Distinguished Alumni Award

Photo of Heather Lockett, Nursing graduate

Heather Lockett
2014 Inspirational Alumni Award Recipient
Class of 2012, AS Nursing

The road to my success and happiness has been long and riddled with potholes.

I first knew that I wanted to be a nurse in 2004, when a friend of mine hired me to help out at an agency that managed group homes for mentally disabled adults. The experience of caring for such a wide variety of clients with such complex and chronic health problems intrigued me. I provided total care —cleaning their homes, cooking meals, driving clients to appointments, bathing and toileting, and giving medication. I began to learn more about the healthcare system, pharmaceuticals, living with sickness, and even death. At this point, I knew deep down that I was born to take care of people.

In 2006, I enrolled at the University of Saint Joseph and was soon accepted into the nursing program there. Through the nursing program, I began working at Hartford Hospital as a patient care associate (PCA). While I took on tasks in the emergency department, labor and delivery, intensive care unit, cardiac telemetry, medical surgical, and transplant, I mainly worked in the oncology and palliative care unit. I acquired a wealth of knowledge and gained more experience than any class or book could give me. I learned to relate to people from all walks of life and developed keen assessment skills. In the classroom and at clinical, I was able to put my real life work skills to good use. I was slated to graduate in 2008.

At the time, it seemed like I had the world in my hands and that my dreams were becoming reality, but unfortunately, in November 2007, my father suffered a perforated gastric ulcer and was sent for emergency surgical repair. Subsequently, he developed septicemia and spent almost a week in the intensive care unit. The therapies used to support his fragile organ systems during this time overwhelmed his already weakened heart. He was in the hospital for over 30 days and at a rehab facility for an additional two weeks.

Because my mother was the primary source of income and health insurance for the family and had to continue to work full-time, I was forced to make some decisions. I had to choose between my dream and family. I began missing more and more classes and clinicals to give more attention to my father’s care and rehabilitation. Soon after, I withdrew from classes. For me, it was a no-brainer and to this day, I have no regrets.

Although I continued to work as a PCA, I was devastated that I was no longer a student. It was difficult to watch my classmates progress while I was left behind, but I was determined not to waste the knowledge I had gained. I wasn’t in school any longer, but no one could stop my studies except for me. I went to a bookstore and purchased a comprehensive NCLEX study guide. For the next few years, that is what kept my fire burning. It kept me thirsty for knowledge and eager to return to school someday and get a degree in nursing.

The majority of 2008 was spent working night shifts and caring for my father during the day. The trauma his body had endured left his heart’s ejection fraction at only about 10%. I had to work hard to understand his condition and what he needed. For the first few months, my father needed help doing just about everything since he was so weak. I prepared all of his favorite foods from scratch to cut down the sodium content, handled all of his prescriptions, assisted him with bathing and dressing, closely monitored his weight and fluid intake, kept track of and transported him to all appointments, and kept my mother informed.

By January 2009, a little over a year since the surgery, my father was able to drive and had a measure of independence back. The doctors made his poor prognosis clear, but we wanted to make sure the time he had left would be enjoyable. At this point, I felt that it was a perfect time to go back to school for nursing. I chose Goodwin College because I needed flexibility, an intimate setting, and a community to support me if my father became seriously ill again. I was finally back on track with my dreams.

In April 2009, I went to an oncologist appointment with my mom. She had survived breast cancer in 2004 and had to see her oncologist periodically for scans and follow ups. Other than the breast cancer, my mother was overweight and had Type 2 Diabetes and hypertension, but compared to my father, she was the perfect picture of health. We sat in silence and disbelief as the doctor informed us that she had metastatic non-small cell lung cancer. The doctor went into treatment options available, but it was clear that my mom only had about one year of life remaining.

I was devastated again.

As the treatment began, my mother wasted away. The pain, nausea, and fatigue she experienced were unbearable. She lost almost 100 lbs. over the course of a year from changes in appetite and tumors attacking her body. Now, instead of taking care of one parent, I was taking care of two – two schedules to maintain, two pill boxes, two sets of teams of doctors, two sets of taste buds to please.

Times were harder than ever. I was reeling. I was trying to do it all.

Because I was determined not to fail in my studies, my performance at work began to suffer, and in September 2009, I lost my job as a PCA. I saw my new status as unemployed as an opportunity to give more to my family and education.

I was ecstatic when I got accepted into the nursing program at Goodwin College in March 2010. My parents were so proud of me. I was so eager to learn and excel. I dreamt that maybe one or even both of my parents would prove their prognoses wrong and live to see me get pinned. Both of my parents were already introducing me as “my daughter the nurse” because I had been their personal “nurse” for so long, but I was excited to finally have the chance to make it all reality.

Sadly, neither one of my parents made it to my pinning ceremony. My mother passed away during my first semester in the nursing program, and my father passed away during my third semester.

Often times, when I feel sad or discouraged, I can hear my mother and my father. I hear their voices in my ear as if they were still right here next to me. I am thankful for all of the experiences I have had, both good and bad, the happy times and the sad times; however, it is the challenges that I have been through that have given me strength and endurance. Looking back, I know that it was the support of my family, friends and Jehovah God that helped me strive. Without that foundation, I would have crumbled under the pressure.

During my time at Goodwin College, I made the Dean’s List a number of times, and in November 2011, I was chosen by my fellow classmates to receive the Connecticut League for Nursing’s Peer Recognition Award for accountability, leadership, and commitment to nursing care. I also graduated with honors.

I obtained my associate degree in 2012 and was officially recognized as a registered nurse by the state of Connecticut on January 31, 2012.

Currently, I am employed at Saint Francis Hospital & Medical Center in the float pool and care for patients in virtually any area of the hospital that might have a staffing need, including cardiac telemetry and medic al surgical units, oncology and orthopedics.

I am also happy to say that I married the love of my life, James Lockett, in June 2014. He supported me throughout my college experience and losing my parents.

I look forward to the future with hope and courage.