April 13, 2017

Advocating for patients drives Children’s Hospital’s Lowry

Small and seemingly inconsequential interactions with patients can sometimes stick in a caregiver’s memory.

For Christine Lowry, R.N., a charge nurse in the Pediatric Emergency Department at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, teamwork is the key to making sure patients and families get the best care possible. (photo by John Russell)

Editor’s note —
This is the sixth in a series of profiles on some of Vanderbilt’s most dedicated employees. All VUMC faculty and staff are encouraged to attend Celebrate — The Difference YOU Make Every Day on April 20 or 21 at Vanderbilt’s Memorial Gymnasium. Please sign up for one of three sessions at VUMCcelebrate.com.
Small and seemingly inconsequential interactions with patients can sometimes stick in a caregiver’s memory.

A 2-year-old boy with cancer began running a fever, so his mother brought him to Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt for admission via the Emergency Department (ED). It wasn’t their first time in the ED since receiving the cancer diagnosis.

The parents had decided that each time their son completed a chore at home, or each time he underwent blood-draws or X-rays and so on, he would get a sticker for his chart, leading, of course, to fabulous prizes.

“He missed out on his chores that day because he was sick, and he really wanted his prize — a Batman something or other,” said Christine Lowry, R.N., who alternates duties as a charge nurse and staff nurse in the Pediatric ED.

So Lowry improvised a task for the child to perform.

“I gave him some alcohol pads, because they come in twos with a perforation in the middle, and I had him tear those apart as his chore for the day, and he was so excited. … His mother is so nice and understanding of what we need to do in a timely manner, and he is just a really sweet 2-year-old,” Lowry said.

When Lowry herself was a child, her grandfather was often in the hospital. “I was always very interested in what the nurse was doing and how things worked, and just have always been fascinated by it.”

She’s a Nashville native, and she and her husband have two daughters, ages 6 and 8. She has spent her nursing career at Vanderbilt — having joined the Medical Center in 2003, she joined the Pediatric ED in 2008.

“My goal,” says Lowry, “and most everybody’s top goal in the ED, is teamwork. If one person is busy, everybody is busy. We all help each other all the time, and that’s really how you make it work.

“I want always to be a patient advocate, to help patients and families understand where we’re coming from, and explain things in case they don’t understand, and make them comfortable enough to where they can be an advocate for themselves. They obviously know their child better than we do. I want them to feel comfortable enough to ask questions, because nobody is going to fight for your child like you are.”

Kate Copeland, MSN, R.N., is administrative director of emergency services at Children’s Hospital.

“Christine really is the epitome of what we do here at Vanderbilt. She is an excellent clinician and she consistently advocates for our patients and families to make sure they get the very best of care. And while she’s doing all that, she’s a huge team player and the first to volunteer to help when we experience staffing challenges,” Copeland said.

Copeland in particular commends Lowry’s advocacy on behalf of patients with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

The longer-term effects of TBI on concentration and learning often go unremarked and unaddressed. A federally funded program in Tennessee called Project Brain provides information, resources and follow-up for pediatric TBI patients, their families and teachers. In the Pediatric ED, it had for some time been apparent that Project Brain was underutilized. Starting last summer, Lowry took initiative to change that.

“I just said, ‘you know what, OK, I’m going to do this;’ every TBI patient that came in, I was able to consent them into the program,” Lowry said. According to Copeland, over a recent 12-month period Lowry was responsible for 57 percent of all referrals to Project Brain from the Pediatric ED.

Lowry’s involvement has had a domino effect. Watching the referral numbers rise, additional ED staff members have gotten more involved in Project Brain.