by Sarah Sangosti
Friends, family and co-workers recently spent a sunny afternoon at the Cherry Creek State Park to honor a nurse who died while caring for her high-risk pregnancy patient.
They gathered on June 25 not only to remember Karen Woods, 43, but also to celebrate her life and give hope to the family she left behind.
Woods worked as a transport nurse one day a week, in addition to her position as an RN in the emergency department at The Medical Center of Aurora. Woods had worked at TMCA for 10 years, said Beth Cooper, clinical nurse manager, who added Woods made personal connections with everyone she came in contact with in her life.
Cooper, who knew Woods for six years, described her as "a quiet force" in patient care. She’d make sure her patients were clean, give them haircuts and always go the extra step to ensure their comfort.
"She was made to be a nurse," Cooper said. "She’d make sure the families were fed, and that they had warm blankets and pillows. She was a true patient advocate who had no fear when standing up for her patients."
Woods worked in all areas of the emergency department, depending on where she was needed most. Cooper said Woods came to work early so she’d have the chance to chat with her co-workers and make the personal connections that seemed second nature to her personality.
Ghislaine Milroy, emergency department billing supervisor, knew Woods for three-and-a-half years and remembers how she’d always lend a helping hand, no matter if it was for patients or a personal matter.
"When I needed a nurse to help me, she always would – no matter what," Milroy said. "That doesn’t happen very often."
So when the opportunity arose for Woods to work one day a week as a transport nurse, it seemed to fit her personality because it was another facet of nursing where she could help others.
Cooper said Woods was a very skilled critical care nurse, and working in transport was something she really enjoyed. She’d been in transport about one year before she was killed in an ambulance crash while working to save a patient’s life.
On May 9th, she was working on an ambulance carrying a high-risk pregnancy patient en route from Nebraska to a Metro Area hospital. The ambulance and a semi-truck where involved in an accident near Sterling, Colo., the details of which have not been released. Woods was killed in the crash, as well as the patient’s sister-in-law. The mother was flown to Swedish Memorial Hospital where she gave birth. Both are well.
Later, the patient said in a note that she remembered Woods working above her in the ambulance, Cooper said. When something went astray, Woods tightened the patient’s strap on the gurney to make sure she and the baby would be safe.
Cooper said it seemed as though Woods was protecting the patient when the accident occurred.
"She was the right person to be there. She was thrilled to be on that transport taking care of that mom and baby. She died doing what she truly loved. Not many people can say that," Cooper said.
So to honor Woods and her last act of patient advocacy, the staff at The Medical Center of Aurora decided to have the Karen Woods Memorial Picnic last month at Cherry Creek State Park.
Cooper said last summer there was a staff picnic, and it only seemed right to dedicate this year’s to Woods and make it an annual event in her name. In addition to the celebration, many people also wanted to help take care of Woods’ 5-year-old daughter, Brooke. They began thinking of a way to raise money.
Their answer came in the form of one doctor’s rat-tail, which had been the center of haircut discussions around the emergency department for a while.
Dr. Gilbert Pineda, who worked with Woods in the emergency department, agreed to have his rat-tail cut if at least $2,000 could be raised for Brooke. Cutting it for a charitable cause was the only way Pineda would part with the tail that he’d had for the past 16 years. The challenge began. Donations came in, and a drawing of Pineda and his rat-tail charted the progress toward $2,000. They raised almost $3,000.
One highlight of the picnic that day was when Brooke cut Pineda’s rat-tail with the help of her father, Lee. Pineda had his hair cut short so it would be easy for the 5 year old to make the snip. He said he misses the tail a bit, but it was a small deal to lose it for the cause.
People gathered that day in celebration. There was plenty of food and games. A sack race, tug-o-war and a three-legged race keep the mood light on a day that was created to give hope in the memory of a nurse who touched the lives of so many people.
The group also released purple balloons into the air for Woods. Purple was her favorite color, and the balloons sent up messages of the things her friends wanted her to know and what they thought of her. One thing many people seemed to think about Woods was that she was a hero long before the accident, Cooper said.
"I hope she knew she meant that much to us," she said. "She taught us it’s important to make connections, love and be loyal."
Contributions can be made to the Brooke Woods Education Fund, c/o Rural Metro Ambulance, 3350 Peoria St. #100, Aurora, CO 80010, or in Woods' name to the Denver Zoo, 2300 Steele St., Denver, CO 80205.