When asked, Karen Lester hesitates to say how she has made an impression others.
But as she pauses, she remembers a certain young man who told her how much he appreciated her never giving up on him. The young man was one of about 50 children Lester and her husband, Mike, have provided foster parent care for over the years. Now an adult, the young man came to their home when they already had two sons of their own. It was a rough start for the family but when the young man moved away, there were lots of tears. Lester describes the loss as “heartbreaking.”
The boy was one of about 50 children in the foster care of the Lester family. One of the children eventually became their adopted daughter.
Lester, a patient case manager at IU Health University Hospital, knows a little bit about compassion. Before coming to IU Health, she worked as a home healthcare provider.
She doesn’t think about how she made an impression on others but how they made an impression her.
There was the 15-year-old teenager with Kabuki Syndrome – a rare disorder that causes facial abnormalities, intellectual and growth delays. “She loved music and I loved hanging out with her. She is the reason I snap chat,” said Lester.
And there was the young boy with cerebral palsy who was so happy it made her smile every time she was in his presence. “The strength of his parents was such an inspiration to me and to everyone who met them,” said Lester.
Being a caregiver isn’t always easy, but Lester, 47, says she looks for the bright spots in every situation. She also relies on her faith and her husband of 28 years. The high school sweethearts were foster parents for seven years. Lester came to IU Health in April after she earned her Bachelors Degree in Nursing. She is currently working on completing her Masters Degree.
“I’ve been interested in case management for a long time. I still get to be with the patients but I’m not working on just immediate care,” said Lester. Her role includes working with a team of providers including doctors, nurses, social workers, pharmacists, therapists and family members to determine the patients’ aftercare.
“I try to meet with patients as soon as they come in to access their level of independence. If they are young and healthy and live alone, we need to make sure they are able to return to that same lifestyle,” said Lester. “If we have an elderly patient come in who has major surgery we may need to consider a longer recovery and how to best help them with their living arrangements.” That could mean everything from ordering oxygen delivered to the bedside to arranging for a walker or wheelchair. Most case managers work with about 20 patients a day.
“Every patient is different,” said Lester. “The thing I like the most is getting to know them and know their families, their personal stories and helping them move on to the next step after they leave the hospital.”
-- By T.J. Banes, Associate Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Banes via email at T.J. Banes or on Twitter @tjbanes.