When registered nurse Lea Woodrow started working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in 1977, there was no emergency room. When Jim Hynson came a year prior, he was not just on night shift; he was the night shift — the only certified respiratory therapist covering nights.
Woodrow, a neurosurgery specialty nurse, and Hynson, a CRT, are two of the longest-serving employees at ACH in Little Rock, watching the campus and health care evolve in over 40 years of service. While both have had opportunities to work elsewhere, their heart for pediatric patients and the compassionate culture at ACH have made this their home.
LEA WOODROW: “I see miracles every day.”
Lea Woodrow’s love of health care started as a child. She grew up as a self-described “Army brat,” born at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and bounced around to various states, including Texas and California. When her father retired from the military, the family moved to East Texas. Then in sixth grade, they landed in the Bright Star community in southwest Arkansas. Her father, James, was a farmer, and her mother, Jo, was a nurse.
“When we were little, because we lived so far out, if we had a physician’s appointment, she would take us with her to work, and we would stay in their lounge. Then we would go to the doctor’s appointment. She worked in a Catholic hospital; I became very familiar with the nuns, and they really embraced all of us,” Woodrow said. “When I was growing up, the hospital my mom worked at had an elevator operator, her name was Polly. She would actually let us ride and help operate the elevator. It was a very friendly, child-friendly institution. So that was kind of where I got my idea of wanting to be a nurse.”
Woodrow began working at ACH in 1975 while still in nursing school. The campus did not have an emergency room at the time, just a pediatric clinic.
“We had a big, long hallway that had a lot of chairs in it and that’s where patients and families sat after they were admitted for a visit. I worked Friday and Saturday nights, and the staff was so welcoming. They just kind of brought you in under their wings — the residents taught you things, the nursing staff taught you things and we had a very big camaraderie. Our doors locked at 11 p.m. and we saw patients until they were finished. We would sometimes be there till 2 a.m. IHOP was the only place open, so many times we would go to IHOP after work and have breakfast.”
Pediatric care wasn’t the path she initially wanted to take, instead hoping to work with geriatric patients. However, the welcoming environment at ACH drew her in.
While there were no openings in general pediatrics, there was a spot in the operating room. Woodrow officially started her ACH career June 6, 1977, spending over 30 years in the operating room.
“One of the things I remember about working different shifts in the operating room, we’d have specimens that we’d need to take to the lab and at one point in time. ... Our lab was in a parking lot,” Woodrow said. “I remember us taking our lab specimens to the lab in the parking lot and signing them in. It was just such a small area. Now we have pneumatic tube systems, computerized documentation; everything is lightning fast.”
Woodrow admits the operating room is her “first love,” but moving to her current role as a neurosurgery specialty nurse allows for more patient and family interaction. Her daily responsibilities include working with neurosurgeons, seeing patients along with the surgeons in clinics, planning follow-up appointments, scheduling surgeries and answering patient-care questions from patients and their families.
“I always give families my card with my contact information on it, talk to them about the different methods that they can communicate with me. I tell them, ‘I am the world’s worst to go to a doctor’s appointment, and my anxiety is so high that I get in the car, I’m driving away and say, ‘Oh, I wish I’d asked that question. I’d forgotten that.’ This is your gateway to talk to me,’” Woodrow said. “And then I’ve also had families come back in and say, ‘We are so thankful for you.’ And they’re not talking just about me. They’re talking about Arkansas Children’s Hospital and what we offer to patients and families, and they just appreciate that.”
Throughout 46 years as a registered nurse, Woodrow said she’s been able to grow with Arkansas Children’s.
“Every day, there’s something that you can learn. Every day you find out more about yourself or more about the institution and what it has to offer or the things that maybe we can do to make it better,” she said. “Those are the reasons that I’ve stayed — because I enjoy it, and it feeds me.”
Q&A with Lea Woodrow
: Husband, John; three daughters; three grandchildren (two that they are helping raise)
What about health care has changed since you started your career?
Health care has changed because of technology. One of the things we may have seen in the past was a child that had a diagnosis that we couldn’t help. And I think now that we are able to do more, we have that opportunity to help.
How has Arkansas Children’s changed?
We really have grown a lot, not only in our footprint, but the services that we offer. But I think one of the things that has not changed with that growth is the care that is provided. There are a lot of people that genuinely care for patients and families and genuinely care that they are doing a good job and not just coming to work and doing the job, but doing a good job.
How do you provide extra comfort to patients?
I’ve had patients and families that have wanted to pray with me. My religious beliefs are not something that I need to put on anyone else, but if they want to talk about religion, and they want to talk about God and what they feel has helped, I’m here for them. They talk about miracles; I feel like I see miracles every day. They need to know that someone is there to listen, someone is there to offer information and advice if they ask for it.
What is your best advice for new nurses at Arkansas Children’s?
My best advice to someone who is new in nursing is to think about it as a career. It is lifelong learning and to go for the hard stuff. You know, easy is OK. But hard stuff makes you learn. It helps you be in situations where you might not be comfortable, but boy, you will learn things and those are the lessons that will stay with you for the rest of your life.
What are your hobbies?
When I travel to different places, I like to collect thimbles. I’m a voracious reader. And fortunately, I feel like I passed that onto my children. My grandson loves to be read to. I like to watch some period television, around the end of World War II.
