By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Going to a hospital is an unpleasant experience for most. Now, imagine how an adult would feel walking into the hospital where she had to spend a good portion of her childhood getting treated in the intensive care unit.
At birth, Emily Busha suffered from a series of serious medical conditions that required her to frequently receive comprehensive treatment at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital in Tacoma.
After she was brought home, she immediately needed to return to the hospital to receive round-the-clock medical care. For the next 10 years, Busha was a frequent visitor of Mary Bridge, having been readmitted dozens of times. Before entering preschool, she had to undergo four abdominal surgeries at the medical facility.
One might think the last place Busha, a Port Orchard native, would want to spend any time as an adult would be at Mary Bridge. But for some, life can often take a strange, circuitous journey. That hospital — her home away from home as a child — is where she is employed today as a nursing student.
And she could not be any happier.
Busha is currently a nurse-in-training at Mary Bridge and is enrolled in the nursing program at Seattle Pacific University. Next month, the 21-year-old woman will graduate with a nursing degree, and if all goes as expected, Busha will become a registered nurse and work in the hospital she was practically raised in during her youth.
“I feel choosing this career was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made,” she said. “I remembered all the fantastic care I received at Mary Bridge and it was really easy for me to choose to become a nurse. To work at Mary Bridge was my goal.”
Busha offers a litany of reasons why she enjoys being a caregiver.
“There are so many. I love working in pediatrics because you work with the patient and the parents, the whole family unit,” she said. “I enjoy being able to be an integral part of the health of a child. And I love to be there, play with them and make them feel better.”
Amazingly, when Busha goes to work at Mary Bridge, she often works alongside several nurses who cared for her during her childhood stays at the hospital. Working with these nurses has been humbling, Busha admits.
“It’s super cool I am able to work with them on a day-to-day basis. I almost feel like I don’t deserve to work with them because I’ve always looked up to these amazing people. It’s definitely special that I get to do that,” she said.
Busha’s early years were punctuated with medical procedures conducted in the same units she works at today.
“I was born with Total Colonic Hirschsprung’s disease and neuronal intestinal dysplasia. They have affected me my entire life,” she explained. “They put me in the hospital when I was born, and I’ve been in and out of the hospital all of my life for various illnesses related to them.”
At birth, Busha’s intestine did not work properly and her digestive system was unable to process food. This deprived her young body of the nutrition it needed to develop. The solution to her condition, a total colectomy, called for her large intestine and colon to be removed and her small intestine to be reconfigured to allow her body to absorb nutrients.
This rare congenital condition led to numerous Mary Bridge stays in the surgical unit. Today, Busha describes herself as healthy but she’ll have to endure the lingering effects of her chronic condition for the rest of her life.
As the end of her college days approaches, Busha works part-time between classes as a nursing technician, a position reserved for nursing students since it enables them to gain clinical experience while working toward becoming a registered nurse.
“My position is to be a second pair of hands for nurses and other employees. I do things like help start IVs and assist with treatments and procedures. I also sit with kiddos when their parents go for coffee.
“I am really good at feeding babies and snuggling babes,” she said with a smile.
Busha works in the medical-surgical and pediatric intensive care (ICU) units, two floors she stayed on many times as a youth. Patients on “med surg” are often recovering from surgery. The ICU unit houses more serious cases. She also works with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Her charges range from newborns to young people up to 18 years old.
It is not by chance that she works with the most afflicted children.
“It’s definitely by choice. I have a passion for working with kiddos who have really serious prognoses. I like getting to know their families and spending time with them.”
Dealing with tough cases provides the nursing student with big payoffs.
“When you work with kids who are sick, it’s really nice to work with them for a couple of weeks and then get to see them leave the hospital. Walking them to their car is a really great experience.”
Busha’s experience as a patient at Mary Bridge allows her to easily relate to what her own patients are going through.
“I remember one child who had a similar condition [as mine] and I told them, ‘Hey, I have had surgeries here, too, and I’ve been in your position.’ They were kind of like, ‘Oh, really?’ They were surprised that someone could have their same experience.”
Parents of children with the same medical condition that Busha has are particularly comforted when they learn of her medical experiences as a young patient.
“I’ve been able to meet multiple parents who have kids that have my same disease. This one family was so overcome with emotion and so excited that they met someone with their kiddo’s disease that was healthy and happy, and had a job and a life. It was super encouraging and inspiring for me to be there for them.”
In a few weeks, Busha is destined to begin the job of her dreams – being a full-fledged RN at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.
She cannot see herself doing any other job.