Thrive by IU Health

February 02, 2018

Donna Ennis: The Nurse For Indiana’s First Heart Transplant

Donna Ennis: The Nurse For Indiana’s First Heart Transplant

It was incredibly terrifying territory. But for every fear that arose, the excitement and hope and marvel crept in to take over.

The year was 1982 and IU Health Methodist Hospital was ready to make history. It had a team, a dedicated team made up of only the best of the best – ready to perform Indiana’s first heart transplant.

On that team was nurse Donna Ennis, who remembers the sheer intensity of that time. She remembers gowning up to go into Annie Gardner’s room. She remembers wiping down the walls of her room all throughout the day.

Gardner, a 38-year-old mother with familial cardiomyopathy, was weak, susceptible to infection and germs. She had a failing heart that doctors said had, at most, 12 more months of life.

Gardner

“We were truly involved with some pioneers of the time,” says Ennis, now manager of thoracic transplant services at Methodist. “We had teams there around the clock. It was all so new and very exciting.”

After 45 years at Methodist Hospital, the first 29 as a bedside nurse, Ennis has seen a lot. A lot of firsts. A lot of lasts. And a lot that has changed.

But, what’s been most important to Ennis has never changed.

“What it’s all about, it’s about making a difference in lives,” she says. “About making the patients’ lives better.”

***

With a successful heart transplant performed by Dr. Harold Halbrook, and then a second transplant years later, Gardner went on to live 25 more years.

She saw her son graduate high school. She enjoyed water skiing. She became a precinct committeewoman. She participated in at least five World Transplant Games.

“She was such a remarkable woman,” Ennis says, “and an advocate for transplant at Methodist.”

And then, six years later, Ennis was there for another Indiana transplant first.

She was a nurse on the team for John Robert Wrancher, when the 39-year-old father of two young sons received Indiana’s first liver transplant in 1988. That same day, University Hospital performed a liver transplant on a patient, as well.

“To go back and see where we were then in the field of transplant and in caring for someone and going through that to see where we’ve progressed now, it’s amazing,” Ennis says. “We just have such a stellar transplant program.”

IU Health ranked 10th in the nation overall for organ transplants in 2017, performing 477. At Methodist, which does thoracic transplants – heart and lung – 65 lung transplants were performed last year, ranking 12th in the nation for volume. The hospital performed 14 heart transplants.

And Ennis was there overseeing all those transplants at Methodist. She was doing it in her role in management -- but with the heart of a bedside nurse.

***

Growing up in Indianapolis, Ennis had dreams of being a teacher. In high school, she played volleyball, kickball, was class vice president and in National Honor Society.

Academics were top priority in the Ennis household.

“My parents always encouraged us to go to college,” Ennis says. “Education was key growing up. That was most important.”

Ennis’ father spent 46 years with the Indianapolis Fire Department, part of that as chief. Her mother stayed at home until Ennis and her brother and sister had finished high school. Then, she went back to school to become a dental assistant.

One day, in high school, Ennis’ mother came to her and said something that changed her career path forever.

“She said, ‘Now Donna, you need to realize there aren’t a lot of teaching jobs out there,’” Ennis says. “She steered me toward nursing. I went into nursing and I loved it.”

Ennis graduated in 1972 with a nursing degree from Purdue University and then she landed a job at Methodist fresh out of school.

She started her career in labor and delivery and, after five years, moved to dialysis. From there, she transferred to cardiovascular critical care in the early 1980s. That’s when she cared for Gardner.

“I really loved that. The experience I gained there was incredible,” she says. “I just loved critical care. I just loved the heart program.”

And she loved that heart transplant. Yes. Transplant was now in her blood.

***

Ennis’ first job in transplant was as a kidney transplant coordinator. Then, when Methodist started its liver transplant program, she landed on that team.

She loved the continuum of care, being with patients before transplant, getting to know their families and then, after transplant, being there to care for them and following them for life.

