DALLAS — Though it’s been nearly two decades since Karen Hodges’ then-16-year-old son, Michael Lowrance, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, she vividly recalls their many months in the hospital as he underwent surgery and chemotherapy for the bone cancer.
Karen Hodges and Michael Lowrance
Above all, she remembers the feelings of fear and loneliness that would overtake her as she sat by his side at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, reading the Bible she’d brought for words of strength.
But Hodges said the bubbly oncology nurses quickly became her and her son’s greatest supporters. They treated her and her son like friends, she said, even bringing Michael a cake to celebrate the end of his treatment. Their kindness inspired Hodges, then a restaurant owner, to embark on a new career as an oncology nurse.
“When those nurses came in, it felt like they were in the fight with me. They hugged me. They smiled. You just can’t describe what an impact they make on a person who has nothing there to draw from,” Hodges said. “It was at that time that I thought, ‘I’m going to be a nurse,’ and I just felt that desire in me well up and start to bubble out.”
Hodges dreamed of one day working in the same oncology unit that had treated her son.
Making Dreams Come True
In late 2013, she wrote her son’s former oncologist, Lalan Wilfong, M.D., who in turn reached out to Joyce Lee, one of the nurses who had treated Lowrance. By then Lee was nurse manager of the oncology unit so Wilfong asked if she would consider Hodges for a job.
“He asked me if I remembered Michael and, of course, I did,” Lee said. “I was only a couple of years older than him, so to take care of someone that young and being a new nurse, it was definitely memorable.”
Lee interviewed Hodges and hired her as a patient care technician in January 2014.
“I got into her office for the interview and the first thing she does is stand up, walk across the floor and hug me,” Hodges recalled. “It just cemented my feeling that I needed to be on this unit.”
Upon earning her associates degree in nursing, Hodges joined the hospital’s resident nurse program and continued her work as a nurse in the oncology unit. With tuition reimbursement and other resources provided by Texas Health, she earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and later Master of Science in Nursing. She also became an oncology certified nurse, eventually becoming nursing manager of the oncology unit, and is now working toward her certification in administration.
“I went from a patient care technician to a MSN with zero student loans,” Hodges said of the help she received from Texas Health. Grateful for the support, Hodges — who has now been with Texas Health for almost nine years, said she plans to remain with the hospital for the rest of her career.
Elizabeth Asturi, chief nursing officer at Texas Health Dallas, said Texas Health is happy to invest in furthering the careers of nurses like Hodges because the return for patients is so great.
“Hodges turned what was one of the most challenging times in her life into a passion to help others through a new career in nursing,” said Asturi, M.S.N., R.N., NE-BC. “We and our patients are truly blessed to have someone with her experience, skill and compassion on our team.”
Personal Experience Helps Patients
And Hodges has also been a patient, receiving treatment at Texas Health Dallas after her own bouts with breast cancer and later melanoma. She said she believes her many connections to Texas Health Dallas — first as the mother of a bone cancer patient and later as a cancer patient herself — help her to be a better nurse.
“I think the most important thing is I know what they feel like on the inside of the room when the door is closed. That is so isolating, even if you do have support in that room, and it's scary,” Hodges said. “Whenever a new diagnosis comes in, I'm able to share parts of my personal experience with them, and I think it helps to calm them down.”
Hodges recently transferred to trauma to broaden her experience, she said, but “oncology is always going to be the heart of me.”
“She went from mom advocating for her son’s fight against cancer, to nurse advocating for her patients, to nurse leader advocating for nurses,” Lee said. “In all these different roles, what remains constant are her passion and determination to bring positive change to others’ lives.”
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.