White Plains resident, Jacqueline Alleva, RN often reflects on how she prepared for the challenges of her life-saving work as a nurse on the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at The Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in the Bronx through her education at Pace University’s Lienhard School of Nursing.
One recent patient often comes to mind when she thinks about how her clinical work as part of her degree program prepared her for her current challenges.
A two-year-old child with heart failure had arrived at the unit after being placed on the Berlin Heart, a mechanical device for babies and children awaiting transplant. “When she first came in, this little girl wouldn’t look at anybody,” Alleva recalls. “She wouldn’t look anybody in the eye; that’s how scared she was. And when you’d walk into her room, she’d say two words — ‘Night night’, which meant ‘Get out’.”
During the time that the child was on the Berlin Heart, Alleva and her colleagues saw her not only regain some of the energy that heart failure had stolen, but open up to the PICU staff as well. “After a while, when I would walk into her room, her whole face would light up,” Alleva says. “She would touch my face, we’d interact, and we’d play. That’s what happens when you get deeply involved. She understood that we were there for her and that we cared, and that built trust.”
Alleva’s story encapsulates the work of cardiac nurses at Montefiore, and the daily challenges that they meet. Their patients, from infants to the elderly, are severely ill and can be at Montefiore for weeks or months at a time. Cardiac nurses have to stay constantly current on the complexities of the devices and transplant protocols that are these patients’ last hope. In both the Cardiac Surgical Intensive Care Unit, for adult patients, and the PICU at Montefiore, nurses take simultaneous responsibility for patients, their family support systems and the machines that are keeping them alive.
Alleva has learned first-hand that nursing is a profession that combines personal and professional intensity, exemplary skill and extraordinary reward. Pace University’s Lienhard School of Nursing prepared Alleva well for this profession. She said, “My shift as a PICU nurse always starts the same way, with the pinning of my Pace pin. It’s a bit of an outdated practice I’m sure, but for me, my nursing pin inspires me each shift, reminding me of where I’ve been and why I am here.”
Alleva obtained a liberal arts degree from Pace and later went back to study nursing. She said, “I learned many things in the nursing program, from pathophysiology to pharmacology, to medical surgical nursing and pediatrics. All these courses prepared me for my boards, and clinicals gave me a taste for what each specialty in nursing had to offer.”
Alleva determined where she wanted to work after graduation as a result of her preceptorship. “I was in a PICU and was amazed at how much teamwork was involved,” said Alleva. “From seeing my first ‘code’ to learning all about vasoactive drugs, I still recall the rush I felt each shift. It’s the same way I feel now when I know I’m going to have a busy shift. I know that I will get through whatever the PICU will throw at me because not only do I have the base of knowledge necessary, but I also have the emotional supports needed for when days are rough.”
Alleva has friends from her nursing program that she relies on for support, as well as her mother, who also happens to be the Associate Dean of the College of Health Professions at Pace and a nurse herself. “I have a wonderful mother who listens to me cry about the bad things and laugh about the inane things I see,” said Alleva. “My husband, although not a medical professional, has gotten more comfortable with my tales of the PICU. And when I go running downstairs screaming, ‘My patient got her heart’, he may not completely ‘get’ all that she went through and what a big accomplishment it is for her and my unit, but he knows to smile and jump up and hug me.”
Alleva is now halfway through her graduate work in the family nurse practitioner program at Pace. “Each day I wear my Pace pin, I am proud of how far I have come and where my journey has led me. I get to save lives every day, and make children smile while I do it. It’s not always sing-a-longs and play dates, but on challenging days, I think about the really great days, like when my patient got her heart and how great post-transplant hugs are, and I rub my pin to gain some strength and keep pushing forward.”