Heather K. wakes up every day loving her job, thankful to have found her way here. As a 2017 bachelor of science in nursing graduate from West Coast University, she credits her university as an integral part of her journey.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do this if not for West Coast and how much they pushed and guided me,” she said. “Other places wouldn’t have gone through the effort but they went above and beyond. They helped me get here.”
Heather’s path to becoming a nurse was not an easy one.
In 2010, at the height of a professional soccer career, Heather began experiencing extreme pain in her abdomen. After a host of tests and a colonoscopy, doctors diagnosed her with an autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis.
“I was so sick I finally went to a specialist in Los Angeles,” she said. “The specialist told me I needed to see a surgeon right away because my entire large intestine needed to come out.”
After several difficult months and many failed surgeries, Heather finally had a successful repair to her intestine and began her recovery. During her stay in the hospital, Heather realized the importance of nurses and the care they showed their patients.
“These nurses are the ones who were in the trenches with me,” she said. “At 3 am, when I was uncomfortable and in pain, they were getting me up and giving me heat packs for pain relief.”
Although in the midst of getting her master’s in psychology, Heather said she began to reevaluate her path. After speaking with her soccer coach and enrolling in two prerequisite nursing courses, she started on a new journey.
“I got the highest grade in both classes,” she said. “I was like, ‘This is it. I want to be a wound, ostomy and continence nurse. I want to help people who went through what I went through.’”
During her senior year, she truly experienced how much WCU cares about its students.
“My counselor at West Coast knew I wanted to be a wound, ostomy and continence nurse, so they made it possible for me to do my integration with a one, which is usually unheard of,” she said. “While there I learned about the WOC program at the Cleveland Clinic.”
In 2018 she moved from Southern California to Cleveland, Ohio and began her career at the Cleveland Clinic. In August 2019, Heather finally made her dream a reality.
“The first day as a wound, ostomy and continence nurse I knew in my soul that this is what I was born to do,” Heather said. “This is why I got sick and went through all those surgeries and was dying on the table. This is it.”
Heather’s ultimate goal is to become a nurse practitioner and run her own outpatient wound, ostomy and continence clinic in Southern California. She said she hopes to offer support so patients don’t feel like they are sent home to deal with all of their problems alone.
Her advice to future nursing students is to always remember to step into every one of your patient’s shoes.
“Each person has a different story and even though I have this passion and great knowledge that I’ve learned from being sick, it’s not about me it’s about the patients,” Heather said. “If we all just thought of taking off our shoes when we left our house because we need to step into every other person’s shoes that would make us all better people and a better society.”