“The heart is the soul,” says Barbara Connell, a licensed practical nurse who has primarily cared for heart patients at Ascension Via Christi St. Francis during her 48 years. “To touch souls every day is a special responsibility.”
In April, Connell, who served first in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, then Special Procedures Services and for the past 23 years in the Cardiac Electrophysiology Lab, plans to retire.
But not without having played a role in many hospital firsts.
“I was part of the first pacemaker, lead extraction and cardiac output procedures, among many others, which I then got to teach to caregivers,” says the 69-year-old, adding that while the technology has changed markedly over the years the style of care remains largely the same.
The Washington native left her home state in 1973 to begin work at St. Francis. But before she could even start, she ended up being a patient in the hospital after she wrecked her car on the way to Wichita.
“I was hauling a trailer with my cat in the front seat and then I suddenly lost everything,” she says, noting that while at the time she thought leaving home might have been a mistake, looking back she regrets nothing.
“I help improve patients’ lifestyles, with often many positive outcomes, and I’m part of a tremendous, supportive group,” she says. “It can only be described as a family and we work as one.”
For her, it’s a labor of love.
“My sister, dad and brother suffer from high blood pressure and my grandfather died from a heart attack, so doing what I do is a personal passion,” she says.
Connell definitely will be missed, say those who serve alongside her.
“There is nobody as diligent, professional or attentive to patient and physician care as Barb,” says David Margolis, MD, a cardiology electrophysiologist, who has worked with her for nearly 20 years. “Nobody.”
“If I’m struggling with a hard case, a stressful day or annoying back pain, I know she’s behind me praying for me,” he says.
Electrophysiologist Dhaval Parikh, MD, says he’s excited when Connell is scrubbed in with him. “When she’s in the room, it’s composed, calm and I feel God’s with us, too,” he says. “When she retires, I will be the saddest human.”
Dara Valdez, RN, director of the Electrophysiology and Cath Labs at St. Francis, says Connell was a patient, caring and thorough mentor to her when she was a new nurse.
“I’ve never forgotten anything she ever taught me,” Valdez says.
Connell says she has always tried to live by the advice she gives others: “It’s always okay to ask for help, remember that you’re working in a team and have your eyes open to lending a hand when it’s needed.”
Her favorite part of her job is offering a comforting touch to her patients. “I believe that’s why God made nurses,” she says.
After she retires, Connell plans to take more time to enjoy her hobbies of photography, traveling, spending time with family and volunteering. “I look forward to continuing to find ways to live out God’s mission, care for others and enjoy what life has to offer.”