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Applied Experience: Elizabeth Harper, RN

November 22, 2021

Some of our rehabilitation nurses have personal experiences that give them special insights to the physical rehabilitation and recovery process. We’d like you to meet them in this series entitled “Applied Experience.” Each of the featured nurses experienced a dramatic medical episode. Their stories illustrate the perfect synergy that has resulted between lived experience and patient care.

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Elizabeth Harper, RN, BSN, has lived the injury, rehabilitation and recovery phases for most of her life.

When she was a small child, a car struck Elizabeth as she ran across the street in her neighborhood. She’d seen her older brother jumping across the neighbors’ fences and turned to run and tell her parents when the car hit her. Her dad, who was working in the garage, heard her scream.

“I remember so much about that day,” says Elizabeth, who was only four years at the time. “The driver was a tall, thin man with dark hair and glasses. He was screaming, ‘I’m so sorry, are you all right?’ I remember the police taking him away. But mercifully, I don’t remember any of the pain.”

Pinned in front of one the tires, Elizabeth had been dragged 30 feet. The pressure completely crushed her right leg and required a complete reconstruction. Elizabeth remembers being in a wheelchair for a long time.

When the leg failed to grow normally, her physicians instructed her to begin a rigorous exercise regimen to stimulate growth. Elizabeth got involved in cheerleading, and for a decade, she helped cheer her school’s teams on to victory. While yet in high school, she had back surgery to correct a scoliosis condition, resulting in metal rods placed in her back from T2-L4. Following recovery, she resumed her active life and all seemed to be going well as she entered college to pursue a nursing degree.

However, the rigorous exercise began to create wear and tear on her left knee, and three knee surgeries were necessary to correct the damage to her lower femur. As part of her recovery, she started swimming to build back the strength and mobility in her knee. She also received outpatient therapy at Siskin Hospital.

“Doing my own rehabilitation, I know what patients have to go through in their recovery journey,” says Elizabeth. “I know that you have to keep pushing through the pain and discouragement, so I do what I can to encourage them.”

Elizabeth knows by experience that family support is critical to a patient’s recovery. During the COVID-19 visiting restrictions, separation from family was especially difficult for patients. The nursing staff became their family, and Elizabeth, who is now the charge nurse of Siskin Hospital’s Stroke Unit, made extra efforts to foster and nurture those relationships.

“I’m very comfortable with my patients,” says Elizabeth. “I want them to feel comfortable, too, even though they’re in a hospital environment.”