Our People, Their Stories
There are moments in our lives that live vibrantly in our memories. They shape our worldview, they lead to new passions and hobbies, and they help create who we are today. At UnityPoint Health - Meriter we see value in these personal stories. We are excited to share our narrative series called "Our People, Their Stories" where fellow team members share their stories with you, and our greater community. We hope that this series will inspire you, will make you think about your own experiences and will help you get to know each other.
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Our People, Their Stories
With Lupus, my body attacks itself regularly, so the risk of miscarriage was high early in pregnancy. Amazingly, I think that my son kept me healthier than when I wasn't pregnant. He regulated my body and increased my platelet count. I think pregnancy and giving birth to him changed my health for the better.
Toward the end of my pregnancy, it was just a matter of a few days where I went from being monitored due to high protein in my urine, to being induced and giving birth to James, my son. Despite preeclampsia, my blood pressure was never out of the ordinary.
Becoming a mom changed me as a person. Before, you see moms and you respect moms. But when you are a mom, everything is completely different. Your world is no longer revolving around you. You don't get to be selfish anymore. Even while pregnant, every decision you make is for your baby, not for you. I think it builds up your tolerance for people in general. I now have a lot more patience than I used to have. You go into it knowing you'll change, but not sure how until it happens.
My favorite thing about being a mom is seeing him learning and growing. It's fascinating to me that he went from just being swaddled to running around, speaking words and just witnessing all his firsts.
I think my heart grew.
The idea of being able to sustain yourself on your own on a bike was always super appealing to me. The first time I bike camped, I met up with a friend of a friend in California at a bar, and we decided to take the trip on together. It's one of my favorite things to do now – bike with random people and get to know them that way. Having someone to lean on in a way and share the experience with is meaningful.
It was during this very first trip I ever took, that my brother, Charlie, died by suicide – and I often think back on the beauty and peace I found on this trip as a way to remember him.
There are all these moments from the trip that stand out: camping in the Redwoods in Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park and on the beach in Half Moon Bay, biking through Big Sur and seeing elephant seals. But the one moment that really stands out was when I biked through a monarch butterfly migration.
I thought about a lot as I would bike for miles every day, and at that moment I was thinking a lot about Charlie. He had been struggling with depression for a long time, and despite trying to reach out to him through phone calls many times, I was thinking how I should really try again. It was at that moment where I realized I was suddenly riding through these beautiful monarchs. In some ways, time stood still and there was a calm silence to their flight. It was magical. Peaceful.
When I see them now, I pause and I think of my brother.
The trip itself was meditative in the riding itself. So much so that when I finished, and was in Los Angeles on my way home, everything was overwhelming. It was sensory overload. Then I got home, and it was chaos. The ambulance had just left, and I couldn't help but think, if I had just been there to give him a hug – but the reality was that this had been on his mind for a long time.
I was devastated. I felt like a tricycle missing a wheel, now it's just my sister and I. It didn't make sense. It's affected my life in different ways. Annually, we visit trees we planted along the Ice Age Trail in memory of my brother, Charlie. I carry his loss with me at work, when I connect with families experiencing mental health concerns in the ER and I continue to use bike camping as a way to bring me back to center when I feel off balance.
If you're experiencing a mental health crisis, dial 911 or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Director Patient Experience
Suddenly you could hear a pin drop and all eyes were on me. A boy who had been teasing and making fun of me had called me a word I had never heard before. I didn't know what it meant, but I knew it carried weight because the air changed. The classroom chatter stopped.. The breeze seemed to vanish, and things were uncomfortably quiet. It was unsettling. "What did that word mean?" My head ran away with my anxiousness over this unwanted attention; I felt like I was suffocating, and my confidence was gone. "This must be bad, and it must be true."
My classmates were staring at me with looks of shock and disbelief. I didn't feel safe, so asking what the word meant was out of the question. All I kept thinking was, this is bad, this word – it must be really bad.
I waited for my Mom to get home, my Dad is not one for curse words, so I knew if I brought up what happened there was a chance of being punished for repeating this word, in any context. Never having heard it, I couldn't have imagined it was about my ethnicity.
As we were cleaning up dinner, I confessed "Someone said something to me today and I don't really know what it meant, but apparently it's something bad."
When I repeated the name I was called, the air changed yet again. My Mom and Dad were staring at me with undivided attention and then my Dad just snapped into pure anger, ranting to himself. Mom, gently told me, "This is a bad word, something people use that is meant to be mean and hurtful; it's something people call people who are Mexican."
I thought, "WOW. This explains Dad's anger."
"I can't believe this. This is exactly what I wanted to protect her from!" Dad is spiraling. Mom tries to calm him down. At 12 it was hard for me to understand why he was so angry, still, it left its mark on me. Clearly, he had experienced this himself in his life, and now I was too.
After my Dad took his ranting outside, my Mom gently tried to explain to me, "This is something your Dad heard growing up, all the time because he is Mexican. He wasn't treated kindly at school and got in trouble for speaking Spanish. All his life he has been trying to prove himself as worthy."
Being 12, it's hard to fully grasp what this all means. "He worried if we taught you Spanish when you were little you would be seen as different and experience the same racism he did growing up," my Mom continued.
The community I grew up in was mostly white, and this sudden realization that everyone saw me as different left me unsure of who I was. Suddenly, my life wasn't steeped in innocence. I now had a new understanding that people were willing to slap a term on me, with intentions of making me feel bad, or not worthy because of my difference, because of my ethnicity. I lost a lot that day.
Since then there was always kind of that thought in the back of my head: "Am I being treated differently because of this" Decades later, I can say with confidence that I am secure with my identity and better understand the experiences I had growing up.
Microbiology Technical Specialist
The gear itself is on average 60 pounds, plus we carry about five gallons of water. It took us two hours to gain control of the fire. It's exhausting. In the beginning, I feel good, my adrenaline is going strong. After a while the adrenaline wears down and I feel the heat. It's a reason why there needs to be so many firefighters, so people can get a rest and swap duties when battling long fires. It's intense.
What brought me to volunteering at DeForest Windsor was meeting an EMT from the same department while I was a volunteer ski patroller at Cascade Mountain. I just really enjoy helping people, it is really fulfilling. Ski patrolling was seasonal though and I loved the possibility of giving back more, year-round. I had no expertise at all, and underwent intense training through MATC to become a firefighter.
Since I started, three years ago I have also taken on the role of driver-operator. I drive the firetrucks and pump the water.
Every fire there's always different circumstances and it might be a little nerve-wracking, but I always feel prepared. Between the rush of adrenaline and being able to help people as a first responder, it's just a great feeling. There seems to be an ingrained perspective that the physicality of being a firefighter is too difficult for women, and really, it's not. A goal of mine is to inspire young girls, women of any age really, to believe in themselves and know they can be or do anything they want.
I felt the pull to get involved in inclusive policymaking after some personal experiences I have faced as a woman of color, but also after experiencing how patients had been affected by stereotypes. I wanted to have an impact on Meriter as a place where everyone in the community can come and feel fairly cared for, comfortable and confident. Outside of my job, I decided to join one of the hospital's sub-committees for policymaking and facilitated a "conversations of belonging" forum.
The "Conversations on Belonging" forum was an incredibly validating experience. People of color from all levels of the organization from higher leadership to patient care joined together to share their experiences. While some experiences were difficult to hear from my peers, as a member of the policy committee, this eye-opening forum told me that diversity, equity and inclusion needed to be addressed at all levels of the organization and will be a direct gateway to necessary changes. Listening to and amplifying the concerns of our team members of color is the first step toward change, and I am proud to be a part of that process.
In participating in these committees and forums, I want people to recognize that we all come from different backgrounds with different experiences and lenses, and this is inherently a good thing. We cannot judge people for where they came from, but instead be respectful and leverage the melting pot of ideas, personal experiences and wisdom that we can tap into to diversify our organization and craft policies that improve the experiences for all our patients and employees. I'm passionate about continuing to increase the diversity of our workforce and decrease stigma, so our patients of color can see themselves represented in the care they are receiving. I'm hoping that, with all the work we are putting in, we will see some big, necessary changes in the next few years.
Hope is my mantra in life; we need to have hope to move forward. There's something about that word that pushes me forward – hope for better days, hope for progress. After my mother lost her fight with breast cancer, I got my "hope" tattoo, which represents that lows are not forever. That applies to diversity, equity and inclusion as well; by acting on your hope for change and taking the necessary steps toward equity, we can all hope for a more united future.
I urge everyone to foster that hope – read a book or an article, get involved with your DEI team at work or in your community, step in when you see a microaggression and be that voice for those who may not feel comfortable standing up. Some great organizations to get involved with in the Madison area include The Progress Center for Black Women, The Urban League, and The Boys and Girls Club.
