Friday, May 7, was an emotional day in the division of nephrology and dialysis because 2 longtime nurses said their final goodbyes as they begin their retirements. For Jim Flanagan, clinical coordinator, who has worked for Akron Children’s since 1979, and Julie Mate, since 2009, it was bittersweet.
“Just about every patient we saw this week left here crying,” said Julie.
As 2 of 3 dialysis nurses in the division, Jim and Julie have built strong bonds with their patients, many of whom they have watched grow up. They both say the most rewarding part of their careers has been seeing patients get off dialysis and live a normal life.
“The goal of our program is to ensure every child who has end-stage kidney disease receives a transplant,” said Julie. “Kids get transplanted quicker than adults, but they need numerous transplants in their lifetime because kidneys only last 10-15 years, meaning before and in-between transplants they can be on dialysis for a total of 10-15 years as well.”
Jim says an especially memorable patient for him was a little girl who started on dialysis as an infant.
“She is now in her 30s and has had 4 kidney transplants through the years,” he said. “She has a job, is married and leading a normal life.”
Dr. Shefali Mahesh, medical director of nephrology and dialysis, says she has always been struck by the way Jim and Julie not only connected with their patients, but also by their willingness to go above and beyond for them as well.
“I recall a time when a patient was having a skin reaction to every dressing we tried,” she said. “Jim contacted his colleagues at the adult dialysis unit where he worked part time and successfully found a different type of dressing for that young lady.
“And Julie took it upon herself to stitch a piece of fabric that would help secure an infant’s dialysis catheter after noticing the dialysis belts that are commercially available are too big for most of our infants,” she added.
When Jim started at Akron Children’s, he was still in nursing school and worked as a nurse tech, starting in the Burn Center and then the PICU. When he was approached in 1985 about a new dialysis program the hospital was looking to start, he went to Aultman Hospital in Canton for training.
“The differences between then and now are the technological advancements that have been made to the dialysis machines,” said Jim. “They are far more precise.”
This is especially important because many of the department’s patients receive peritoneal dialysis at home as opposed to coming into the hospital.
“We train the parents on how to hook up the machine to a catheter in their child’s belly,” said Julie. “Instead of spending many hours at the hospital, kids can receive their dialysis while they are sleeping, allowing them to live a more normal life. With fluid, electrolytes and waste removed daily, they don’t have to restrict their fluid or protein intake as much.”
Julie joined Akron Children’s in 2009 with no prior pediatric experience, but that didn’t stop her from making her mark. Having worked as a manager at her prior job, Julie was instrumental in helping to develop departmental policies and procedures.
“When I came to Children’s I noticed that our department’s policies and procedures and disaster preparedness planning needed some work, so I took on spearheading that job,” she said.
Dr. Mahesh says as a team, Jim and Julie have taken the department to new heights.
“With their skills, we started the neonatal dialysis program as well as the only pediatric Liposorber program (a blood processing device that removes certain lipoproteins known as “bad” cholesterol from the patient’s blood) in Northeast Ohio,” she said. “I have personally learned so much from them. Their expertise has made me a better physician.”
While Jim and Julie say they will miss their patients and co-workers, having the time for travel and hobbies is something they are looking forward to.
“I worked a lot of hours,” said Julie. “I used to come into the hospital an hour before my shift and walk the halls for exercise. It was a nice way to meet people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. Now I will have more time to walk outside with my dog, Sally (a Yorkie/Bichon mix), and maybe move closer to my daughter who lives in Florida.”
Jim said traveling west and seeing the Grand Canyon are on his list of places to see.
“I’ve been to Europe, but I’ve never been to the western part of the U.S.,” he said. “I have no plans to leave the area permanently, but I wouldn’t mind spending a few of the winter months in a warmer climate.”
“We wish them good health, joy and wellness as they move into this next phase of their lives,” said Dr. Mahesh. “Their empathy, wisdom and temperance will be greatly missed.”