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March 15, 2021

About women’s health: Nurse’s career spans more than four decades in OB/GYN

About women’s health: Nurse’s career spans more than four decades in OB/GYN

She’s been part of a team that delivered twins, triplets, quadruplets, and quintuplets; she’s held the hands of nervous moms, and soothed them through their grief. And now, Laura Fultz is preparing to retire from a long career in nursing.

By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org

When she started at IU Health Laura Fultz was 21 and fresh out of nursing school. She worked in the newborn nursery for two years, and then the postpartum unit. She spent almost 30 years in OB/ICU before moving to the IU Health Coleman Center for Women 14 years ago.

She was actually born at the three-story campus building once know as “Coleman Hospital.” Her seven siblings were also born there. The red brick structure is now “Coleman Hall,” a clinic for IUPUI students.

This month, Fritz is sharing those memories as she retires with 43 years of experience working in women’s health.

Fultz has seen a lot of history in the making over the years. She started her nursing career working for “Indiana University Hospital,” then saw the name change to “Clarian Health,” and then to “IU Health.” She’s worn uniforms that have evolved from turquoise, to Clarian blue, to whimsical prints, to the present day red and black.

And with those changes, she’s seen advancements in the area of labor and deliver and women’s health.

“One of the biggest changes is we didn’t have ultrasounds when I started in OB, so instead of finding out early in the pregnancy that you had twins, you might find out in the delivery room that there was more than one baby,” said Fultz. She was also involved with moms having a procedure called Percutaneous Umbilical Cord Sampling (PUBS). An ultrasound was used to guide an obstetrician's needle to sample blood from the umbilical cord while the baby was still in the uterus. This procedure provided fetal blood for vital diagnostic information, but also could be used to transfuse blood to a baby. "When I first started in nursing, I was checking the mom’s and baby’s vitals every 15 minutes and writing the results by hand. Now we have electronic medical records.”

****

One of her mottos is: “’Clarity of expression is the key to understanding.’ If your charting isn’t clear then communication didn’t happen,” said Fultz. She has used that motto many times over the years in training sessions with fellow nurses. One of the favorite parts of her career has been serving as a preceptor to new nurses. She also designed and presented classes for staff development for high-risk OB patients.

“It’s always been important for me to let new staff know that they can ask questions and that I’m able to help them find the answers. The whole environment in the Newborn Nursery, OB/ICU, and the Coleman Center has been one of education because we are a teaching hospital and we are evolving in mother-baby healthcare. It is a team effort,” said Fultz.

She’s witnessed those evolutions and advancements firsthand – not just in mother-baby care, but also in women’s health in general. Now, women can opt for a minimally invasive surgery such as robotic hysterectomy, and subscribe to other preventative health measures.

“When I started it wasn’t known that, HPV was a culprit for cervical cancer and now with Pap tests, and HPV testing we can identify and watch for cervical irregularities.

There is now an HPV vaccine which can protect a woman from exposure to HPV", said Fultz. Procedures like a Colposcopy, and LEEP can be done at the Coleman Center for Women that treat a patient and help to prevent an abnormal Pap from progressing to cervical cancer.

As she talks, she draws a graph showing how the incident rates of cervical cancer have dropped since the introduction of regular Pap tests.

****

Fultz’s mom who worked as a surgical technician influenced her career path. One of Fultz’s teen jobs was working at a hospital kitchen where she was exposed to the hustle and bustle of the medical field. Later as a student at Indiana University School of Nursing she shadowed a nurse working in OB/ICU. As she watched the nurse calm frightened mothers, Fultz knew that she wanted to be that nurse. Over the years she has provided numerous moms with the same comfort and also taught patient classes in childbirth preparation, breastfeeding, and newborn care.

She’s had several occasions when she felt she was that nurse providing a calming presence for a mother.

