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Phoenix nurse keeps son’s memory alive through charitable work

After losing their third child, Bowen, to polycystic kidney disease, Heather Gillis, MSN, RN, CRNA, and her husband, Mac, decided to keep Bowen’s memory alive by raising money to help other children facing the condition.

The Gillis’ son was just 13 days old when he died April 20, 2011, at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, after his kidneys grew too large for dialysis. Six months later, Gillis and her husband began making donations to the PKD Foundation, hosting silent auctions and raising money through their website, Bowenshope.com. The couple has raised about $50,000 for the PKD Foundation in three years. Heather Gillis also wrote a book, “Waiting for Heaven,” about their son, which was published in April.

“Our experience has affected me on many levels, not only being a parent, but as a nurse as well,” said Gillis, who works as an independent contractor for two anesthesiology practices in the Phoenix area. “Being on the other side, having to trust the doctors and nurses to take care of our son — something I ask parents to do all the time — put things into perspective, and showed me what parents really go through.”

Wanting to do more to help families and children enduring long hospital stays and dialysis from kidney disease, the Gillises have raised about $7,000 in gas and gift card donations as well as cleaning supplies through their website.

Donations help families in many ways

Heather Gillis and son Bowen.

Wanting to do more to help families and children enduring long hospital stays and dialysis from kidney disease, the Gillises have raised about $7,000 in gas and gift card donations as well as cleaning supplies through their website.

Joanne Watson, BSN, RN, a peritoneal dialysis nurse at Phoenix Children’s Hospital, said some pediatric patients with kidney disease have to travel to the hospital three to four times a week for dialysis, making the gas and gift card donations from organizations such as Bowen’s Hope vital. Others receive dialysis at home, where donated cleaning supplies help keep their environments germ-free.

“Being able to see the kids smile is so inspirational,” Gillis said. “They just have this joy of life and even though they have to go to the hospital three or four times a week, they’re not going to let it get in the way of their lives. It’s just amazing. If I can be part of helping them in any way, that’s very healing.”

Q&A with Heather Gillis

The book Gillis wrote about her family’s experience, “Waiting for Heaven: Find the Beauty in the Pain and the Struggle,” was published in April. Proceeds from the book are being donated to the PKD Foundation.Gillis shares some insight about her journey in a Q&A with Nurse.com:

Question: When did you realize you should write a book about Bowen?

Gillis: When I was journaling after Bowen’s death, it was just a place for my emotions to go. But after about two years, I realized there was so much that happened on our journey, it was too much not to share. It was hard to meet parents who were hurting so much after the loss of a child. Not that we had all the answers, but if we could share our journey with others to give them hope, then it is worth it.

Question: What was the hardest part of sharing your story?

Gillis: At first it was very difficult to share our story, because it was so fresh. It took about a good one to two years before I could tell our story without shedding tears. It was hard at times to share with others, because at times when I shared I felt I was reliving the horror over and over. But really every time I shared it was a step forward toward healing.

Question: How long did it take you to write your book and get it published?

Gillis: The whole process of writing “Waiting for Heaven” and getting published, took a total of three years. In fact, the day we received the first printed hard copy of the book in the mail to approve was on April 7, 2014 — Bowen’s birthday. What a great way to honor and celebrate our son’s life.

Question: What advice do you have for other nurses who have experienced a similar loss and are considering writing a book on the subject?

Gillis: My advice to other nurses is always put yourself in the parents’ shoes. Having a child who is chronically ill needing treatment from the hospital can be burdensome and stressful. Don’t ever forget the impact one can have as a nurse for these families.

By | 2020-04-15T09:27:29-04:00 October 10th, 2014|Categories: Regional, West|0 Comments

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