Jill Hartman will never forget the day her 4-year-old daughter nearly died. She’ll also never forget the nurse who helped save her little girl’s life.
“Sarah held my daughter’s head, looked into her eyes and calmed her down,” Hartman recalls of the day more than a year ago when she and her husband, Josh, arrived at Poudre Valley Hospital with their daughter, Aliya, who was having trouble breathing.
Aliya was admitted to the pediatric unit, where registered nurse Sarah Carstens was working the night shift.
“Minutes after Sarah began her shift and had introduced herself to us for the first time, Aliya had an episode of respiratory distress that was the most frightening thing to witness,” Hartman said. “To see our young daughter struggle to breathe … and to see those young eyes full of fear is unexplainable.”
Hartman continued, “I can’t explain it. It was like it was her own daughter that she [Carstens] was taking care of. She was so in charge and had her head about her, but she also really cared. She is really special.”
Carstens acted quickly and stabilized Aliya. Carstens explained the situation to the family and parked equipment outside Aliya’s room in case of another emergency — both acts that the Hartmans said strengthened their trust in Carstens.
And sure enough, another respiratory event followed, and once again Carstens’ training kicked in.
“This little girl will live with me for the rest of my life,” Carstens said, “It was scary — probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done — but it’s also one of those that reminds me why I do what I do.”
The Hartmans couldn’t be more grateful and recently recognized Carstens, along with pediatrician Dr. John Guenther, as their guardian angels through PVH and MCR Foundation’s Guardian Angel program.
Aliya is now 5. She had to be transferred from PVH to Children’s Hospital Colorado shortly after Carstens saved her life, but Aliya has not had any breathing issues since her recovery there.
“I still think of Sarah every day. She truly saved my daughter’s life,” Hartman said.
The Hartmans returned to PVH to personally thank Carstens. It’s an opportunity that not many nurses get to have, and Carstens was grateful.
“Patients pass through and it’s hard — especially with kids — because we never hear what happens to them next,” Carstens said. “When Jill and Josh asked to come see me, it was really nice to have that closure and to be able to see her as a healthy child. I didn’t realize how much it affected me to see them.”
People may recognize a caregiver as a Guardian Angel by making a donation to the Foundation. The recipient is given a pin and plaque personalized with a quote from the donor.
“It’s nice to have validation and recognition for what we do,” Carstens said. “Nursing is hard. We bust our butts, and we take that home with us sometimes because we just can’t help it. … To have them [the Hartmans] appreciate it — it’s good for the soul.”
Since the program started in 2008, more than 650 Guardian Angels — ranging from individuals to entire units — have been awarded, with donations ranging from $2 to $5,000.
“I’m so incredibly glad they reached out to me,” Carstens said. “It had been a rough year, and getting the Guardian Angel couldn’t have come at a better time … I believe that sometimes, for reasons we’ll never know, our patients somehow choose us. The right patient, the right caregiver, the right situation can save a little person’s life and also secure someone’s knowledge that they are truly doing what they are meant to do.”