“You really get to know the patients,” Ennis says. “You really get attached and you want to see them do well.”

In 2001, Ennis took on her management position. While it’s not bedside, and not hands-on patient care, Ennis is still touching patients’ lives every day.

Colleagues describe Ennis as “dedicated, hardworking and upbeat.”

“She is a true patient advocate,” says Michele Spencer, customer relationship manager and living donor advocate for transplant, IU Health University Hospital. “She always puts the patient first above everything else.”

More With Ennis

Personal: Ennis has two grown children, a son and a daughter, and five grandchildren. She is recently widowed from her husband of 28 years.

Hobbies: Ennis lives on Morse Reservoir and loves lake activities -- swimming, boating, kayaking, fishing and watching the sunsets. She also likes to shade garden and has a large flower garden. Ennis has two 5-year-old yellow labs, is involved with her church and likes to support Indiana college basketball, especially IU. She is a lifelong Indianapolis Colts fan, having attended almost every home game since the team came to the city in 1984. Her greatest joy is spending time with her grandkids.

Extras: In 1998, Ennis earned a second degree from IU Kelley School of Business. Through the years, she has been very involved with NATCO (North American Transplant Coordinators Organization), as a member and in leadership roles.

Retirement? “Maybe a few more years,” she says. “I’m not ready. I enjoy my job.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
 Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