Senior Performance Improvement Data Analyst
The physical space of a cemetery should reflect the people that rest there. In every movie you see, the cemetery is a horrible and scary place, but in Cooksville, the birds are chirping, we have beautiful, towering trees and greenery, and people walking through to clean headstones and share stories with one another. This cemetery is the heart of our community – you probably talk to more residents here than anywhere else.
When I first took over in 2017, we didn't have the funds to afford regular mowing and maintenance, and there was a lack of volunteer work being done. It was important to me to take on the role of secretary treasurer because I had over 10 years of leadership experience from my work in the oncology unit at Meriter. This place was very close to my parents' hearts, and my mom frequently watered flowers. Since my dad passed away last year, though, it's been harder for her to get down here – I really felt I had to step up to the plate to take the stress off the local population who appreciate the space. With the community coming together in this way and donating to the beloved grounds, we have enough funds to pay for 3 years of mowing if necessary!
We quickly implemented a few fundraising efforts after I started – we curated a flyer and wrote letters. Our fundraising efforts validating the work I was doing – I learned just how much people adored the cemetery and wanted to keep their loved ones' resting places beautiful. We even had local farmers begin coming through with the extra weed killer in their tank; it has truly become a community effort to care for who is buried here.
Working at the cemetery was the only part of my life that stayed the same during COVID. I still came to water flowers and be in nature. Although there was less opportunity to stop and have a conversation with someone, it provided me with an outlet for peace and a sense of community in an otherwise isolating time.
NewStart Addictions and Mental Health Therapist and Clinical Supervisor
That's how one might describe the house my mom bought when I was 17. I spent the summer working for her, helping her fix the house up. You could see the beauty there; it was an old brick farmhouse - but with the old owners being heavy smokers, coupled with dropped tiled ceilings and carpet everywhere, made for quite a smelly and musty house.
My Mom and I saw the good bones. We spent most of the summer gutting the house, and I remember distinctly looking at this one wall, thinking, "there used to be a door here." I just knew it would have been a space people walked through. When we began pulling down the wood paneling, we discovered the doorway.
It created this wonderful flow, and my Mom thought that was just so cool – and I did too. I trusted my intuition, my mom trusted me, and we found beauty. It was empowering.
My husband and I saw our now forever home on Facebook of all places. Someone posted, "look at this crazy old house." We clicked on the link and in the middle of winter drove out to see the house, which was actually for sale. Immediate response? "Oh, this is cool."
After we purchased, a company that did ghost hunting reached out to us to see if they could come in and film an advertisement. The answer was clearly no. I saw the home that it used to be and could be again, and I hated that people saw it as this broken, scary place. I saw nothing but potential.
The first room we reclaimed was the living room. When we first bought it, it smelled of animal feces, and it was wet. Wallpaper was peeling off everywhere, and it was dark and cold.
The first thing we did in the living room was install a wood stove. I had this clear image in my mind of a warm fire, music bouncing around the walls, and lush, green plants growing in pots. Just so much life.
Now, the house is full of noise, mostly from my kids, Warren (4) and Harriet (3).
What I love about Warren is how he sees potential. He's seen so many things get cleaned up and put to good use that often he finds random items and sees it as treasure.
Warren loves going out to the old machine shed and exploring, or "treasure hunting" as he would put it. One day, he found half of a wooden doorknob. He brought it inside, cleaned it up and could not stop talking about it. He started bringing it with him wherever he went, and I just love that. Something as simple as a doorknob brings out his curiosity, where he thinks about what it is, was and is used for. It feels so familiar to me; this ability to see greatness in things or places that have been abandoned for so long.
Dr. Carlos Jaramillo
When I was growing up, I spoke English in school but Spanish at home. At home with my family, I lived in one culture, while at school I lived another. Growing up bilingual and bicultural has been a blessing. It has enabled me to help my patients of various backgrounds find a voice in expressing their needs, feelings, and fears.
As a physician, one of my most important jobs is helping the individual and their family that loves and supports them, navigate their experience with illness. Each patient has a unique family culture. I find being bicultural has made me more attune to this, and enables me to understand my patients and their families within their cultural context.
Growing up Hispanic in Madison was complicated and has certainly changed over the years. It was uncommon to hear Spanish and our food and culture didn't seem to exist outside the home. Mom met her best friend playing with us at a park because she heard her speaking Spanish. They formed a friendship, brought together by their shared heritage. I even remember helping my mom hunt for mangos and avocados. Back then these were not easy to find in the supermarkets. It is much different now. The Hispanic culture has a palpable presence as part of the greater Madison community.
My father's Peruvian and my mother's Mexican cultures deeply infused certain values and priorities within myself. On one hand, I experienced the more traditionally communal and family-oriented focus of Hispanic culture. Because of where I grew up, I learned the individualism and self-discipline, more common in Anglo Saxon cultures. This is the same dichotomy patients face in their experience with illness, and that impacts their care decision-making process.
Having a deeper understanding of each culture allows me to see, not only my patients but also their families as my patient, which makes them more comfortable making health-care decisions, having open communication and confronting raw vulnerability. For me, that is one of the most amazing things about being a caregiver: people dealing with the loss of their health and function, welcome me into their lives at their most vulnerable moment, sharing things with me that they wouldn't tell even their closest relationships. Knowing that I can give them more comfort and support because I have a deeper understanding and connection with their culture and language is an honor.
When it came to choosing a place to work, Meriter felt like the obvious fit. My father has worked at Meriter for over 30 years. I remember walking into the building to meet my dad for lunch, to volunteer as a pre-med and to find a quiet place to study. In some ways, Meriter feels like a second home – I quite literally grew up here!
Since I started in Meriter as a Hospitalist, people from different departments-physician, nurses, social workers, administrators – tell me "I remember when you were this tall coming to meet your dad." And I regularly hear of the impact my dad has had here - of the respect, fondness, and gratitude people feel towards him, and the values and integrity he displays in his work and relationships. Working in the same building with him has deepen my respect for him and has made us even closer.
While my bicultural background allows me to understand the nuances in the Hispanic community, every caregiver is blessed with knowledge, experience, and resources that can help the people in their community. We have a responsibility to share these gifts. We are also blessed to form a unique relationship with our patients that is often based on blind trust. I take this trust very seriously. Every night I go home knowing that what I did today was done to make someone else's life better, if even just a bit.
RN - Digestive Health Center
My nursing journey began in Dallas, Texas which offered a wealth of experiences realizing disparities in healthcare. Early on in my career I realized the importance of good healthcare and that we have many healthcare concerns here in the United States. At that time in my career, I couldn't imagine what the health care concerns would be like in a developing country. When the opportunity presented to train and educate in Rwanda, I was very interested and excited for the opportunity.
The Operation Giving Back program, which provides global humanitarian volunteer responses to the medically underserved, offered me the chance to travel to Rwanda to bring necessary medical supplies and assist with their nursing education and training. Although it was my first mission trip, traveling and experiencing other cultures has always been a passion of mine. Through my extensive travels, I have realized that we are all so much more alike than we are different. I believe to better understand people, it is crucial to be open to learning from other cultures different from our own.
Volunteering in a developing country presented an opportunity to not only give but to also receive and learn. I have found so many people in the U.S. have a mental picture of what Africa is like. More often than not the picture created is not very flattering, but the minute I arrived in Kigali, Rwanda in January of 2023, I was impressed with the cleanliness of the city, beautiful landscaping, delicious food and, most importantly, the kindness of every Rwandan that I met.
While volunteering in Rwanda, a typical day began by being picked up between 7:30 and 8 AM by a driver that was provided by King Faisal Hospital. We would check in with hospital staff and determine what our daily schedule would be—EGD's, ERCP's, colonoscopies in the Theater operating room in Rwanda. We would break for lunch and continue with more patient care in the afternoon. The driver would pick us up around 4:30 or 5 PM and bring us back to the hotel.
The healthcare system in Rwanda is incredibly well-organized. Rwanda has one of the best health care systems in Africa. The poorest citizens receive free healthcare coverage while the wealthiest citizens pay $8 per year. The majority of the costs for healthcare coverage are covered by the government and international donors. While healthcare coverage is not an issue, Rwanda has an access issue for patients living in rural areas. Nevertheless, we have the same rural access issues here in the U.S. The major challenge that Rwanda faces is the educating and training of healthcare workers including specialists and subspecialists, and this is where Operation Giving Back comes into play.
The physicians and other healthcare workers were extremely knowledgeable, and the patients were grateful and patient. Healthcare staff and patients alike were mindful of each other's time, and nothing is taken for granted. Conserving of medical supplies, time and materials is a common practice for all.