How has being an Arkansas Children’s nurse changed your life?
One of the ways I feel like working at Arkansas Children’s may have changed my life is I feel like I may be more compassionate. I’m not sure I would have that same level of compassion if I worked in an adult setting. I feel like children can rend your heart.
JIM HYNSON: “You do it because you love it”
After serving in the U.S. Air Force from 1964 to 1968, Jim Hynson, a Maryland native who first came to Arkansas while stationed at the Little Rock Air Force Base, was looking for a stable career. He found a calling in health care. He began in pediatrics, moving to ACH Sept. 25, 1976, working nights as the only certified respiratory therapist.
“It was a night shift of one. I worked five days a week, and we had student respiratory therapists working on the weekends,” Hynson said, adding he was happy to mentor others. He transitioned to dayshift about six months later.
But Hynson not only found his calling at ACH — he found love. He met his wife of 42 years, Jeanne, who was a nurse and has since retired. They dated for about five months before marrying July 27, 1980.
“One of the fellow respiratory therapists said, ‘There’s a nurse over there that’s interested in you.’ I said, ‘Really?’ I was kind of taken aback. We got together, and she invited me to a party, and we started dating,” he said. “The next thing you know, we were engaged and got married. It was a very short time.”
Throughout his 47 years at ACH, Hynson has adapted to the growing hospital and new technology. In the early years, one respiratory treatment involved manually clapping on a child’s chest with percussor cups for 40 minutes. Now, he said, a machine helps break up secretions in a child’s airway.
“The changes here have been tremendous. This place has grown three or four dozen times as big as it used to be. When I started here, the respiratory therapy department had one ventilator, and now we have well over 100,” Hynson said. “Health care-wise, the changes in our department have been more technological, addressing problems in the way we are treating patients. We do things so much different now than we did. We didn’t gown-up to do treatments, we didn’t mask up.”
One aspect of his job that has stayed the same is his bond with pediatric patients.
“There was a young girl here that was the same age as my daughter. Her name was Kim; she has long since passed. Cystic fibrosis kids here now, their life expectancy is not eight to 10 years anymore, it’s 40-plus. It’s phenomenal the way things have changed,” Hynson said. “Talking about Kim, she had such a personality; she would draw you to her. I cried when she left us. You get a bond when you work with these long-term kids. You get a bond with their family; you have to.”
Today, Hynson works primarily with children diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), asthma and other breathing issues. Hynson administers a variety of breathing solutions for patients, including aerosol treatments to open a child’s airway and chest therapy using a vest machine, known as high-frequency chest wall oscillation technology. The vest machine vibrates at a high frequency to break up secretions and is used often for CF patients.
His work philosophy has always centered around bringing levity to his patients through humor, playing games and happily responding to nicknames from patients and coworkers like “Pops,” “Santa Jim,” “Mr. Jim” and “Papa Smurf,” an ode to his blue scrubs.
“I tease them, I joke with them, I try to keep their spirits up. I can do that sometimes, not all the time. The vest machine treatment is 30 minutes for patients. We will play games in that time period just so you can bond with them,” he said.
Though he is looking forward to retirement one day, his passion remains at ACH because of the culture of compassion that resonates with each team member.
“The care that we give here is given with compassion, a caring that you don’t see everywhere. The people who work here are those people who care and have compassion,” Hynson said. “You do it because you love it. Kind of makes you tear up, but it’s true.”
Q&A with Jim Hynson
: Wife, Jeanne; two children; three grandchildren
As one of the longest currently serving employees at Arkansas Children’s Hospital, what has made you stay?
I enjoy working with kids. It's rewarding to see them get better. You don't always see them get better, but more times than you’d think you get to see them get better and get to watch them leave the hospital. It’s a sort of sense of pride within yourself if you helped them get better.
What does it mean to the children of Arkansas to have a nationally-recognized pediatric hospital in the state?
I believe having Arkansas Children’s Hospital here is so helpful to all the children in Arkansas. We have all these specialties here; we treat any and everything just about. The diversity here is tremendous in terms of what they can do. It’s a good place to be. When you compare what it was like to what it is now, it’s a vast improvement. You talk to patients’ parents and they praise this place.
What is your best advice for new respiratory therapists at ACH?
When I came here this place was small and what we do now is competitive across the U.S. We have a level 4 NICU, a pediatric intensive care unit, we have a cardiovascular unit, we have ECMO. This place is as advanced as any hospital and we are competitive. It’s a good place to work. It’s a good place to learn and they have a chance to do that.
How did your time in the military prepare you for a career in health care?
Anything in the military teaches you discipline. You do what you’re told. Either that or you’re in trouble. Military service is not carefree.
What are your hobbies?
I like to garden. I’m bad at it. I kill more stuff than I grow. It seems like I put a shrub in or two or three and the deer come and eat it up. When I garden, I have power tools, but I’ll use hand tools because it’s quiet and peaceful. It’s to get away from it all; it’s relaxing.
How has being an ACH CRT changed your life?
I think working at Arkansas Children’s Hospital has taught me to be more patient. You have to be very patient working with some of these young kids. And sometimes the parents.