Steamboat Springs Because of her willingness to carry the 24-hours-a-day, seven-day-a-week load of helping high-risk newborns, Yampa Valley Medical Center's Tracy Heaberlin has been chosen as a finalist for the state's top nursing award.
"We're very lucky to have her. Many families in the valley are lucky," said Linda Casner, the hospital's director of nursing who nominated Heaberlin for the award. "She has a lot of energy and enthusiasm and dedication. We're very fortunate to have her working with our physicians."
The Nightingale Award for which Heaberlin was nominated honors excellence in nursing. Of the 40,000 nurses in Colorado, Heaberlin was one of 203 nominees and, now, one of 15 finalists. The 2001 Nightingale Awards will be presented at a banquet May 5 in Denver.
"I appreciate the acknowledgement of going above and beyond the expected role," Heaberlin said. "I've done a lot of work to get here."
Heaberlin, a neonatal nurse practitioner with 12 years in scrubs, humbly said that going above and beyond her expected role is a simple task when you love what you do. But her colleagues recognize all the hard work Heaberlin puts into that which she loves.
"I'll say she deserves it, whether she feels it or not," said Cheryl Kindred, the maternal child nurse manager who oversees Heaberlin's duties.
Becoming a nurse was a childhood dream of Heaberlin's and one the Steamboat native followed to medical school at the University of Colorado in Denver.
"The decision to become a nurse really wasn't one. It was something I had always known I was going to do," Heaberlin wrote in an essay to the Colorado Nurses Foundation.
Three years ago, Heaberlin returned to Steamboat after an impressive education and much-needed experience in Denver and Alaska.
During her time away, Heaberlin gained an extensive knowledge of how to care for premature babies and other high-risk newborns. She put that knowledge to good use when she returned, helping to create a Level II nursery in 1997 at Routt Memorial Hospital (which is now Yampa Valley Medical Center). Before the Level II certification, premature babies were flown to Denver for immediate care.
Last year, the other neonatal nurse practitioner left Yampa Valley Medical Center, and left Heaberlin with babies to attend to all hours of the day.
"For seven months, she did the program by herself. You've got to be ready at all times and she does it," Kindred said. "Her dedication to this program is amazing."
Heaberlin also was nominated for the Nightingale Award last year, but as the lone neonatal nurse practitioner, she didn't have the time nor the energy to fill out the paperwork necessary to become a finalist.
Things are different this year.
In August, Tracie Line joined Heaberlin in the Level II nursery, helping to take some of the pressure off Heaberlin.
Working with a small group of neonatal experts and support staff gives Heaberlin a great sense of accomplishment, she said.
"The intensity of the work the volume and the degree of illness is less (versus a large nursery with a large staff). It's so much more personal just by the nature of a small community," she said.
Avoiding deep emotional attachments to patients is something health-care educators stress to their students, Heaberlin said. But that's tough to do in Steamboat Springs.
"The beauty of a small community is the deeper relationships with the patient population. You always run into these people. There's no way around it," Heaberlin said. "There's a greater degree of emotional development, but it's more rewarding because of that."
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