After returning from Rwanda, I continue to keep in contact with many of the people I met on my trip. When my plane landed in the United States, I received multiple text messages making sure I returned safely. While my mission trip to Rwanda taught me to embrace new medical experiences, one does not need to travel across the world to get to know people and cultures different than their own. The United States is a melting pot. One just needs to ask a coworker, patient or even a stranger about their ethnicity, culture or food. We can all learn so much from one another and we all have the ability to create a more inclusive and accepting culture.
I sincerely hope I was able to have a positive impact with all the doctors, nurses and patients I had the pleasure to have met in Rwanda. They certainly had a positive, long-lasting impact on me.
2.4 miles in the water. 112 miles on wheels. 26.2 miles on foot.
Let me tell you, you never forget your first Iron Man; it's like your first love. Just getting to Panama City Beach felt like a success, you've trained for months, you're healthy, you're there. Part of me thought, "Is this real? Am I really doing this?"
I don't know if you really ever get there in your mind and so most of the time, you are managing your expectations around, "If I don't finish, it's okay." And an overall excitement, overwhelming happiness that you're there and you just need to do it.
The Gulf of Mexico is breathtaking,. Setting up in the dark ,there is a rampant energy brewing, and then the second the sun begins to rise: the crowd quiets, and there is a stillness. It's an amazing sight Before the cannon booms the start of the race, there are 2500 triathletes, ready to jump in the water at the same time.
Imagine swimming in a washing machine and that will accurately describe the start of this race as 2,500 bodies fill the water simultaneously. The water is churning, and arms and legs jab out unexpectedly. It is dangerous mayhem. Thankfully, I am a strong swimmer, and I found my pace. The key is not to kick a lot, saving your legs for the bike and run and avoiding kicking other athletes in the water. The swim is the only place where drafting is allowed and I found a good draft, going through the crystal-clear blue water quickly.
The transitions are hard. The clock never stops, and the transitions are a part of the race. After 2.4 miles in the water, I had to adjust from being horizontal to fully upright. It's a big change for your cardiovascular system. You run out of the water, over rocks with bare feet, and are stripped of your wetsuit before putting on all the necessary gear to start 112 miles on the bike.
The course for the bike was relatively flat, but the last 20 miles I hit some strong head winds. It was like going uphill without a break. It's tiring, and nerve-wracking. Would I make the cutoff time? If you don't make each portion by the cutoff time, your race is over. At this point, the excitement of jumping on the bike has completely worn off and my mind races through the math. If I continue at this speed, will I make it in time?
Thankfully, I did. Now, all that's standing between me and the end is 26.2 miles.
This whole time, I have made the race manageable by thinking of the entire race as little chunks of time. You can't think about the whole thing because you wouldn't do it. Nobody sane would do that.
The run was flat. It surprised me how trained I was for this. Despite all that training, you're battling every emotion. I wanted to quit, I felt great, everything hurt, I was hungry, I had to go the bathroom, am I going to throw up? I learned to accept each thing as it came, treating whatever symptom you're feeling in the moment and following it up one foot after another. Some would just call that being stubborn.
I finished in the dark, I was tired – just spent. At the same time, I kept thinking, "I DID IT!" and not only did I finish, but I exceeded my wildest dreams, finishing in 12 hours, when I honestly expected to finish in 14 or 15. It's amazing what the body can do, and in the moment it kind of feels like it doesn't belong to you. It is just doing what it is going to do. You realize, "I can do anything in this world. I got this."
Community Engagement Manager
I never thought a lot about collecting dolls as a child, and I didn't even realize that was a hobby that people engaged in until I was in my early twenties. It was then that this wonderful woman I worked with told me she was learning how to make dolls, and I asked her if she would make me one. Not just any doll though, I wanted one that looked like me.
It was this doll that got me into doll collecting. What I love about doll collecting is that they can be passed down from generation to generation. As I started to collect more dolls that looked human, that resembled girls and women like me I became excited about my daughters and now granddaughter's being able to see this reflective representation.
It's not to say Black dolls didn't exist before then, they did, but they didn't look Black. Their features, in particular the nose never seemed to match the noses of my friends or family and their hair was always straight. Their skin color was also always the same tone, when in reality there are so many different skin tones in African Americans.
So, when my co-worker was making me a doll, one that I could collaborate on, I was elated. The process took about a month. There were so many personal details like the gold and black colors of my husband's fraternity making it into the dress design, and her face – she looked SO real. What meant a great deal to me was that my co-worker wanted to get the details right. The process of getting her and seeing her come together made me feel so valued.
I remember at the time it was nearing Christmas and I went into a pharmacy in our neighborhood, looking for gifts for my daughters. There were so many dolls being sold in the store, and not a single one was Black. Even then, in a predominately Black neighborhood, it was hard to find a Black doll.
When my co-worker was finished, I brought my doll home, proudly displaying her above our fireplace. My girls wanted to play with her and hold her when they first saw her – I could see their awe and excitement.
Now, my collection has grown, to nearly 300 dolls. And what I value the most is that my granddaughters are growing up in a world where they have dolls that reflect who they are, and what they look like so that they know that they too, are beautiful.
It was the first thing we made that was to be my own. The dresser was still collaborative, the plans, the process all done together. Woodwork was the only activity that my dad and I were both interested in and bonded over - at eleven years old, some kids play catch with their Dad, but we built furniture.
My Dad and I always built a lot of projects for other people. So embarking on the two month journey to make my dresser felt special.
Dad was and is meticulous in his woodwork. If something wasn't perfect in his eyes, we would start over. This idea of pride in your work resonated with me, I realized early on you don't want to finish crafting an object you are not truly proud of. Often, some projects for our house never seemed to reach completion. Either a mistake would bring us back to square one, completely stopping the project, or fixes would sideline it until there was more time or resources to finish it.
Any pressure that I felt to make perfection though, was self-imposed. I wanted to prove myself to him, and at the same time, Dad trusted me. He would lightly guide me, and yet it was clear that he felt confident my work would rise to his expectations, his level of perfection.
My dresser was one of the few things that we built that stayed in our house, and the fact that it got done meant that Dad approved of our work. I felt so much pride when I looked at the finished product. The routing designs, boxy corners, two doors with oak inserts, a deep, crisp, brown stain that popped against gold plated knobs. This was what I would later define as my "gold phase". I especially loved thinking about how all the work in finishing it; ten different sandpaper grits and polyurethane finishing turns the hardest wood into what feels like perfect glass.
It took four people to carry the dresser into my room, and I swear I reorganized it one hundred different times that first week, as well as moving it around the room nearly six times until I found the perfect spot. Friends would come over and I would show off my treasure.
I still feel that drive toward perfection as I continue to make furniture for friends and family, but I have learned to give myself some grace in the process. For me, and for Dad, the pride still lives in the completion of a piece and the knowledge that something built well and with care, will last.
Last year, my husband, Ed, passed away. I remember coming home from work, after being unable to reach him. At first, I was frustrated, but then I started to worry that something was wrong. I thought, "it's just me, everything is fine."
I got home from work around 11:30 at night. All the lights were on, and I thought, "okay, he's here." Then I noticed him lying on the floor feet from the door.
"Oh my God! Ed!" I wasn't even emotional right away, I just immediately called 911 and started CPR. I started on his chest but I knew that he was gone and I just started crying. Everything just went black; I felt numb.
It was about a month and a half after his death where I really started struggling. I was always crying. It took a while to recognize that I was experiencing the type of grief that consumes you. So, when I did recognize it, I reached out for help because it was affecting everything. I had to pull over in the hall at work and go to the chapel or find a quiet area where I was able to grieve.
My brother and mother are pastors, so I had a lot of awareness about grief. Still, it was an internal downward spiral in my mind, my body became numb. It's a dark place. Even with my knowledge of what grieving looks like, in some ways you have to experience it the hard way in order to get help.
At one point, I had had enough of it. I needed to have help making it through the day. First, I reached out to a doctor and then ended up connecting with people at Agrace.
The biggest message I have is how and how long we grieve is personal, being able to grieve without judgment is important. Now, I am trying to see things in a positive way. I think that is important. Being able to move on is very positive, because if not, then I'm stuck - and Ed wouldn't want that for me. I always have his memory and that can't be taken away.
Employee Wellness Manager
When I took her in to meet her new primary care pediatrician, post diagnosis, I noticed that the office looked like any other primary care office – a few pictures on the walls and rolling cloud formations in the overhead light. As Eva and I waited for our first appointment with the doctor I began running through the checklist in my head: first noticing symptoms at 16 months, MRIs, EEGs, for being so young I had a lot of medical history to repeat to various doctors. The first questions the doctor had were expected and I began crossing off the checklist internally.
