For most of her life, Jennifer Pekor was "scared of a simple blood draw." That changed when she was diagnosed with end-stage cirrhosis of the liver. Suddenly blood draws, pokes and procedures came to define her life. At her worst, "I looked like the living dead," says Jennifer, who, at age 23, was told she would likely die from the disease. It was a difficult prognosis to accept. Jennifer tells us that her mother even admitted to praying that if her daughter wasn't going to get better, "God would take me home to end my suffering." At her lowest point, Jennifer's weight plummeted to 85 pounds, and she was racked with nausea and other symptoms. "I was bankrupt, both physically and emotionally," she says.
A year after her diagnosis, however, Jennifer discovered a reason to hope. She was referred to Mayo Clinic for a liver transplant evaluation, where she met Hugo Vargas, M.D., a transplant hepatologist. Her voice breaks when she describes Dr. Vargas' impact on her life. "He is like a father to me," she says. "He didn't treat me as a diagnosis or a room number, rather, as a human being with complex needs."
Under Dr. Vargas' care, Jennifer's disease stabilized. And soon, she began thinking of the future. Specifically, a future where she could help others as she had been helped. "Maybe, just maybe, one day I could be a nurse," she recalls thinking. And if she was going to be a nurse, Jennifer knew that "the only place I would want to work was Mayo."
Today, Jennifer is a nurse and team lead in the Palliative Care/Medical Surgical Unit at Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix, Arizona. And she tends to patients with the same compassion she received when she was a Mayo patient herself.
Jennifer's colleagues describe her as "a ray of sunshine crossed with the Energizer Bunny." (That's how we describe Cory.) And many of those colleagues were in attendance recently when Jennifer received the 2016 Michael B. O'Sullivan, M.D., Award for Excellence in Clinical Nursing for Inpatient/Acute Care. Also there to support her was Dr. Vargas, whom Jennifer says "modeled for me how all of us should be as health care providers."
Jennifer told those at the award ceremony that when her spirits were down, "it was the nurses who made the difference. They were magic workers." It seems she's working a bit of that magic herself these days. Recently, while helping a patient prepare for discharge, the man told Jennifer he was going to miss her. She teasingly told him, "Sure, you are going to miss 'Nurse Ratched' who did awful things to you." But then she realized the man was crying. "I really mean it," he said. "I am going to miss you." Jennifer wrapped him in a hug. It wasn't so long ago that she was a patient herself. And she knew exactly what he meant.
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