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As days turn into months, nurse’s intensive care is intentional care

IU Health University Hospital

As days turn into months, nurse’s intensive care is intentional care

They have shared a number of holidays in the hospital ward and now this nurse and patient are preparing for Easter with a focus on their shared faith.

By TJ Banes, IU Health Senior Journalist,

Nurse Allison “Alli” Lehr first met Nicole Ambrose when she was wheeled from the operating room to the transplant intensive care unit of IU Health University Hospital. That was the first week in July and Lehr had just started working at IU Health.

Over time, Lehr, 25, learned more about Ambrose, 42. Like Lehr, Ambrose is married and is fond of her sweet pup. It was after Ambrose gave birth to her son, Carson, 14, that she experienced a post-pregnancy clotting disorder. As the condition intensified, blood flow was cut off from her abdominal organs.

A resident of the Parke County town of Jessup, Ind., Ambrose underwent a multivisceral transplant. In the care of Dr. Richard Mangus, she received small and large intestines, a stomach, liver, and pancreas.

The IU Health Intestine/Multivisceralvisceral Transplant Program began in 2003. Adults and children who need an intestine transplant or MVT (intestine combined with two or more abdominal organs) benefit from IU Health’s patient-centered approach. The multidisciplinary team determines the best course of treatment for each patient. In 2022, IU Health performed 459 transplants or 79% of the 581 total transplants performed in Indiana.

For many patients, like Ambrose, there is a lengthy recovery time. Lehr knows firsthand about that recovery.

“I’ve always had the urge to help people, especially those going through the hardest times,” said Lehr, who received her nursing degree three years ago from IUPUI. Five years ago, her dad underwent a heart transplant, leaving a lasting impact on Lehr’s career focus.

Ambrose was the first multivisceral patient in Lehr’s care.

As the days turned into months, Lehr learned more and more about Ambrose. They shared a deep connection through their Catholic faith. Each day they read devotions together and they’ve shared communion, administered by the hospital chaplains. They also share a love for reality TV, especially, “The Bachelor,” “The Kardashians,” and “Real Housewives.” Ambrose also got Lehr hooked on basketball.

“My favorite part about my relationship with Nikki is that we do daily devotions every shift that I work. We do readings together and then we talk about all the positives of our faith. It helps us both by fixing our eyes on Jesus and remembering how amazing he is through everything. I’m very thankful for our special friendship,” said Lehr.

Before her illness, Ambrose worked as a counselor at a correctional facility for children. Lehr said much of that gentle guidance has come out when she talks to Ambrose.

“Here she is in this bed, trying to heal and she is insanely inspirational to all of us. She’s the sweetest person and so positive about her fight,” said Lehr. She’s not the only nurse influenced by Ambrose. Lydia Stone and Lisa Schutz-Bentaieb also love spending time with Ambrose. They joined forces to hang twinkle lights in Ambrose’s room. Lehr covered the walls in Ambrose’s room in white paper angels with inspirational sayings, such as “Focus on Me,” and biblical scriptures. There’s also a funny quote by Khloe Kardashian.

“Everyone loves Nikki. She makes OUR days better,” said Stone. Another patient who underwent a multivisceral transplant also makes a point to come and visit Ambrose and bring her candy.

Music is a big part of their shared relationship. It’s not unusual to hear, Kane Brown’s tunes playing during bath time. As another holiday grows near, Ambrose expressed sadness at missing Easter at home. Lehr did what she has done many times before - gave her patient a little extra pampering. There have been times when she has colored and styled Ambrose’s hair. For this holiday, she washed and braided her hair and painted her nails a soft spring hue. When Lehr first started her career working in a nursing home she often painted the nails of the female residents.

“Nichole has talked about how she hides Easter eggs for her son. We may have to find a way to make that happen when her husband and son come to visit,” said Lehr. “We’ve spent Christmas and Valentine’s Day together and now here we are, marking time and trying to make the best of her recovery. This is one of the things I love about my coworkers and patients in transplant. I think at IU Health we take a lot of pride in being more than just medical professionals to our patients,” said Lehr. “We try to celebrate with them and do everything we can to encourage them to keep fighting.

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