Sometimes they appear scared. Sometimes they spot the scar through his close-cropped hair. Generally, they just need a reassuring friend.
Nathan Jones knows how they feel. He has been there, a young person feeling anxious in the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital pediatric intensive care unit (PICU).
So, he tells them his story …
‘What’s Wrong with Your Eye?’
“Just as I was starting my freshman year at Northeast High in St. Petersburg, my mom noticed my right eye was starting to close a little bit,” Jones says. “She said to me, ‘What’s wrong with your eye? Why are you squinting?’ I said, ‘I’m not.’”
His mother took him to an optometrist who said he needed to get an MRI right away. The MRI revealed he had an osteoblastoma, a rare benign bone tumor in his right frontal sinus and orbital mass. He was sent to what then was called All Children’s Hospital for a consult. On Oct. 22, 2001, Carolyn Carey, M.D., a pediatric neurosurgeon, Ernesto Ruas, M.D., a plastic surgeon, and Wade Cressman, M.D., a pediatric ENT-otolaryngologist, led a team that removed the tumor right after his 16th birthday.
Jones recalls it being a complex surgery. “In order to get to the tumor they had to make an incision from one ear to the other. They pulled my skin forward to reach a section of the bone around my right eye and took out a piece of bone above my eye to reach the tumor and put it back. I still have plates there.”
After the surgery, he spent six months at home attending school via telephone (before the days of online learning), while his head healed from the 53 staples used to keep the wound closed and monitor infections.
Finding a Career
After recovering, Jones began considering career options. “All along the way, my mom was encouraging me to be a firefighter or paramedic,” he says.
Shortly after completing high school, he got his emergency medical technician (EMT) certification and became a paramedic overseas in Afghanistan and Iraq as a civilian contractor for almost three years. When he returned to the United States in 2014, he was determined he wanted to do some kind of health care but not necessarily as a paramedic. “I thought I’d like to go a little further,” he says. “I didn’t want to work with adults anymore. So, I thought I’d try pediatrics.”
Jones applied at Johns Hopkins All Children’s and ended up getting a job in 2014 in the PICU as a paramedic. “I knew this would be a good way to decide if I really wanted a career in nursing.”
In 2010, the hospital had moved into a new facility, replacing the version opened in 1967 where Jones received care.
“I was surprised when I entered the new hospital to see all the new amenities being offered,” Jones says. “The family-centered focus where the family can room in and have their personal space and privacy with their kids, especially when things may not be going well, is really a nice benefit.
“I immediately fell in love with the culture and the staff. Everyone I worked with in the PICU, seeing how happy kids are when they get the proper care and leave the hospital healthy.”
Becoming a Nurse
Jones decided to build on his EMT and paramedic skills by enrolling in nursing school in 2015.
“While I continued to work in the PICU, I was also working on my associate degree in nursing,” he says.
Jones went on to get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, paid for with scholarships from the hospital and the Johns Hopkins All Children’s Foundation Guild Nursing Excellence Fund.
“I basically came out of school with zero student loans because of the hospital’s scholarship program,” he says. “I will always be grateful for that.”
The investment has paid off.
“Nathan has many qualities that enable him to be highly successful as a registered nurse,” says Kristen Celona-Jahn, R.N., M.S.N., CCRN, the clinical manager for the PICU and dialysis unit. “He is mature, bright, self-motivated and hardworking, and dedicates himself to our patients and family members. Nathan exhibits compassion and a desire to learn and further his knowledge. Additionally, he demonstrates clinical excellence as a registered nurse in all areas.
“Nathan provides care for our acute patients and does so with compassion and commitment. He brings a smile and a healthy sense of humor to work every shift which fosters a positive environment for the team. He has been a wonderful asset to our team and to the nursing profession.”
A Special Connection
Jones’ experience as a patient in the PICU makes it easy for him to empathize with his patients’ fears and concerns. His story creates an instant bond.
“I can tell them about my surgery, and they get a little intrigued,” he says. “I can reassure them they will be OK and back to playing in no time. I think that gives them some comfort and encouragement to get through this without being as scared or emotional.
“I remember telling one kid we were brain buddies because we had the same surgery. He later wrote a card to me and said, ‘I hope we can be brain buddies forever.’ That really stuck with me.”