Grad Stories '18: From Patient to Nurse In Five Years


05/08/2018

Five years to the day Cailyn Harrington was diagnosed with a brain tumor she will be walking across the stage at the St. Ambrose University Spring Commencement ceremony, graduating with honors and a Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing.

Her next step: to ease the journey of children, adults, and families who are dealing with the uncertainty of illness, just as a healthcare worker did for her five years ago.

"There was a nurse who brought me a smoothie the morning after I was admitted," Harrington remembered. "That small gesture really set the tone for my journey and recovery, a positive vibe I carried with me for the rest of my hospital stay and afterward, too.

"I realized if a nurse can do something so small and make that big of an impact, I wanted to do that for other people, too."

Harrington was a junior in high school when the tumor was discovered, and in all, she underwent two surgeries, a 28-day stay in the ICU, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and had to sleep sitting up for six months. Her recovery took a year, but that didn't stop her from graduating on-schedule with her class.

During this time, family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers in her hometown of New Lenox, Illinois, did all they could to support her and her family, from dropping off hot meals to sending prayer cards.

Harrington knew, after one campus visit, she'd get the same level of support at St. Ambrose. "That is what drew me here," she said. "I didn't look at any other schools because really, I felt this is where I needed to be."

The nursing program gave her so much more than academic training and experience.

"There's an open-door policy. If you have a problem there's always someone there to help you, and if they can't, they will find someone who will," Harrington said. "That's a lifelong lesson because in nursing, you want to be supportive to those you are caring for and their families, and that is what you experience as soon as you step into the Health Sciences building."

Senior Cailyn Harrington

Brain Tumor Survivor

Harrington was a junior in high school when the tumor was discovered, and in all, she underwent two surgeries, a 28-day stay in the ICU, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and had to sleep sitting up for six months. Her recovery took a year, but that didn't stop her from graduating on-schedule with her class.

This year, Harrington completed a nursing preceptor experience in the adult and pediatric surgical unit at Genesis East.

"It was a great experience," she said. "I was able to apply my nursing skills to the kiddos there during the flu season. We gave them toys, held a dance party for one kiddo up there, and more," she said. "I really learned and got to practice doing different things other than passing medications and doing assessments. I got to do things that really embody what nursing is: going above and beyond the everyday duties."

She also helped calm an elderly women who was nervous about getting some tests done by offering to go with her. "She was so appreciative."

"When you're sick and in the hospital, you are vulnerable. And for the family, it's a scary time, too. You want to make it as comfortable and less scary as possible, and you do that by treating them as people, not patients," she said.

Harrington plans to return to New Lenox after graduation and continue working as a hospital patient care tech, a job she worked during spring, summer, and winter breaks. She's applied to nursing residency programs and eventually wants to pursue a Doctorate in Nursing and work as a family nurse practitioner.

Harrington is proud of what she's accomplished and ready to begin her life as a nurse.

"It's been a long, long journey," she said. "At one point, I didn't know if I would even be here. I didn't know whether I would come out of surgery with any deficit. I didn't know what my future would look like. The fact I am graduating and I have this chance to be a nurse and help others with their illnesses is just a blessing," she said.

"I am truly grateful I am able to walk across that stage."


"I realized if a nurse can do something so small and make that big of an impact, I wanted to do that for other people, too."

Cailyn Harrington '18


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