I Once Dreamed of a Life on Stage, But Now I Save Lives

By | 2022-01-05T11:35:43-05:00 December 29th, 2021|1 Comment

Content courtesy of Verizon.

In March of 1987, I was a senior in high school preparing to attend college to get a degree in Musical Theatre and Dance. My grandmother, Frances, went to the hospital for an outpatient aortic angioplasty. I tried to skip school to go with her because I just felt like something was wrong, but my mother sent me off to school.

Maria E. VanHart, RN

Every day after school I’d go to my job at Dairy Queen, but that day I had to talk myself into going to work. When I arrived at Dairy Queen, my manager was waiting for me. She was at my car window before I could place the car in “park”. She told me the hospital chaplain had called and requested I come to the hospital.

When I got to the hospital, I was escorted to a private room where my mother and the chaplain were waiting for me. Together, we went to see Frances in the ICU. She was on a breathing machine and heart medicine. The ICU nurse caring for her was amazing.

A few days later, my mom consented to the removal of the medicines and machines that were keeping Frances alive. I do not remember the nurse’s name, but because of the love and compassion she showed a 16-year-old child who just lost the matriarch of her family, my path was forever changed. I started my journey into the world of nursing that August to help save lives.

Saving Lives and Providing Comfort

During my first clinical rotation, my med-surg nursing professor told me I would never be a good nurse. I wish I could find her today. After 30 years in nursing I have the alphabet soup behind my name, and I have countless letters, cards, and thank you notes from my patients and their families.

As a new grad nurse I held a grandmother as she collapsed at the bedside of her 4-day-old grandson, Nathaniel, as he released his last breath. While I always hoped I could save lives as a nurse, I came to realize the impact I could have on loved ones, as well.

As a flight nurse I cared for a victim of the 2017 shooting at the Las Vegas music festival, as my flight crew returned her and her fiancé home to Boston for her medical treatment.

While on a Live Aboard dive boat in the middle of the Atlantic, I provided emergency care to a friend and fellow diver who had a stroke while diving. We were about 12 hours from land when our friends came to find us. We got her to Nassau in the Bahamas and she was airlifted to Miami.  

Last year, as a representative of the Veterans Administration, I deployed to a COVID-19 ICU where I held the hand of a retired nurse as she took her last breath. In her final days, her son would sit outside her isolation room watching and speaking to her via an iPad.

I was honored by the President of the Emergency Nurses Association in 2021 for my actions in 2020 on a remote Nevada highway, where I cared for 10 family members — victims of a single-vehicle accident — until help arrived. As a result, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs honored me with a 2021 VA Secretary’s Award for Excellence.

My Suffering Became Empathy for Others

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35 and passed in 2000 at the age of 59. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005 at the age of 34. I have suffered the loss of my entire family to various illnesses. I chose to pull myself up by my bootstraps and not wallow in my pain. My suffering has given me the empathy to be the nurse I am today.

Sometimes I wish I had followed my dreams of touring the world singing and dancing and signing autographs. Oh, what might have been! Then I think about being able to save lives and all the people whom I have cared for while they fought through the darkest times in their lives. I have lived a blessed life and I’ve been fortunate to use my skills and compassion to help strangers suffer just a little less.



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Maria E. Vanhart, BSN, RN, CEN, EMS-RN
Maria E. VanHart, BSN, RN, CEN, EMS-RN, works for the Salt Lake City (Utah) VA in the Community Care Department and Kane County Hospital in Kanab, Utah. From 2016 to 2021, she worked at the Southern Nevada VA in Las Vegas as an ED RN.

One Comment

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    Maria Therese Paraiso January 12, 2022 at 1:25 am - Reply

    I’m glad that I read this story, because as a kid I was hoping that, I would be on a movie or TV set in Universal Studios Hollywood to be in a blockbuster film or hit TV show. I also dreamed, & still do dream of winning The Voice to win a million dollar record deal to become a successful singer. Instead of changing my major from BSN to Musical Theatre or Music late in life, I still want to get my BSN & become a registered nurse. I’m currently a LVN, & despite of my past history of poor academic record, plus people don’t think I would make it as a LVN, much less an RN. I’m determined to find an RN program, so I can finally finish nursing school, & get that RN license. I, too, became a successful LVN, who is a better nurse than some of the RNs I work with as their Psych med nurse. I saved maybe thousands of lives, & just be an inspiration to & positive role model for my patients. Wish me luck to go back to Nursing school, & finish what I started 30 years ago this year, as an 18-year-old Freshman in college.

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