Then, out of nowhere, the doctor stopped, looked right at me, and asked, "And how are you doing?" I paused – the doctor was looking at me like she really wanted an answer, like the answer was just as important as Eva's medical story and then I thought, "How am I, really?"
It surprised me that how I was feeling would matter, that my well-being was and is directly tied into the well-being of my daughter. I hadn't thought about the fact that for the last year-and-a-half of appointments, and an arduous path to diagnosis – that how I was feeling would matter. To have someone force that moment, that pause to say, "No wait, what do you need?" made me re-evaluate my approach to Eva's care, and my own.
There is no cure for Rett Syndrome, no treatment. Every day is just doing what we can to manage symptoms for her entire life. It's daunting. As a parent, when you don't feel like you are giving everything you should, you feel like you're failing. Parent guilt times 100.
So, to have someone say, "How are you doing?" made me feel like there is a way to get through this. It felt like something tangible to hold onto. All of a sudden I had permission to say, "Wait, I am exhausted and that's okay." The doctor's question made me realize the reality is that this is hard, and that's okay. It might be that I am not getting what I need, and that, too, is okay. It means I am human, too. I can be a person and a Mom. Suddenly, I could breathe again. It will be okay; I can give when I need to and refill myself when I need to.
That moment plays like an old favorite record upon occasion. When I feel like I am failing, caught in a loop of "is this enough?" I can remind myself that maybe I need to take a minute to care for me, so I can be fully present for her, for Eva.
Gerhard Kraske, MD
I remember my first real gig, at 18 I was hired as entertainment for a party. Driving up in my 1967 VW bug, I arrived at what could only be described as a palatial mansion in Beverly Hills. I had been thinking about this moment all day; I loved playing accordion and the thought of making some money for performing was truly exciting.
When I arrived though, I really thought I was at the wrong address. Suddenly, out rushes what I can only assume was the butler, "Hired help is supposed to use the servant's entrance around back!" he abruptly said.
"I'm the hired musician for the evening," I responded. Who lives here?! I was thinking.
A woman came out, and informed me that I would be playing out back by the cabanas, poolside. Guests would be arriving in a half hour.
I walked into the front of the house and felt like I was in the middle of a Hollywood dream scene. Elegant and swanky is how I'd describe the foyer decorated with a water fountain and duel grand staircases. In the back of my mind, I just kept hearing my teacher tell me that I should have fun and be myself.
I noticed the grounds were perfectly manicured as I made my way poolside. Setting up the stool I brought, I took out my accordion and begun playing as the guests filtered in.
Equal parts nerves and excitement in the beginning led to utter enjoyment as I could see everyone appreciating my repertoire. Showtunes, musicals, American classics like Gershwin, Cole Porter and Rogers and Hammerstein filtered out through my fingertips.
My scheduled three hours turned into four, as the crowd was clearly digging the music. Soon after, one gig turned into more as word of mouth spread about the kid accordion player. I played parties like that for ten years until I decided at 28 that I would go to medical school. My weekend gigs turned into the income that fully paid for years of education. I never lost excitement for playing and still to this day, play as much as I can.
Nursing Professional Development Specialist
I've been focusing a lot in the last few years on living our values and one core value is service. I was hoping to add a third dog to the mix and decided the best way to know if it's a good fit is to foster first. That experience led me to becoming a dog foster for Fetch Wisconsin. I've had all sorts of dogs; ages, sizes, temperaments.
I remember the time fostering two adorable puppies that were found during one of Texas' snowstorms last year. After being housed in a bathtub during the storm, mama Bandit was heartworm positive and had to stay behind while her litter went north to be rehomed.
I took care of Dory and Elsa (there was a Disney theme going on) and I just loved those two little wire haired terrier mixes. After they were adopted, I remember this beautiful sunny day where I got to see them reunited with each other and their mama, who had finally made it up from Texas.
Elsa was a little bit shy, but Dory who is very outgoing with a fun, in your face kind of personality was super pumped to see mama Bandit. She just kind of wiggled her way up as if to say, "Hi Mom! What's going on?"
It was a really neat and rewarding experience to see them together after a few months apart. Not only do I have these heartwarming experiences with all these fosters, (twenty dogs so far) but I can give back to the dog community and live out my value of service. I wouldn't have it any other way.
Mary Oliver once wrote, "Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry," and I desperately feel this is true. In the middle of the numbing, deathly cycle of the COVID-19 pandemic, I needed that life-cherishing force and so did people in the middle of the healthcare COVID storm with me.
I have always been a lover of words. As a child, I spent entire summers reading and racking up a massive library fine. Books enthralled me with their invitation to visit other worlds, and dive deep into different lives. They engaged new emotions and presented larger questions that I had never brushed up against in my small-town lifetime. All those summers filled with a tree overhead and my nose in printed pages broke open things in me and expanded my heart space and how I thought about my life.
My own writing began as a way to understand myself in high school. My mind seemed very loud, and confining it to paper with pencil and ink helped turn down the volume in my own head and help me really hear me.
Poetry was always something I loved but falling in love with Mary Oliver’s poetry was another revelation. I had read collections of poems from a variety of artists before, but in high school I checked out one of her collections and, for the first time, felt known in a way I had not experienced before. Her connection to the natural world was one I deeply related to, and her ability to weave in so many personal wonderings and discoveries was so beautiful to me. For the first time, I wanted to feel my own life through writing poetry.
Poetry for me has become like photography. I want to capture a moment; how it felt in my mind, bones, heart, skin and spirit. I think everyone has had that experience when, for a few breaths, time stops because of beauty or pain, and for me, trying to move that moment into a poem was something I am often inspired to do.
There were a few years when my children were young that I lost my words and barely wrote. Through some lovely, serendipitous moments I was invited to join an amazing group of women who gathered to write. In that safe circle, I first experienced the vulnerability and significance of sharing my words. I also learned how to receive them from others, how to listen. To speak something unedited, with the ink still wet and have other women say, "Yes. I understand," was a feeling of connection through writing that continued to encourage me to share. It felt like standing in an endless circle that kept giving.
Experiencing the pandemic felt like endless dying to me. Literally, people died in front of me nearly every shift, and it felt like I had to go numb to survive all the fear and uncertainty that was hovering over my family at home and devastating my friends and team at work. I know we all felt absolutely broken by it in a thousand ways. All of my words dissolved. It wasn't until late 2020 that I started writing again. It began with a letter I wrote to my fellow Respiratory Therapists, as I felt like I wanted to acknowledge our experience as a group. Putting this experience into words helped me feel hope again, by focusing on how incredible our team was, what we had done and all we were doing to save lives and support all the patients and staff in the hospital. From that point on I was able to slowly capture my experiences and feelings through poetry again.
I remember being in the ICU, waiting for more people to come help prone a patient with COVID who was really struggling. I was talking with another team member, trying not to cry (because the sensation of a runny nose while wearing a N95 and face shield is something to avoid) as she told me how she sent what I wrote to all her family and friends because it expressed what she had been struggling to find words for. That meant a great deal to me.
We all need to know that we are not alone. When we feel understood, there is a weight lifted and a release from the cage of our own experiences that I think is necessary. Even if no one surrounding you in your life can relate, there is a piece of writing, of poetry, out there that will help you feel understood. It opens windows in the spirit and heart and lets in the breeze.
Community Resource Specialist
When I share this goal with people, the default first question is "which park is your favorite," but I'm really trying to avoid creating a ranking until I'm finished with all 50. I'm a conservationist at heart, so I make an effort to explore why the state designated each space as noteworthy and meaningful. Every time I travel to a park it's like making a new and unique discovery. I like to step back to take in the sights, smells, and sounds while appreciating the space as a place to leave behind the stresses of work and life. I often find myself wishing I could somehow bottle it all up to take home with me.
Getting over the halfway hump was the most rewarding part of the journey for me. I remember the overwhelming feeling of "what did I get myself into?" near the 15-park mark. Some parks are difficult to get to and map out. Arranging travel and lodging can also be laborious. Additionally, Wisconsin is only warm for half the year. For my 30th birthday, I hiked through the snow as a challenge for myself. Some parks are especially remote; I remember being at one park with no staff or other campers, I was completely alone. Part of me thought: "is this where the elusive bear is going to finally get me?"
In early 2021, I went through a breakup from a 6-year relationship. My safe COVID activity suddenly became a therapeutic outlet which helped me to heal from the loss of someone I cared about. In fall of last year, I took a week off to focus on myself and healing – I hiked 7 parks in 6 days alone. I felt so much pride after completing so many parks in such a short time. Through this journey, I've noticed my self-confidence increase. The experiences that lead me to hiking all 50 state parks, along with completing this goal for myself, have helped shape the strong and capable person that I am today.
