From PH Mom to Registered Nurse: A Story of Love and Determination

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by Colleen Steele |

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Nurses are remarkable people. My respect for them has grown significantly throughout my son’s pulmonary hypertension (PH) and transplant journey.

Their job requires important skills, intelligence, patience, persuasiveness, compassion, energy, emotional control, a strong stomach — the list is endless. And I can’t think of a more suitable person to fulfill these qualifications than a mother who has experience caring for a PH child.

Carrie Walls is one of those remarkable people pursuing nursing, all while caring for a child battling PH and several other rare diseases. In an email interview, Carrie discussed both experiences and how she manages them.

Carrie, center, with her sons on the day of her pinning ceremony on May 13. (Courtesy of Carrie Walls)

Carrie has three sons: Nolan, 16, Bennett, 14, and Triston, 9.

Triston was born with two ventricular septal defects, two atrial septal defects, and an extremely rare congenital heart defect, cor triatriatum.

He also has a rare genetic disorder, megalencephaly-capillary malformation syndrome, which Carrie explained comes with global developmental delays.

“He is nonverbal. This has probably been the most challenging because he is unable to tell us if he is feeling different, if he is having any pain or having trouble breathing. I have to pay close attention to all the signs and symptoms that he shows.”

Carrie holds Triston on Dec. 21, 2013, a week after his open-heart surgery. (Courtesy of Carrie Walls)

Triston’s medical journey has been difficult. At 7 months, he had his first open-heart surgery. At 10 months, he went into respiratory distress, had an emergency cardiac catheterization, was diagnosed with pulmonary vein stenosis (PVS), and had another open-heart surgery. Triston was diagnosed with PH during his recovery.

Over the past six years, Triston has fought high pressures and undergone two more open-heart surgeries and 19 cardiac catheterizations.

But with a thankful heart, Carrie shared that for the last two years — ironically, the entire time she was in nursing school — both Triston’s PVS and PH were stable.

But one week after starting her last prerequisite class, Triston was admitted to the hospital and Carrie almost dropped out of nursing school.

“I talked to my professor who fought hard for me to stay in her class. I prayed about it and begged God that if I was meant to be a nurse to please make it possible for me to learn and continue to be the best for Triston, too,” Carrie wrote.

Triston’s journey influenced Carrie’s decision to become a nurse. She had considered it before but thought she would never have the time or money to go through with it.

Carrie reflects on how much she and Triston have been through together. (Photo by Brynna Wehner Photography)

Carrie explained that after spending so much time in the hospital with Tristan in the first four years of his life, she realized how short life is, and that no one is promised tomorrow. She was also inspired by the nurses who cared for her son.

“They truly made the time in the hospital bearable. They treated us like family and really changed our lives. I knew I wanted to give back to other families in the way nurses helped us.”

In January 2018, Carrie decided to start the process. After taking a college chemistry class she applied to a nursing program and was accepted.

Carrie is proud to soon be graduating from nursing school. (Photo by Brynna Wehner Photography)

The program started in August 2019, and nearly two years later, Carrie graduated from nursing school. She is currently studying for her boards.

“I am hoping to take them within the next 6 weeks and finally be a registered nurse!” she wrote.

Carrie acknowledged that balancing the responsibilities of a single mom to a medically fragile child while attending nursing school was hard, but she managed with an amazing support system that helped her with just about everything.

“I don’t know what I would have done without them,” she said.

There will be a lot of logistics to work out as her career takes off, but with her strong support system, Carrie is hopeful she can do it.

“And if it is not what is best for my kids,” she added,” then I will have to adjust my sails and do what is best for them.”

Carrie’s dream is to help cardiac and PH kids in the ICU or step-down units at the hospital where Triston was treated. She would welcome the opportunity to provide those families with medical care and understanding.

“I will know exactly what they are going through.”

Carrie gives a presentation to classmates about Triston’s journey and the nurses who had a positive impact. (Courtesy of Carrie Walls)

When studying congenital heart defects and pulmonary issues, Carrie had the opportunity to tell Triston’s story to her classmates. She used the impact nurses had on her family as an example of how their career paths will do the same for many in the years to come.

Carrie believes that nurses who have lived on the other side of the fence can bring understanding and perspective to not only PH families, but to the physicians and nurses caring for them.

If you are a PH parent considering a career in nursing, Carrie’s advice is: “Just do it!”

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Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.

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