ICU nurse reflects on the colleagues and care that saved her dad’s life

On Father's Day in 2023, Elizabeth Murphy's father had a heart attack. After initially receiving treatment at another facility, he was transferred to Mayo Clinic — to Murphy's unit. The experience helped her see her colleagues and her patients through new eyes.

Editor's note: Elizabeth Murphy, an intensive care nurse at Mayo Clinic in Florida, wanted to share her gratitude for the way her team rallied around her and her father during his hospitalization. Her story appears below in her own words. It has been lightly edited for clarity and brevity.

On June 16, 2023, I got a call from my dad that I was dreading. He was on his way to the hospital.

I dropped my kids off and traveled about an hour and a half south to the hospital my brother had taken him to. I knew he was having a heart attack, and I wanted to be there for him.

My dad had never been hospitalized before, and I needed to be there for him emotionally and to make sure he was getting the best care at a hospital that was not mine. This was Father's Day weekend. We told him that being in the hospital and getting the care he needed would be the best Father's Day gift of all.

The next couple of days were a blur. He started to deteriorate and needed an Impella cardiac device to help his heart function. On June 23, the device was placed at the hospital where he was receiving care.

Being a patient in my unit is like being a part of a special group that only the people in the group will truly understand. There is a built-in support system you never realized you needed.

Elizabeth Murphy

Dad was out of it for a couple of days prior, but the next day, when I called him on my way to the hospital, he answered the phone, "Hey, Pumpkin!" I knew he was back!

Less than 24 hours after receiving the device, all his labs started to normalize. His confusion was clearing up. He got his color back, and I felt like I got my dad back. I knew it would be a long road, but at least I could see an end in sight.

A decline and new hope

Shortly after, Dad started running into problems again. The hospital where he was being treated said they could not stent or do a coronary artery bypass grafting on my dad. He was also heparin-induced thrombocytopenia positive.

The hospital said they could no longer treat him. They told him, "There is nothing else we can do for you." My dad thought it was the end and he might die.

But there was still hope.

Dr. Sean Kiley worked on getting my dad transferred to Mayo Clinic in Florida that day. Leaving my shift, it felt like everyone knew my dad was on his way. So many co-workers said, "He is family to us now, and we will take care of him like family." It was a weight lifted off my shoulders.

My dad finally got transferred in the middle of the night on July 1, and I was kept in the loop the whole time. When he got to Mayo and experienced the teamwork and care, he joked he was willing to be readmitted just for that! He said he had no complaints about the other hospital, but he could tell Mayo was "on a whole other level."

Built-in support system

Being a patient in my unit is like being a part of a special group that only the people in the group will truly understand. There is a built-in support system you never realized you needed. I was excited my dad got to be part of this. He met other patients and nurses who were also cheering him on and rooting for him to get better.

After receiving six stents, my dad had some complications. He went into ventricular tachycardia multiple times and had to be shocked into sinus rhythm, which ultimately earned him a defibrillator before he could get discharged.

On July 14, his team decided to remove the cardiac device. It was a weird feeling knowing that the device that saved his life was coming out. I was nervous. Dr. Si Pham removed the device, but during the surgery, there was an obstructive clot in his right arm that the team caught quickly and removed.

Dr. Pham personally called me to keep me updated on my dad's progress in the operating room. I felt at ease knowing that he was in good hands and knowing the people that were taking care of him.

After the surgery, my dad did well. He was cleared for discharge on July 21 and stayed with me for the first week after discharge to ensure he would be ready to go home to Deland, Florida.

Thanks from father and daughter

Before leaving the hospital, Dad wanted to thank everyone. I wheeled him around the unit where everyone in the halls who recognized him or me stopped and said how happy they were and wished us luck.

We had to make one more stop to visit a patient, Mark Forbess, who motivated my dad so much. He also had an Impella cardiac device before he was able to get his heart transplant. Listening to them talk about how happy they were for each other and how each was an inspiration to each other brought tears to the eyes of everyone in the room. My dad and Mark were experiencing some of the worst times of their lives and were still able to inspire the people around them.            

This experience has possibly been one of the most difficult times of my life. Seeing a loved one in the hospital and at your workplace is not easy. Seeing my dad confused, poked, shocked, intubated and so weak was difficult.

I want to thank all the people around me who did so much to keep me sane. I truly believe if it were not for Dr. Kiley helping with his transfer and the whole Mayo team, I would not have my dad with me today. And for that, I am forever grateful.

One year later

The months after my dad's heart attack consisted of many doctor visits. He was unable to drive for a while, so I would drive an hour and a half to pick him up and bring him to his Mayo Clinic appointments.

Considering all that he has been through, he is doing great. He follows up with Dr. Melissa Lyle and Karen Mayes, a physician assistant, in the advanced heart failure and transplant program. We love this team. They are always so friendly and will answer all our questions.

My dad has been optimized on all his meds and is tolerating them pretty well. His ejection fraction percentage has been improving. He even called me one day to tell me he had a new theme song for his life, "I Feel Good" by James Brown. He says he feels better than he did before his heart attack.

I do not measure the outcome by his ejection fraction percentage, I measure it in the time spent together at baseball games, gymnastics practices, birthday parties and weddings. All the things he can attend that he would miss out on if he did not make it through; if he did not get to the hospital in time or get the cardiac device placed and transferred to Mayo; if I was not there to advocate for him; or if he did not have the amazing doctors and nurses caring for him. That is how I see his success story.

On one of his first visits after discharge, we went to see some of the nurses who took care of him. He walked an unassisted lap around the unit without the need for the cardiac device, walker, physical therapist and nurse to help him. It was very symbolic of his progress. He is also back at his hobbies, including working on restoring old cars and racing cars with my brother.

Frustration, challenges and reassurance

At first, I was angry that my dad did not listen to me early about getting medical care. I told him he would be a patient on my floor one day if he did not take care of himself. That feeling was pushed aside with worry for him. There were plenty of times I worried about him never leaving the hospital. I was scared.

Initially, we considered not transferring him to Mayo Clinic so I did not get my personal and work life intertwined. I really battled with this. But after the other hospital said they could no longer treat him, I dove in headfirst to get him the transfer.

I do not measure the outcome by his ejection fraction percentage, I measure it in the time spent together at baseball games, gymnastics practices, birthday parties and weddings. All the things he can attend that he would miss out on if he did not make it through.

Elizabeth Murphy

While he was at Mayo, the team lead registered nurse would assign me rooms close to my dad so I could be there to talk with the doctors. One of those rooms belonged to Mark Forbess. He always understood when I needed to talk with my dad. He was a support system for me and was so encouraging to my dad. He said if he could have had a daughter, he would have liked her to be like me, and that just helped me so much because it is hard to make decisions when you are truly on both sides.

It is so hard to explain the position I was in, working on the same unit that was trying to save my dad. I was so glad that I knew the nurses who were taking care of him, and I knew exactly what to expect.

The nurse I am today

I am compassionate, and I will always advocate for the needs of the patient. I did this before, but now it is so much deeper and more passionate.

I come back from my shifts and sit with my patients. I will still visit with my patients when they get transferred out of the ICU. I walk with them and talk with their families. I think about them when I go home. My kids pray for them at dinner.

I think this has made me a better nurse, smarter, more passionate, and not afraid to stand up for the needs of the patient on every level.

I also think this experience made my dad and me closer than ever. When he asks me how my day was at work, he really cares and understands now.

For Christmas, he sent me a plant with a note that read:

"If it wasn't for me, you would not be born; if it wasn't for you, I would not be alive."

I have the note on my dresser mirror and look at it every day, thinking how true that is and how this crazy story has forever changed me.