Once I hit my 50th park, I'm going to channel my newfound free time into volunteering. I still want to stay close to nature because that's where I find a lot of peace. I already belong to the Wisconsin Natural Resource Foundation, but I'd love to get involved in leading field trips and hikes. The foundation is a great resource for anyone who is interested in conservation but doesn't know where to start – there's something for everyone with varying levels of difficulty and participation. To learn more about or get involved with the Wisconsin Natural Resource Foundation, visit: https://www.wisconservation.org/.
My clown origins are really from Bible college, we used it for ministry all the time. At a certain point, I decided to pursue it further and attend a clown camp in La Crosse.
My character, Daisy Drop a Lot presents as a young girl that's klutzy and is always making mistakes. I love that my character can just make the grumpiest person laugh. While I do parades with a lot of kids in the audience, my favorite place to perform is in nursing homes and memory care centers.
I enter the room singing songs and dancing, and to see the smiles spread on their faces – it's just really close to my heart.
Manager Infection Prevention
I grew up in a racing family. Weekends were spent in the repair shop, at the racetrack, on a mountain trail, in a boat on a lake or gliding on a snowmobile in the Wisconsin snow.
Destined to be around fast-moving vehicles, my husband also happens to be a motorcycle rider. After being a passenger on his bikes, I got the itch to take a safety rider course.
I wanted my own view, and I loved it.
My first bike was a smaller Harley sportster, and three years later, I got "Bluesteel."
That's right, I am a fan of Zoolander, but look at this bike. My 2006 Dyna Low Rider; 6-speed, chrome, and a gorgeous blue – it just fits.
There is much talk about how what kind of bike you have is a reflection of your personality, but what I love about Harley's the most is that they are classic looking, and their sound is incredibly distinctive. Pop, pop, pause, pop, pop, pause – getting louder and on repeat. The rumble of the pipes is so well known, there is a common catchphrase among Harley riders, "loud pipes save lives."
I've ridden Bluesteel for about 15,000 miles, from routes up and down the Mississippi, through Tennessee and a visit to Sturgis in South Dakota, among many a curvy road travel.
For me, owning my view, feeling every curve and bend of the road – each trip is about that feeling, that journey on the backroads. I look forward to the slow journey. Being on the motorcycle, I feel FREE and strong. Female riders aren't as common, so I personally feel very confident and strong. I love that feeling. So much so, I usually yell out the occasional "Wooohooo!"
Director Human Resources
My family was making a big move from Los Angeles to Madison where my Mom had accepted a position at UW Madison. My Dad, my sister Keziah and our dog, Ms. Parker, and I took off after one last visit with PauPau, my Grandpa before beginning the long journey. At 19, I was home for the summer and able to accompany my Dad and sister on the long journey to the Midwest.
I'm not sure how long I was asleep in the passenger seat of our Mazda sedan, but suddenly I could feel the car gaining speed and the abrupt sound of dirt and rocks hitting the windshield.
I woke up. I wasn't sure what was happening, but it felt like we were turning and then bumping. I realized we were in immediate danger. I could see the early morning light. I let my body relax and started counting how many times the car hit the ground. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight.
When the car settled the sunroof was busted open and the cracked glass windshield was in front of me. I had limited range of movement in my neck, but from what I could see Keziah was still in the backseat. I was so relieved. Ms. Parker, our dog, was missing.
"I'm okay. I am fine, baby. I'm fine," my Dad was mumbling next to me. I could see he wasn't fine; his head was split open.
"Betcha by golly wow, you're the one I've been waiting for forever..." The Stylistics were still playing on the stereo, and it blended with Keziah praying out loud.
I felt hot, really hot. My heart was beating fast and I could barely move my jaw. Time seemed non-existent, but I remember looking at my Dad, worrying his head was going to hit the windshield. With tingling arms, I reached over and held his head up.
A man with a thick mustache, dark glasses and a baseball cap came into view, "Are you okay?," he asked. I could hear a woman talking to my sister in the back seat, "We called for help, everything will be fine."
"Can you help me with my Dad's head?," I was able to blurt out, then my arm dropped, and I lost consciousness.
The next thing I remember was being lifted into the ambulance, I tried speaking, "There was a man and a lady helping us, please get their information."
"Ma'am, there was nobody down there. We could barely get to you." I lost consciousness again.
Ms. Parker was up on the road barking uncontrollably and luckily witnesses had seen us go over the cliff, but no one had been able to reach us right away because of how far down we had gone. To this day, my sister and I believe the man and woman that helped us were angels. The way down to where our car landed was treacherous and nearly impossible without assistance from heavy equipment.
I was in and out of consciousness until after surgery. When I woke up, Brett, my boyfriend at the time, was standing over my bed. He had flown in from Minneapolis. I started to cry. He was smiling at me, "You're beautiful Kiah." He didn't leave my side.
When I was able to get out of bed, I hobbled over to the mirror. The skin on the right side of my face was scrapped off, and my hair was missing, bruises were everywhere, and my jaw was wired shut. My blood shot eyes saw Brett come into view as he put his arms around me. I thought, "Oh my God, I look hideous." As if he heard me, he said, "I think you're beautiful. The scars will heal."
He helped me and my family through recovery before we were able to make the move to Madison. It was during that time I realized how much he really loved me. Before I left Los Angeles, my Aunt's cornered me, "If you don't marry this boy, we'll kill you. We know how much he loves you." It clicked for me then and there, that this was the man I was meant to build my life with. 26 years later, it was the best decision I've ever made.
Nurse Practitioner - Weekend After-Hours Clinic
"Thank you for making sure I was okay."
I think about her often; Lily, just a child, had gone through so much and if it weren't for her, I would have only worked as a Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) for two years. It ended up being 11 rewarding years.
I was drawn to this kind of work even though it was emotionally challenging. I saw men, women and children at the most traumatic times of their lives. They had experienced something they probably had never experienced before.
Being an FNE nurse was not without its challenges. It was my job to explain the options a patient has available based on the violence that was committed against them, then move forward with the options they chose. There is an element of necessary detachment, so there were days I left telling myself to take deep breaths, try not to cry. It can be very emotional to hear what happened to people.
Most FNE nurses burn out by year two. Part of that is from having to put aside your own personal feelings and focus on what this person needs from you without judgement, even if they decide not to report the abuse.
When I was paged for Lily's exam, it happened to be right at the two-year mark when most FNE nurses look for other work, and I could feel the burnout building. Like most exams, I approached it knowing there would need to be long breaks, giving her some time if she needed to stop. Lily's experience was traumatic; she told me what hurt on her body. I said, "I am really proud of you for telling your Mom what happened. My name is Kim, and I am here to make sure your body is okay."
Generally, the exams are a lot like a physical with more intense looks at the skin and evidence collection via swabs and photography. The most important thing is to give your patient control over the process, asking, "Is it okay if I touch your arm with a swab?"
It was meeting Lily that day that made me remember the work I was doing was important to those experiencing a vulnerable moment in their lives. Violence is so prevalent in our society and this was my way of making a difference. This was my purpose.
Having her come back to see me and give me a thank you card was both unexpected and incredibly heartwarming. "She really liked you, she was telling her friends about her nurse Kim," her Mom said. Lily gave me flowers, the card and a big hug. It takes a lot of trust to hug someone after trauma; I was truly honored.
"You are brave, Lily. I am so proud of you." I told her.
"Thank you for making sure I was okay, you're the best nurse." It's a moment I will keep with me, always.
Accreditation and Regulatory Specialist
I started playing a rented violin when I was 9 thanks to a program at my school , but after one year the program was cancelled. Still, that experience was very impressionable. I decided pretty hard and fast that I was going to play the violin my whole life, and someday, play at the symphony.
That's when I began saving half of my allowance every week. I told my parents that playing violin was what I was going to do for the rest of my life, "this is who I am!"
Even without having an opportunity to play, I followed through on my commitment. Four years had gone by saving and by then, it was pretty clear to my parents that I was very serious about being a violinist. At the end of 8th grade they consulted my Aunts and Uncle, who played for many symphonies, on the best instrument to last me through college. My Dad traded in my grandfather's old guitar and bought me a beautiful, well-made German violin. Perfect for the classics.
While it wasn't a surprise, the moment they brought my baby home still left me speechless. It was completely surreal. I had been saving for this for so long, it was hard to believe that I was finally getting my violin.
It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. It. Was. Magical. Picking it up for the first time felt like I had filled a void that had been missing in me, it was like a limb, an extension of myself. This violin was always supposed to be mine. I started playing it and in my 14-year-old mind, I heard the symphony.
