With Nurse, an Empathy Born of Pain

Avery Chapman, 3, with brothers Bryce, 8, left, and Conor, 6. She will be treated at Children's for crossed eyes.
Avery Chapman, 3, with brothers Bryce, 8, left, and Conor, 6. She will be treated at Children's for crossed eyes. (Family Photo)
By John Kelly
Thursday, January 11, 2007

Jennifer Chapman practically grew up in the hospital. By the time she was 15, she'd had 20 surgeries to correct the cleft lip and cleft palate she was born with.

Perhaps that's what set her on her career path. She would be a nurse, Jennifer decided, and she knew exactly the kind of nurse she would be: the kind who cared for children and the kind who explained to her patients every little detail about what was going to happen to them.

"Kids are smarter than we give them credit for," said Jennifer, 37, of Ellicott City. "People say, 'Oh, it's not gonna hurt.' Well it does hurt, and you need to tell them that."

And so Jennifer vowed that when she became a nurse, she would level with her patients. She graduated from Einstein High School and got her nursing degree at Shepherd University in West Virginia. Then she went to work at the place where she'd had most of those operations: Children's Hospital, first in the neonatal intensive care unit, then in a surgical ward, and then the emergency and transport departments.

She was the kind of nurse she had preferred: one you could trust. It's going to hurt, she would say before putting in an IV. But it will stop hurting, and if you hold still, we can do this together quickly. Then the hurt will go away.

When she was growing up, before the operations, Jennifer had endured teasing from other kids, who made fun of the scars on her face and the way she talked. Her parents were always there for her.

"They made sure I knew that just because of this, it shouldn't stop me from doing what I wanted to do," she said. She met Darrell, the man who became her husband, on a blind date. They had two healthy boys, Bryce, now 8, and Conor, now 6. And three years ago, when the family was living in Belgium, a daughter, Avery, was born.

Jennifer, the nurse who knew what her patients' ordeals were like, was now the mother who knew what her child's ordeals would be like, for Avery has a cleft lip and palate, too.

"I know all the surgery she has ahead of her," Jennifer said. "It's hard for me to think that my daughter is going to have to go through the same things I did, the pain and the teasing."

There's something that makes it easier, though. The family is back in the Washington area, and Avery is being treated at Children's. Next month, Avery will have surgery to correct her crossed eyes. Jennifer asked that Dr. Matthew Becker, her favorite anesthesiologist when she was a patient, be the person who puts Avery into her deep sleep.

"I'm really picky about my kids' doctors," Jennifer said. "That's why I went there."

Helping Children's

"We're not all good-looking, but a kid ought to have a right to look normal," said Dr. Mike Boyajian, the Children's plastic surgeon who treated Jennifer as a teenager. Dr. Boyajian, who has spent his entire career at Children's Hospital, is one of fewer than a dozen plastic surgeons in the country who take only pediatric cases.

Said Dr. Boyajian, "We really owe it to these kids to try to provide them with an interface to the world that allows them to be themselves, so when you meet them you see the face, you don't see the problem."

Thousands of children have been able to put their best faces forward after being treated at Children's. Many of them depended on the kindness of strangers, people like you who have made tax-deductible donations to our annual fundraising campaign. All the proceeds we receive help pay the medical bills of children without insurance. If you've given in the past, I hope you will again. And if you haven't, I hope you will now. To donate, make a check or money order payable to "Children's Hospital," and mail it to Washington Post Campaign, PO Box 17390, Baltimore, Md. 21297-1390.

To donate online using a credit card, go to http://www.washingtonpost.com/childrenshospital.

To contribute by phone using Visa or MasterCard, call 202-334-5100.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company