April 26, 2022

Patient turns nurse and joins Northern Health after a remarkable patient experience

As we celebrate Patient Experience Week 2022, we acknowledge the incredible care provided by our staff that impacts patient experience every day.

Stephanie O’Connor, a mum of two, with her third baby on the way, has changed careers and became our staff member after a remarkable patient experience she had at Northern Hospital in May 2018.

Stephanie was preparing for the delivery of her first child, when she discovered she had a rare genetic heart condition – Long QT syndrome, which she could pass on to her children as well.

“This is not a common condition. When this was discovered, a large multidisciplinary team formed at Northern Hospital to take care of me and the baby. We had multiple appointments and planning sessions to ensure a safe delivery for all,” she explains.

“For some, sitting on those meetings would have been stressful. For me, it was a good experience because it was transparent and I was included in my care and had an opportunity to ask questions.”

After 38 weeks, baby Aubrey was born, and Stephanie had to be immediately sent to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for cardiac monitoring, while her baby was in the Neonatal Ward, just 110 metres away.

“There were lots of machines, people and things going on around me, but it all progressed without major issues. My baby went to Special Care to be monitored, and I went to the ICU for the next days,” Stephanie explains.

“They were fantastic there in the ICU. The distance between where I was and the baby’s ward sounds small, but it felt huge at the time. I was hooked onto so many devices and wasn’t able to walk around, and all I wanted was to see my baby. The team from both wards went above and beyond to ensure I could see my child, at least for a brief moment.”

Stephanie’s care was complex and she had to spend ten days in ICU. In the meantime, baby Aubrey was monitored in Northern Hospital’s Neonatal Ward, as her ECGs showed signs of the same condition. After four weeks, baby’s genetic tests showed she had inherited the condition.

“Having a baby is the happiest time in someone’s life – and I remember thinking, not only did I just discover I had a rare and serious condition, but I have given it to my baby as well,” she says.

Stephanie wouldn’t let her condition stop her from expanding her family – as she says “knowing is half of the battle”. She safely delivered her second daughter Ivy, also at Northern Hospital, and is planning to do the same with her third child. Luckily, Ivy’s genetics test came back negative.

While the whole experience of discovering a new condition whilst pregnant was frightening for Stephanie, she adds: “I can’t speak highly enough of my experience. As a patient, I know I have my part to play and it is a 50-50 relationship. Patients always have a huge role in their care.”

The whole experience motivated Stephanie, a former call centre manager, to reconsider her career. She now works in the Nursing Workforce Unit and is in her second year of nursing studies.

“Nursing is something I’ve always considered, but never actually thought I would go for. After the fantastic experience I had and all the people that I met at Northern Hospital, especially the ICU nurses, I realised I should take the plunge and just go for it,” Stephanie says.

Clare McCarthy, Director Quality Safety and Patient Experience, first met Stephanie and her husband Chris, at that first large multidisciplinary team back in 2018. “They are an incredible couple, generously sharing their experience with us,” says Clare.

“It’s been such a privilege to be involved in their care from the start, and see Steph embark on her nursing studies and then come work for us – it’s just unreal, and a testament to her and our amazing staff.”

Stephanie is now looking forward to completing her nursing degree and caring for others.

Featured image: Stephanie with her daughters Ivy and Aubrey.