My work was only beginning. I wanted to reach my dream of high-level performance so badly that I enacted strict rules for my parents. My daily violin meditation was not to be interrupted. No phone calls, nothing. "If the house is on fire, come and get me." I knew that if I was to be competitive in college, I had a short amount of time to practice when my peers had already been playing for almost a decade at that point. I practiced until my fingers hurt, and beyond – I loved every minute of it.
Life, well, it happens, right? After one year of playing in college I got a job at a nursing home and decided that the violin could still be my passion, but it doesn't have to be my career.
What happened next was a 16-year hiatus, that made me feel less than whole. I never lost my passion for it and always knew deep in my heart that I would eventually get back to it. I would go to the Overture, or Concerts on the Square and cry at the beauty of the symphony.
When I finally picked up my baby again, I was hard on myself. I remembered my quality of play so perfectly and knew that it would be a long while before I was ready to play publicly again. The first time I ever played my baby, I heard my future as a classical symphony violinist and now, I just heard nostalgia for what once was.
I had to relearn a lot, retrain my ear, my fingers – but I love the ride. My end goals are different, no longer am I playing for career success, I am playing for me.
Before I moved to Wisconsin, I served in the Army for nineteen years. After I left, I kept finding myself yearning for the adrenaline rushes of doing physically strenuous work while helping people in the face of adversity, so I turned to the fire department. Becoming an expert in something other than my career while training for long and hard hours, all for the greater good of the Dane County community filled that void for me.
In the public sector, funding isn't always guaranteed, so we also run the McFarland Fire & Rescue Association, a nonprofit that raises money for tools and equipment while providing counseling, monetary and emotional support to its members during life changes. A few years ago, my son was transported by UW Health Med Flight, and the last thing on my mind was watering the flowers. While I was gone, the association members were mowing my lawn, feeding my pets, and getting the mail. I felt the need to give back to them, and have worked my way up to the Vice President, allowing me to be even more active both with members and the community.
Although my work as a firefighter is fulfilling, it can be physically and mentally exerting. I live close, so when we get calls, I'm up and at the station within a few minutes. I throw my gear on the truck, start the engine, turn the radios to the right channels, and wait for the rest of the crew so we can pull out of the station as quickly as possible. Sometimes my job involves watching families struggle with losing their homes or loved ones and trying to recover. Despite the heartache, these experiences let me know that the work I'm doing, both with the Fire Department and with Meriter, is pushing forward, making a difference, and above all else, brightening one of someone's darkest days.
Family Liason Care Coordinator – Newborn Intensive Care
Every single year there was an intense fear around tryouts and what would happen the next year. I started creating a share circle the week before tryouts where the girls would talk about their biggest fears. I remember one girl started crying; she knew she wasn't the best player on the team and she wasn't going to be able to stay with her friends, so we talked through all the worst-case scenarios.
What are the positives that could come from that experience? We talked about how sometimes all we can do is work hard and show up and make the best of things. That in life we don't always get into the school we want to get into or get the job we want. Her teammates pledged to stay friends, no matter where each of them ended up.
Often coaching isn't just about technical skills, it's about developing young kids into eventually confident and secure adults. As parents, we have the same kind of responsibility and if often starts with setting expectations.
My wife and I took my son, Harry miniature golfing, and we entered the experience knowing there are 18 holes, we will move from spot to spot and then it's over. Harry didn't know that. I'm pretty sure all he saw when we arrived were tons of toys, everywhere.
He lost his patience pretty quickly and it became a nightmare. The reality is he didn't know what to expect because we didn't try and explain to him what the process would be. With soccer, the girls often came in with fear and worry over what it was going to be like to work with a new coach, and what was expected of them. The more that you lay out what you expect the easier it is for them to feel safe. The more consistency there is, the more they thrive. The same holds true for Harry.
I learned that managing and being real about myself, and honest with myself about my own emotions is a huge piece of both parenting and coaching. Sometimes you have to take a step back, reflect, have empathy, but not let your own emotion drive decision making and the conversation. I have always been a wear my heart on my sleeve kind of person so keeping a calm demeanor was and is a challenge for me, even more so when I'm tired. Like coaching, with parenting you don't always get a good break. So sometimes when you are really tired and have been at it for a long time you start to lose perspective. Being able to take a step back, take deep breaths, then come back and talk through what you are seeing and what is happening is a valuable skill. What I see is not always what the girls I am coaching are seeing and neither is it what Harry sees.
The successes are similar shared moments. When the girls would hit a technique during a game or practice, they often found my eye contact as if to say "Did you see?! I did that thing you said to do, and it WORKED!" Similarly, for months I've been trying to teach Harry to say please and thank you. The first time I heard him say it unprompted, I was so proud. Now he says thank you all the time, even when it's not warranted as if he's saying "Look Mom! I said thank you, did you hear that?!"
When they get it, it feels amazing; it's very rewarding! Whether it's Harry saying please and thank you, or the girls at the end of the season telling me they wished I could coach them just another year – I feel proud knowing that I have done something to impact these lives, and shape the future.
Senior Payroll Specialist
Family has always been #1. All three of my daughters were born in the birthing center at UnityPoint Health – Meriter. Now, we’ve come full-circle, and Ireland, Erin and I have been transformed from family into coworkers in the same place they were born.
I grew up on a farm with my parents and sister. Early on, we learned the importance of having a strong family structure, hard work ethic and faith. My dad had a huge family, with nine brothers and sisters, so almost every Sunday, we were at a different aunt and uncle’s house for lunch. Those family meals really stuck with me, and I made sure when I had a family of my own, that we shared meals together whenever possible. Even though my children are grown and busy, the Sunday night dinners have remained one of the only constants in our schedules; I wouldn’t trade those moments for anything.
In August 2001, I was hired as a Payroll specialist at UnityPoint Health – Meriter. My daughters quickly became familiar with the hospital, studying both their multiplication tables in elementary school and anatomy exams in nursing school in the conference room.
Ireland always had a drive to care for people and found a passion for it while working in an assisted living facility in high school. Once she graduated high school in August 2020, I knew the perfect place where she could explore this passion further: the mobile unit and ICU at UnityPoint Health – Meriter. Because Ireland and I both worked here, my youngest daughter, Erin began working in food service in April 2021. After discovering a similar passion for helping others, Erin became a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in the mobile unit in August 2022.
When Erin first came to the units, she was often greeted with “Virgil? Oh, your mom and I go way back!” and the occasional accidental Vocera page directed at her sister. Meriter has been in our family for years, and now we represent two generations of caring.
Even though my kids are all grown up, with my oldest daughter in the military and Ireland and Erin’s free time seldom overlapping, those family values I learned on the farm are still going strong and we do as much as we can together. When our weekends overlap, we make an effort to take a snowmobiling trip to Northern Wisconsin, a day trip to watch the Bucks play in Milwaukee or grab tickets to Badger volleyball. We love to travel as a family. Together, we’ve explored Disneyworld in Florida, Dealey Plaza in Texas, the Georgia Aquarium and my favorite, Palm Springs in California (even if we received strange looks for jumping in the pool in November while the natives bundled up in their winter coats).
I am extremely proud of the women my daughters have grown into. I have always encouraged them to try different things to find their passion and then go after it. They demonstrate caring and independence in their jobs every day, and I know they have wonderful careers ahead of them as nurses at UnityPoint Health – Meriter. Plus, it’s a huge perk to hear my coworkers rave about how wonderful my daughters are.
Manager Central Staffing Office
Maybe it was how I grew up – there was always family get togethers. My Grandparents were the cornerstone of our family and the events always revolved around them during birthdays and holidays.
When I got older, some of those family events brought stress. I remember a birthday on the 4th of July for my grandmother, and I had so much pent up inside me. I had a significant other, but I didn't feel comfortable bringing him or talking about him. At one point, I remember just being in tears – unable to be myself fully caused so much anxiety.
Some months before that party I had told my sister that I'm gay, but she was the only one that knew and there was so much fear resonating around my family finding out; me not being accepted for who I am. Just knowing that there was even one person that could potentially have a negative reaction or have someone I care about decide not to be a part of my life because of who I am made it stressful.
For me, this anxiety over being accepted by family was hard to hold onto because I value connecting with people that matter to me. When my family finally learned about who I am, they struggled with it, but I purposefully found ways to still connect with them. I've always held onto the belief that people can change.
People can learn, too. Over time, I was able to have more conversations with my family and found that through relationship building you can learn to grow. I have been able to reconnect with family. When you go with the flow of the people around you, accept the water's direction, and paddle with the water, you can learn to rebuild relationships through patience and guidance.
