Fifteen years ago, Suzie Hedrick was looking for a nursing position that would allow her to work weekdays.
After five years working nights and weekends in the newborn intensive care unit at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis, Hedrick found a position as a pediatric dialysis nurse. She didn’t expect she would stay there for her career.
But she fell in love with the job, which became her passion.
The children she takes care of every day at the Riley hospital dialysis center stay in her mind and heart long after she clocks out at the end of the day. She just wants to make them happy.
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And 10 years ago, she found a different way to do that: a four-day event called Kidney Camp. The goal is to allow children a time to connect with others who are going through what they are, with hospital visits, machines and multiple medications daily.
Hedrick, a Nineveh resident, works year-round with volunteers and the National Kidney Foundation to plan and organize the camp over Memorial Day weekend. The National Kidney Foundation uses donations to fund the camp in Brookston, near Lafayette. The camp is free and open to children between the ages of 8 and 18 who are on dialysis, have kidney disease or have had a kidney transplant.
Last month, the Indianapolis Colts and Anthem honored Hedrick as their “Anthem Angel,” which recognizes Hoosiers who help others, with four VIP tickets to a Colts game.
The camp is designed for kids who are battling kidney disease and seeking support. Hedrick remembers a 14-year-old girl who told her nurse she felt like she was alone in her daily battle with her kidney condition until she went to Kidney Camp.
“It was eye opening,” Hedrick said.
“She realized she was not the only one. She came back from camp, and she wasn’t depressed. It was really special to get her to that point. These kids sit around and talk to each other about their medications, their conditions, what dialysis or a transplant is like. This camp puts these kids with others who are battling the same diseases, and they help and teach each other.”
Former campers come back as counselors, and five or six nurses are at the four-night, three-day camp.
Former campers, who are living life after their disease or transplant, help the kids understand the importance of taking their medication, talk about what was difficult for them and how they overcame the feeling of being alone and what it’s like to finally get to a point of not dealing with their illness every day. They also join in the activities, such as zip lining, archery, canoeing, basketball and tennis.
Nurses keep track of medications and provide medical care the kids need.
They also are there to reassure the parents their kids are doing just fine. A couple of years ago, a mother dropping her son off at the camp was a nervous wreck because it was the first time she was going to be away from him.
She left the camp, turned around and came back to check on her son and then left again. Later that evening, she called one of the nurses and asked if she could send a picture of her son. The nurse instead sent a video of her son break dancing with all of the camp counselors, campers and nurses in a circle around him, Hedrick said.
The goal is to allow the kids to participate in summer camp activities they wouldn’t be able to do because of their conditions, whether that is with late-night dance parties or staying up all night talking, Hedrick said.
From her four years at camp, Haley Faucett said her favorite part was staying up all night and talking with Hedrick.
Camp was a unique experience to interact with other patients because at the hospital kids are attached to machines and nobody really talks, Faucett said.
“At camp you got to go out and play, it was much more personable, and I was surprised that a lot of kids had the same problems I did,” Faucett said. “It’s a lot better being around the same kind of kids because I knew we could all get along, and no one would make fun of each other.”
Every year that she attended, Faucett always had to leave on Monday because she had dialysis on Tuesday. Because of that, she always missed the annual zip lining activity.
This year, Hedrick and the volunteers moved zip lining to Sunday, so she could join the other campers in that experience.
“It was amazing,” Faucett said.
Memories of her patients playing and enjoying life outside a hospital setting are what makes the camp so important to Hedrick.
“It was always my dream to work at Riley, and I’ve always wanted to help people,” Hedrick said. “I couldn’t ask for a better staff, better patients. I’m in love with my career. But seeing those kids and their faces outside of the hospital is why that camp is so important to me.”
Education: Studied at Ivy Tech to become a licensed practical nurse. Obtained her associate degree from Indiana University. Finished her bachelor’s degree at the University of Indianapolis, becoming a registered nurse.
Family: Married for almost 30 years, she and her husband have three children and four grandchildren between them.
Career: Six months as a licensed practical nurse at Columbus Regional Hospital, five years as a registered nurse at Riley Hospital for Children and 15 years as a pediatric dialysis nurse.