“I took care of laboring patients, preterm labor patients, and several different types of high-risk OB patients that had medical complications, but they came to our unit, because they were also pregnant,” said Fultz. Once she coached an anxious mother through childbirth and the woman told her afterward that she was so impressed that she wanted to become a nurse. And she did. On another occasion, a mother delivered twin girls at 19 weeks. The babies didn’t survive, because of such early gestation, but the mother was so touched by the compassionate care she received that she named one of the girls, “Laura” after Fultz, and the other one “Dawn” after the other nurse.

“When I first started, women labored in one room and moved to another room for delivery and then another room for recovery,” said Fultz. Now a patient is admitted to an LDRP room (Labor, Delivery, Recovery, Postpartum) which means they don't have to change rooms," said Fultz.

Her eyes tear up as she recalls an intimate moment between a mother and new father.

“The mother had just delivered the baby and the baby was in a blanket on the mom’s chest. Dad leaned over and kissed the baby and then kissed the mother and he said, ‘this was a good idea,’” said Fultz.

“It means so much to know I got to be part of their lives during the happiest days or the hardest days,” said Fultz. “I’ve always felt as a nurse you can make such a difference by caring and teaching. It is better to be a stepping stone rather than be stumbling block when you are providing patient care.”

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Fultz has also seen her share of adrenaline pumping situations. Her first delivery without a physician was when a newly admitted patient was in the bathroom with signs of labor. "The patient said, 'The baby is coming'. I laid her down and the next thing I knew she delivered so fast that the baby was in my arms eyeball to eyeball with me. I laid the baby on mom's chest for immediate warmth, dried the baby off, and called for help", said Fultz. She estimates she's completed about a dozen deliveries solo because they came so quickly the physicians or staff members weren't in the room. Once another newly admitted woman came into the unit as she was beginning to push. “She said that this was her tenth child. Again, it was a very fast delivery. When a mother uses the words ‘The baby is coming,’ she means it, so you need to get ready for a fast delivery," said Fultz.

On several occasions she’s been part of a team delivering multiples – twins, triplets, quadruplets, and sextuplets. Each baby is assigned a station staffed by a respiratory therapist, neonatologist, and a high-risk newborn nurse. Fultz has been the circulator for these types of cesarean deliveries caring for the mother. Her responsibilities also included getting footprints, drawing fetal blood from the placentas, and documentation to keep clear identification of each baby. She's also followed in her mother's footsteps and served as a scrub nurse during all her years in OB/ICU.

“I saw miracles happen every day. When I started working in OB/ICU, around 1981, the high-risk OB doctors had a great team with the Neonatologists at Riley. I am very proud to say that I was able to work among so much talent to give care to those high-risk OB patients,” said Fultz. “I remember having a high-risk nursery nurse watch me coach a patient anticipating a preterm delivery. The nurse pulled me aside afterwards and said, 'It is amazing what you do. I don't know how you do it.' I turned to her and looked at her patient who was only two pounds in weight, and I repeated the same words back to her. We all have talents. In a career of nursing each nurse must find her niche where she can soar."

****

Her career changed when Fultz had back surgery and moved to outpatient care at the Coleman Center for Women. “I missed the labor and delivery unit, but I could use my skills to help patients during their prenatal experience. I also learned so much about GYN care by switching to outpatient. In phone triage, fetal monitoring, and office procedures, I can teach and be involved with patients before and after delivery, or before and after GYN surgery,” said Fultz.

Before the pandemic, Fultz met regularly with nurses and physicians who have been part of IU Health’s OB/ICU providers for years. They call themselves the “Dinosaur Club.”

“We spend a lot of time talking about our experiences and also where we are now,” said Fultz. They also talk about life after retirement. For Fultz, that means spending more time with her family. She met her husband, Stephen, when she was a student at IU and they were married between her junior and senior year when he graduated. They then moved to Indianapolis. They have two daughters, Emily DeSmit, and Sarah Fultz, and one grandson, William DeSmit.

“I have loved my career and I’m going to miss the patient interaction but I have things to keep me busy,” said Fultz. Her goals are to exercise, eat right, and plan activities. She likes to quilt, knit, garden, and spend time with her grandson. She also hopes to become more involved in church activities and maybe learn to play the guitar her husband bought her when they were newly married.

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