Manager of Human Resources Operations
Before I became a father, I wanted everything done the right way and would get frustrated when other people's processes differed from my own. Well, that quickly changed once I had kids! When my first son was born, I had to learn the virtue of patience very quickly. All three of my kids learned and processed topics at different paces and in different ways. I remember watching each of them take a public speaking class. I saw how Michael had to overcome his shy nature, David had no problem and barely needed practice and Sydney would perfect her script and rehearse for a week straight so it would be methodical and perfect. Having children made me realize that each of my children would find their own in life and they would figure it out.
Watching the three of my kids grow closer together as they aged was the most rewarding thing I ever got to experience. I saw my own sense of humor in each of them with their lighthearted teasing and joking; they really do all love each other. They crack me up constantly with their epic Connect 4 battles, outlandish debates and fights over the last serving of dinner. Food really brings all of us together. I learned how to cook from my grandmother at very young age – I was smart because I realized if I helped her cook, I could sample everything. Now, when my kids come home, I transform into their personal chef. I am happiest when I sit down for dinner with my family – I feel connected to my grandmother who taught me to cook, and as my children get older, I cherish every second we get to spend sitting around the table eating my lemon chicken orzo or whatever else they request.
Unfortunately, that has become less and less common. Michael currently resides in Florida. David joined the Marines after he graduated high school in June of 2020, so we couldn't attend his boot camp graduation due to COVID restrictions. It's been hard to have him so far away for up to six months at a time. Sydney is away at college, starting her second year.
As my kids have gotten older, I've been able to learn so much from each of them and I'm so proud of who they are becoming. There's never a dull moment with them when they are all together– they light up my life!
Clinical Resource Nurse
In the midst of trying and failing to learn Chinese and structured sightseeing, I was getting nervous. What is it going to be like to meet my son?
I knew very little. Ethan was 21 months old, he loved cookies and that he had a grade three cleft palate. In the U.S. there is no classification like that, so the medical information was limited. I did know his lip had been fixed because of the photos I had seen.
My mind wandered with worries. Would he be afraid of us? Nervous? How would he react to seeing two adults that looked nothing like anybody he had ever seen? Would he be healthy? My hopes were that it would go smoothly, but you just never know. For me, he already felt like family, like my son.
When we finally saw him, he was very quiet. I could tell he was studying us, trying to figure out what was going on. I felt overwhelming love and affection. Finally, I can hold him. I can get to know him, learn his personality. I have my son! It was just like when we first saw Kailey after giving birth, an instant bond.
It was a two-hour trip back to the hotel and on the journey, he just snuggled up and slept on me. It was a moment I will treasure forever. The entire rest of the trip, I couldn't keep my eyes off him. Inspecting his hands, toes, making sure everything is working and there. I was just soaking it all in.
The best part was finally getting to witness his personality, and he loved laughter – peek-a-boo quickly became a favorite game. Even now, at 16, he cracks jokes whenever he can.
When Ethan and my daughter finally met back home in Wisconsin, they seemed to be in awe of each other. There was this instant bond and Kailey became a mother hen. Now, they're like typical siblings, bickering one minute and defending each other the next.
A lot of people ask if I felt as bonded when I met him as I did with my biological daughter. I wouldn't know any difference whether he was a biological child or an adopted child. It's just an instant thing that happens. It's strange. I don't think families are just built by bloodlines. It's so much more.
Throughout my early life, my family rescued dogs which quickly became new members of our pack. Growing up and experiencing how we changed the course of life for those dogs lit a fire within me and I developed a passion for saving lives which I carried into my career in the healthcare field. In 2014, I carried on my family's selflessness by rescuing a pair of dogs through a Texas-based rescue where I learned there was a significant demand for relocating dogs from high-kill areas to regions with more foster homes and higher shelter capacities. I felt an irresistible urge to get behind the wheel of a transport shuttle.
Since 2015, I have been able to foster 123 dogs. The rescue community I have stumbled upon is absolutely outstanding. I get to work with groups of like minded, passionate rescuers and volunteers like Paddy's Paws, Lola's Lucky Day and Albert's Dog Lounge to organize and participate in quarterly transports from Texas. Unfortunately, my long drive is the easy part of the job. It's haunting to hear stories of the seemingly endless pleas from local shelters and the appalling conditions these dogs are abandoned in – I have a hard time bearing witness to that, but it reassures me that the work we are collectively doing is actively solving the problem of pet overpopulation.
The work has only begun once these dogs have been transported from high-kill areas. While some dogs arrive resilient, others come out of these situations in distress and struggle with decompressing and trusting humans again. Fostering panic-stricken pets takes patience, love and understanding, but watching them regain their personalities and learn to trust again truly fills my heart.
When I watch my foster dogs go to their permanent homes, the overnight driving, training and time commitment are all made worth it. It's amazing to receive that yearly update from a forever home that the dog who was once afraid to walk outside has transformed into the favorite pet at daycare who greets everyone they pass on their walks.
It takes time to heal what's been broken in a dog's heart but being that beacon of hope for a suffering animal teaches me more about perseverance, grace and support while cultivating humility in our world as a network of interconnected life that all depends on each other. If anyone has an inkling to foster, adopt or volunteer, water that little seed with trust in yourself.
I volunteer about thirty-six hours a month, usually on the same weekend – spending it at the station. I've found my calm demeanor gave me the right skillset to do what I love; help people.
One of my most memorable experiences as an EMT was actually not when I was working. I came across a motorcycle accident. Other riders were there, and they were going to take off the injured person's helmet and straighten their leg.
I calmly took head stabilization and explained to them that doing those things could hurt them, even permanently. I was able to calm the patient and keep the other riders from making any adjustments until the EMS crew arrived to do immobilization.
After that person made a full recovery, they found me and thanked me. They were in the health care field too, and knew that had I not been there, they very well would have been paralyzed from the well-meaning riders. I was thankful to be at the right place, at the right time, and to use my skills in a meaningful way. It's why I volunteer.
Service Excellence Manager
A little after midnight, my wife had woken me up – she was having contractions. "I think he's ready to come out." This being our second child, I knew the drill. I began grabbing our bags and then she comes up to me and says, "Well, maybe not. I don't want to go and waste the nurse's time."
A little more sleep and a few hours later, she wakes me up and says it's time. As soon as we step outside to go to the car, she says "Wait, we can't go anymore."
"Why is that?"
"He's coming out right now!" she exclaimed.
You gotta be kidding me! I entered a state of deep panic, while trying to stay focused as I dialed 911. The dispatcher was so incredibly calm; how they could be so calm? I don't know. I was in a whirlwind of emotion.
They told me to grab some towels, scissors and string. I was erratically running around the house trying to find these items while my wife is standing in the bathroom, screaming in pain "He's coming out now!"
Standing there, in the bathroom doorway I could see his head coming out, oh my gosh, there he is! I yell into the phone, "He's here! He's coming out now!"
I was frozen. Before I knew it, Apollo had made his way into the world. What just happened?! I rushed over to him and he wasn't breathing. The seconds it took before he let out a large cry felt like an eternity. The paramedics that arrived assured me he was okay, he looked to be breathing normally and crying normally.
Much like how he came into this world, Apollo is independent, energetic and an adventurous 2-year-old. He certainly keeps me on my toes!
The Badlands, Rapid City, Yellowstone.
It was our first big family road trip. Eily was 8 and Sara 4.
I remember stopping off first in Sioux Falls and then heading to the Badlands the next morning on Father's Day. It's where we took this picture. Experiencing these places through the eyes of my girls and together as a family unit was so meaningful.
Eily was adventurous, she was amazed by the vastness – running out with my husband Josh onto the cliffs. Meanwhile, Sara held onto me for dear life.
What ended up being the most memorable parts of this trip though were the times in the car. The games, the conversations and being truly together for two solid weeks.
"Pete and Repeat were on a boat. Pete fell off. Who's left?" asked Eily.
"Repeat!" exclaimed, Sara.
We had a campsite deadline we were rushing to make in Wyoming and trying to manage a stressful drive through Custer Park.
"Okay! Pete and Repeat were on a ." Over, and over, and over again. At the time, it stressed us out, and we sternly told them to cut it out. Now, it's an inside joke that everyone brings up randomly.
I remember looking out at sunsets in Yellowstone. Peaceful and beautiful.
The sharing of experiences, reliving what we just witnessed at one campsite. Telling each other how we each saw it unfold. Each viewpoint unique and part of a whole experience as a family unit.
I never realized how one road trip and one summer could just cement itself in my memory so strongly. As kids grow older, those family moments are fleeting. We don't always get that time together anymore, so I cherish the memories.
Rachel Weber & Traci Adams
Child Care Center Manager & Supervisor
If you had told us four years ago that our crafting hobby would become a successful jewelry business sold in nine stores across the state, we never would have believed it. In fact, if you had told us that we would become such close friends, we probably wouldn’t have believed that either.
