UK HealthCare

A Nurse's Life-Changing Childhood Experience Leads Her Back to UK


LEXINGTON, Ky. (Sept. 7, 2011) — What one starts out wanting to "be" when they grow up usually changes several times before they actually begin working. However, for Jessica Lawrence it only took one experience that would change her life forever to reveal her true passion and calling in life.

At the age of three, Lawrence was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect (ASD), a hole between the upper chambers of her heart. Lawrence was quickly scheduled for open heart surgery at what is now the Kentucky Children’s Hospital to correct the hole that would have not otherwise closed on its own.

"I couldn't run and play like other kids my age and my mother had this motherly instinct that knew something was wrong even though doctors kept telling her I was fine," said Lawrence reflecting on her life before the diagnosis. "I still remember the doctor that diagnosed me, and the care of the nurses that took care of me day in and day out while I recovered. From talking to my mom and dad, I know I was very well taken care of and my parents say they could not have been happier with their experience."

As a result, she was convinced that someday she too wanted to be as helpful and impactful as the doctors and nurses who assisted her through this major event in her life. Now, not only is Lawrence living out her dreams but she is also able to work with the nurses and physicians that saved her life.

“During that time four nurses, Audrey Karbon, Leisa Johnson, Teresa Chase, and Margie Allen (who is now retired), watched over and took care of me," Lawrence said. "And now I get to work with all of them. Knowing how well I was taken care of makes it easy to do my job."

Having lived through what her patients are now going through, Lawrence is able to empathize in a unique way and can assist them through what can be a traumatic and difficult time in people's lives.

“I can actually say that I have been in their shoes and my family has lived through the experience," Lawrence said. "I think this hopefully gives the patient a little ease and the family some comfort to know that I went through the surgery - even have the scar - and I am just fine. I hope to one day be able to see the impact I may have on a patient's life like the nurses I work with had on mine.”

Dr. Carol Cotrill, the pediatric cardiologist at UK HealthCare's Kentucky Children's Hospital  who diagnosed Lawrence, continues to see her as a patient every two years, as well as work with her on a daily basis as a colleague.                        

Lawrence received her bachelor’s degree in biology in 2001, a bachelor's degree in nursing in 2004, and her Master's degree in nursing in May 2011 at the University of Kentucky; she has worked at UK for more than 10 years.