PLANO, Texas — Mary Wallum could smell the fresh coat of paint as she walked through the doors of the hospital. With nerves and excitement, she remembers her first day at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano like the first day of school.
"There was only Tower A and one floor of patients," said Wallum, R.N. II, B.S.N., a staff nurse at Texas Health Plano. "Sometimes we only had five adult patients. We saw everything on our floor but maternity and ICU."
Wallum, who now works on an orthopedic surgical unit, is part of a small group of individuals who call themselves the originals — the first employees at Texas Health Plano who still walk the halls of the hospital, caring for patients and visitors. Her memories and experiences are present in her mind because after 44 years as a nurse and 28 years with Texas Health Plano, she plans to hang up her scrubs and retire this year.
In 1991, Wallum and her family moved to North Texas from Sioux Falls, S.D.
"Texas Health Plano was small compared to my hospital in South Dakota. During my first official shift on my own, I got pulled to pediatrics because at the time we had more pediatric patients than adults," Wallum said. "It was an eye-opening experience but thankfully I had support from a great team of nurses and physicians."
She says a lot has changed for the better. In the early years, there was no rapid response team or code blue team. "You had to handle a crisis with fewer people," she said.
Wallum says she feels most comfortable working in ortho. She cares for patients before and after surgery.
But there's one case that remains fresh in her memory. "I was with a patient the day he found out he had cancer," she said. "He was very emotional and kept saying how worried he was about his kids. He just wanted someone to listen and I was glad to be that person. Those are the cases that stick with you. You think about them on your drive home. And after the patient leaves the hospital, you wonder how they're doing."
Her colleagues say she's a vital part of their team. Besides her dedication to her job and patients, she goes above and beyond her regular duties.
"She has the heart of a nurse," said Anthodith Garganera, R.N., C.N.L., a clinical nurse leader at Texas Health Plano. "Patients tell me that Mary makes time to listen to them and she's very compassionate."
In 2017, Wallum received a Promise Praise Pin, given to Texas Health employees based on patient comments. She was also honored with a DAISY (Diseases Affecting the Immune System) award for demonstrating extraordinary clinical skills and a caring attitude toward patients.
"This was the first and only Texas hospital I've worked at. I stayed this long because of the work environment and culture," Wallum said.
She hasn't picked an exact date yet but plans to retire this summer. "I'm looking forward to spending more time with my young grandchildren. It would be nice to visit family in Washington and South Dakota," she said.
The additional free time will also give her a chance to create a garden. Wallum says she's hoping to get some pointers from one of the night nurses who is a master gardener.
"The hardest part will be saying goodbye to my team," she said. "I love my coworkers and my patients."
About Texas Health Resources
Texas Health Resources is a faith-based, nonprofit health system that cares for more patients in North Texas than any other provider. With a service area that consists of 16 counties and more than 7 million people, the system is committed to providing quality, coordinated care through its Texas Health Physicians Group and 29 hospital locations under the banners of Texas Health Presbyterian, Texas Health Arlington Memorial, Texas Health Harris Methodist and Texas Health Huguley. Texas Health access points and services, ranging from acute-care hospitals and trauma centers to outpatient facilities and home health and preventive services, provide the full continuum of care for all stages of life. The system has more than 4,100 licensed hospital beds, 6,400 physicians with active staff privileges and more than 26,000 employees. For more information about Texas Health, call 1-877-THR-WELL, or visit www.TexasHealth.org.