Rachel: In November of 2020, we had been running a 24-hour childcare facility for months and were starting to feel the burnout from pouring into everyone else’s cups but our own. Traci came in to work one morning and shared a hat she knit over the weekend; it was so cute, so I asked her to teach me how to knit. She told me, “It’s easy, you’ll learn quickly” – it was not easy. But it did help us discover our shared love for working with our hands and crafting. We eventually found jewelry making to be a way to make sure our own cups were full, so we could continue bringing our best selves to work during the pandemic.
Traci: The first year we were making earrings, we set up a booth at a few craft shows and made for our friends and family, but it was still mainly a hobby. We kept expanding by opening an Etsy store, launching a website and selling to local businesses and coffee shops. After a year, we decided to officially become business partners and watched our hobby become Twig & Rue Boutique, LLC.
Rachel: Growing into a business has been a surreal experience. Earlier this year, I was at a Valentine’s dance at my daughter’s school, and I passed by a woman wearing a pair of our earrings. I had to stop and introduce myself. She was so sweet, telling me, “They’re my favorite pair!” People also come up to our booth at craft shows saying they’ve been looking for us – we’ve kind of built a fan base.
Traci: I think one of the greatest parts of starting this business together has been showing our daughters that women are strong and can do anything. We work together well, build each other up and hold each other accountable. We also do our best to give back to other passionate women – nearly all our materials come from small, woman-owned businesses. I hope our daughters are inspired by us channeling our creativity and turning it into something bigger.
Rachel: I wouldn’t want to be in business with anyone else. When we first met nearly six years ago at the Meriter Children’s Center, we never imagined becoming business partners. I’m a little messier and spicy and Traci is more thoughtful and organized, but we bring out the best in each other.
Traci: Especially from a business standpoint, we tend to balance each other out – Rachel creates looks books and handles finances and I do the photography and manage our Etsy site. Some relationships might not be able to survive becoming business partners, but we have a special friendship; we’ve been there for each other through some really difficult times, and we’ve only come out stronger.
Madison is just a mecca for live music, and music is a terrific way to raise awareness and fundraise. The event planning took one month, and some people were skeptical about whether I could pull it off or not, but I was determined to help, however I could.
Things just started rolling together. Community Shares of Wisconsin became the events fiscal sponsor, and "Yellow and Blues Music Benefit for Ukraine" became a reality. We featured Chicago blues music with Cash Box Kings and special guests. Perhaps, the most meaningful part however, were the speakers.
The event featured Dr. Ruslana Westerlund, an author and linguistics professor at Bethel University and Marina Sahaida, a college student who recently escaped Ukraine after living in a bomb shelter.
When I got on stage to introduce the speakers, and saw how packed it was, I was just so overcome with emotion. It was overwhelming, I thought, "Wow this is really happening." As Dr. Westerlund spoke, I watched the crowd, their eyes glued to her. They were listening so intently to what she had to say and many people, myself included, began to cry.
Then, when the band started and everyone began dancing, I was so full of joy and grateful so many people came to support Ukraine. My heart goes out to so many countries in so much despair.
I'm glad we were able to raise $2,000 in funds for each organization: Razom Ukraine Emergency Response, CARE Ukraine Crisis Fund, UNHCR Ukraine and UNICEF Protect Children in Ukraine.
I've had people ask why I wanted to do this, and it's a hard question to answer. I've done volunteer fundraising for a long time, I plan to do more. And, well, I guess it's just in my nature.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Manager
Growing up in Stevens Point I only wore kurtas for special Indian events. For the bulk of growing up, in my day-to-day at school or with friends I was the only person of color, early memories of getting teased for my darker knees; kids would say I had "dirty knees." I wasn't immune to the pressure to try and fit in and "color blindness" is what was taught then, so that was being reinforced . even fell into the trap of making fun of my dad for his accent in grade school. I was trying to find my place in the world but also survive, sometimes, and made painful mistakes along the way.
When I had my first visit in India in seventh grade, I wore a kurta every day for the first time, and my feelings toward fitting became even more complicated. My Dad was Indian, born there, and my Mom is Polish, German and Irish, born here. I fit in everywhere, but nowhere. Lots of gifts with this identity, and a nagging feeling of imposter syndrome.
It wasn't really until I started doing Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work that I started to come to terms with my complicated feelings about my own identity. Truly digging into DEI means starting with oneself first and beginning to understand my identity and my feelings around it was hard, powerful and important.
I claimed more of my Indian identity and started wearing kurtas more frequently. In the beginning, I got a lot of comments, especially at work, and one really stuck: "You look very ethnic today." It's a classic micro-aggression. It may have been said without ill intent, but it still hurt, even though now I can look back on that moment with more compassion. Eventually, others got used to me wearing kurtas, and the comments changed to actual compliments, like, "that's such a cool pattern", like we were talking in the way you would about anyone's clothes you appreciated. Or I got questions that were from a place of genuine connection or appreciation vs. trying to categorize me. It felt different, not tokenizing.
Sometimes there's still stress wearing the kurta in a new setting or pain/fear being watched in a store, but it is a lot better, for sure. I've gotten comfortable in my right to be able to wear them, that part of my identity is no longer up for debate or required assimilation (with some exceptions where personal safety would still be a concern) . and I appreciate how the layers of my privileged identities give me that choice, too. And even though identity work is never done and it's still complicated, I feel more like my authentic self now. I feel a lot of rootedness, and a connection to legacy. I love that my son will grow up seeing me wear these. He will be a part of that legacy, too – my fierceness in claiming it, even more important now that my dad is gone. And, I love wearing kurtas. I mean, they are so dang comfy.
GYN Surgery - Nurse Coordinator, Operating Room
Thanks to my Mom, I learned to sew on a Kenmore when I was 10 years old. My Mom sewed all the time. A project for a neighbor here, a bunch of items for someone in the county there.
We sewed next to each other and it really wasn't until this past year that I realized how lucky I was to have Mom right there to help me if a bobbin fell out, or a needle broke. In college I moved to the city, and as life moves forward, physical distance can sometime turn into emotional distance. Family gatherings aside, I saw Mom less and less, and likewise, my sewing machine collected dust.
When the pandemic began, as an operating room (OR) nurse, I felt a little helpless and anxious. What if we were to get a surge? Are there enough scrub hats, masks, proper PPE? I saw an immediate need for scrub hats in the OR. They are required and we were running low. Here was an opportunity for me to not sit idle during a time where it was easy to feel helpless. So I began sewing scrub hats, and enlisted my Mom with her serger, (a heavy duty machine that finishes raw edges) to help me finish them.
From there, it quickly developed into Dane County Mask Makers, a group that supported each other online with donated fabric, troubleshooting and camaraderie in a time when we all felt so disconnected.
It feels good to keep making masks, and through this process I have been able to reconnect with my Mom. She's risen to the challenge, making over 5,000 masks. Being able to bond with my Mom again carries so much value, and it looks like my desire to help is something she passed on to me.
Nurse Coordinator - NewStart
We always performed in competitions and for our main holidays, the Tibetan New Year and the Dalai Lama's birthday; it's a huge celebration. I performed around ten times a year.
My favorite memory of dancing as a child was in front of the Dalai Lama. Not everyone gets a chance to do that. When I performed, I felt so close to him, I felt butterflies.
My passion and joy came to a halt when I was in seventh grade.
My Mom arrived at boarding school in mid-April, which was quite unusual. She told me that the next day she would be picking me up to move to America. I was devastated. "Can we wait till next year?" I was preparing to compete in the inter-school dance competition, and it meant so much to me.
I ended up on the plane the next day, settling in Wisconsin. It was so hard to leave, I had so many friends in India, and I didn't speak English. I was nervous, and sad. I thought I would never dance again.
When I finally did, it was the best feeling ever. I was asked to teach American students at UW how to do Tibetan dance. They were taking a language course, learning the Tibetan language. It was awesome. I felt like I had my passion back.
There was no turning back after that. I got a group of other Tibetan students my age together to dance every year for our community, and since then, I have been dancing nearly every year. Then in 2001, I got a chance to perform in front of the Dalai Lama again when he came to Madison to do teachings. That felt really good.
The Dalai Lama always stressed the importance of learning other cultures and to always know your own culture, keep it inside you and share it with others. Performing is the best way to show that I am still preserving my culture.
Now, I dance with a group of Tibetan moms and I bring the music and dance home with me, teaching my young boys, the songs, the language, and movements. I always tell them, "It's so important to learn where you're from. You need to learn about your culture, your language, you need to preserve that." It makes me so happy seeing them engage in Tibetan dance and music. It makes me proud.