVER will understand what that family is going through. Not even myself, someone who has walked a similar path. I never tell my story to families, because my story is their worst fear. Instead, I am able to look them in the eye and tell them “I will never understand your situation, but I walked a similar path. I slept on the same couch behind you. I had the same concerns and thoughts that you are expressing. You are not alone”. I try so hard every day to bridge the gap for families. Having a sick child and having a medical degree shouldn’t separate the care of your child. If taking care of a healthy child takes a village, taking care of a medically complex child is going to take a lot more. It takes a team who truly cares about your child, wants them to grow just as badly as you do.
When Colton passed, almost every nurse, doctor, even the cleaning lady we saw every day came to say goodbye. To hold him one last time. This hit them almost as hard as it hit us. They became part of our family. My experience has shaped me as a nurse in so many ways. I wish more than anything I could just be the mother and still have my son in my arms, but as a nurse I can proudly walk into your child’s room and say, “Hi! My name is Britney, I am going to be your nurse today.”
Britney Gibson is the mother to two incredible children, Colton and Rylie. After her son Colton passed away, she decided to put everything aside to become a nurse. She is now a nurse in the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit at Children’s Hospital Colorado who strives to provide the best care possible for cardiac families. Britney lives by the motto, “Once a heart mom, always a heart mom!”