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One Heart Inspiring Another

There are two sides to every story.

Two sides to the anatomy of the human heart.

Nathan and his mon, Tina, who works at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital on our PICU.

Two sides to every floor at Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital.

Exiting the elevator bank, a span of windows frames a sparkling view of St. Petersburg’s Innovation District while a coastal-themed way finder directs visitors to patient areas. One side leads to the cardiovascular intensive care unit (CVICU), the other to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). At the junction of these areas is one family.

For 14 of the past 16 years, Tina has been a patient care technician in the PICU at Johns Hopkins All Children’s. A medical career, however, wasn’t something she had planned on. In fact, it all started with the birth of her son.

Nathan was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, a critical birth defect affecting the formation of the heart. His only chance for survival depended on surgery–either a transplant or a complete reconstruction through a series of three procedures. Tina and her husband faced a difficult decision.

“When he was born I didn’t have any medical experience,” Tina explains. “We didn’t have any research. Our decision to do the transplant was because we only wanted to put him through one surgery.”

Sixteen hours and one flight from the German hospital where he was born to Colorado later, Nathan had a new heart. A heart that has been beating strong for 19 years.

It was a combination of experiences that brought Tina, Nathan and the rest of the family to where they are now. They moved to Florida when he was 1, and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital took over caring for Nathan’s heart.

Through interactions with exceptional nurses during the transplant and then again upon arrival in Florida, Tina knew she wanted to pursue a nursing career. She started nursing school soon after the move and earned her Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) certification before starting her own journey at Johns Hopkins All Children’s.

As a patient care technician, Tina helps ensure that kids in the PICU get all the care they need. This includes medical necessities as well as basic comforts for both the patient and his or her family. It may be something as simple as making sure the family knows who the nurse is, washing the hair of a teenage patient or helping a family cope through a difficult situation.

“Sometimes parents need extra reassurance their child is in the best hands and everything will be OK,” Tina adds. “I can relate. I’ve been in their shoes and know the difference it can make.”

Though Nathan’s heart has been growing with him and doing exceptionally well, there have been struggles and numerous stays in the CVICU. He lost part of his vision at age 10 due to a genetic abnormality exacerbated by his medication and has recently started to develop some kidney issues.

Under the care of Alfred Asante-Korang, M.D., FACC, a pediatric cardiologist with the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Heart Institute, Nathan has lab work every two weeks, a clinic visit every three months and a cardiac catheterization every six months for an in-depth check on his heart.

For the past five years, he has received intravenous immunoglobulin therapy (IVIg) every six to eight weeks to help him fight off infections. Nathan tends to have a reaction to the therapy and often ends up staying in the CVICU for about a week.

“One time, Nathan was really sick from the IVIg while I was working,” Tina recalls. “One of the nurses not only took the time to reassure me that everything was under control, but she spent more time than I could possibly imagine just being there to comfort him when I couldn’t be. I try to go above and beyond for my patients because of what they’ve done for him.”

It’s this spirit of reciprocity that brought Tina to work at Johns Hopkins All Children’s to start with. It’s the incredible kids and the opportunity to do something that will put a smile on someone’s face and make a struggle a little easier that keeps her coming back.

Right now, no one can tell what the future holds. Tina would eventually like to continue school to earn her registered nurse license. Nathan is working to keep his heart in top shape for as long as possible. Together, it’s a balancing act with one goal: health.