Latest Stories

Filter from

December 02, 2020 “I thank God I’ve come through it” As a COVID-19 “long hauler,” Sarah Hagan found help through IU Health’s Convalescing CO... December 02, 2020 She cares for patients with COVID and carries on her mother’s legacy Her mother worked for IU Health, and for two decades this nurse has followed in her foo... November 30, 2020 IU Health COVID-19 Data IU Health is committed to being a trusted source of information for the public during t... November 30, 2020 Calling a Code Lavender If you’ve watched a hospital-based television show, you’ve probably seen the following ... November 30, 2020 Hospital workers – Giving hearts on holidays and every day They work tirelessly every shift, every day. Most never anticipated living through a pa... November 29, 2020 He was looking for a liver giver and she delivered Wayne Brown posted on Facebook that he needed a new liver. A long-time friend saw his p... November 24, 2020 IU Health Frankfort Hospital now open The new IU Health Frankfort Hospital is open and ready to serve you. A fence around the... November 24, 2020 Nurse down 75 pounds: ‘Self-care is vital, especially during a pandemic’ As a progressive critical care nurse, Kristy Fields sees many patients treated for symp... November 23, 2020 Q4 2020 Quarterly Report: COVID-19 brings community together, while social distancing Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and pre... November 23, 2020 Father of five girls gets wish with hospital bedside wedding Seven weeks ago, Matthew Rynearson was diagnosed with a neuroendocrine tumor. When he e... November 20, 2020 Transplant Gratitude Triggers $1 Million in Funding Technically, Jerome Josephs received a kidney when he underwent a transplant at IU Heal... November 19, 2020 In the Midst of a Pandemic, Three Foundation Team Members Achieve International Certification Diane Buzzell, Julie Paolillo and Kate Konzen have several new letters after their name... November 19, 2020 Rock band member chooses IU Health for testicular cancer treatment Minnesota native Ryan Keyes came to Indianapolis to play drums in a rock band. Now, he’... November 18, 2020 Offering help to go tobacco-free during COVID-19 People who are tobacco users and who vape have a higher chance of getting COVID-19. IU ... November 17, 2020 How to Stay Safe & Healthy This Holiday Season With COVID-19 cases surging across the state, it may be time to rethink your traditiona... November 17, 2020 Long-time nurse known for educating the next generation of nurses She has been at the bedside of countless patients – the sickest of the sick, and Marcia... November 15, 2020 Father Donates Kidney to Young Son: “It’s a Huge Sigh of Relief” By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, tfender1@iuhealth.org It was in her 20th we... November 13, 2020 Double transplant patient on quest to educate young adults with diabetes Even before his first transplant, Mike Davis knew the importance of self-care for diabe... November 12, 2020 How to Cope with Holiday & COVID-19 Stress With COVID-19 cases on the rise and the holidays around the corner, you may be feeling ... November 12, 2020 Lung cancer patient, non-smoker: ‘Anyone with lungs can get cancer’ It started with a mild cough that wouldn’t go away. Now Shauna Dalton is taking meds tw... November 11, 2020 Veteran’s Day – A family legacy for IU Health doctor IU Health Dr. Kevin Rice talks about his journey to the medical field and his service i... November 10, 2020 Better People, Better Patient Care: How a Philanthropic Gift is Paving the Way for Leadership Development at IU Health In just five years, Indiana may be experiencing a shortage of more than 60,000 physicia... November 10, 2020 Nurse who had COVID-19: “The positive is I can donate plasma to help others” The numbers are the highest they have been in months. COVID-19 continues to be a deadly... November 09, 2020 TCC Gives’ donated iPads help IU Health patients and families connect The isolation created by the COVID-19 pandemic has weighed heavily on everyone, but it ... November 08, 2020 ‘Hospital at home’ patient: ‘They spoiled me. I couldn’t have asked for better care’ In April, IU Health launched a program for ill COVID-19 patients that allowed them to r... November 05, 2020 New glucose management option helps COVID-19 patients Since the beginnings of the COVID-19 pandemic, healthcare professionals have learned th... November 02, 2020 Risky tumor removal threatened patient's ability to talk & swallow Daniela Gomez started experiencing severe headaches when she was 14 years old. For six ... November 01, 2020 First Altruistic Living Liver Transplant at IU Health After 10 years with an autoimmune liver disease, Matthew Prather was told it was time f... October 29, 2020 A look back at LifeLine rescue of crash victim: “A life-defining moment” It was in the early morning hours when LifeLine flight nurse Mike Collins was summoned ... October 28, 2020 First living liver recipient: Three months later and patient enjoys new life When Kelly Kinkade’s health began to decline, she turned to IU Health’s top-ranked tran... October 26, 2020 3 Healthcare Topics Every Hoosier Should Know About Before They Vote As we approach Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3, healthcare continues to rank high on ju... October 25, 2020 He thought he had COVID-19; Nurse practitioner suspected something else Ryan Gillen is beyond grateful. He says one special nurse who discovered his illness, i... October 22, 2020 Cancer patient, 28: ‘People say 2020 has been bad, but for me it’s a blessing’ He’s young, launching his professional career and he’s facing the challenges of a cance... October 22, 2020 For this student nurse, COVID unit has helped her grow PCA Kate Davenport: “It’s so important to meet people where they are and offer support,... October 21, 2020 Grant Expands Dementia-Support Services in Southern Indiana “It really does take a village when it comes to dementia care,” said Dayna Thompson, an... October 21, 2020 What Characteristics are the Most Important Part of a Safe & Effective Weight Loss Program? In today’s digital age, you can find weight loss plans everywhere. From diet pills that... October 20, 2020 This doctor has a reason to be a real man wearing pink Each year, the American Cancer Society raises money and awareness for breast cancer wit... October 15, 2020 Elementary teacher, 28, diagnosed with breast cancer Both her grandmothers had breast cancer, but Sarah Clark had no reason to believe her d... October 14, 2020 When Minutes Count: Know Risk Factors for Stroke Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and is a leading cause of long-term disabili... October 14, 2020 Putting on the White Coat: Celebrating an IU School of Medicine Bicentennial Scholar Image courtesy of IU School of Medicine Where once walked a scribe, following doctors ... October 13, 2020 Infant Loss: Two Mothers Open their Arms to Those who suffer Two Nurses at IU Health Arnett both suffered the loss of their precious newborns. Their... October 12, 2020 Philanthropy Funds Rooftop Garden to Offer Patients, Loved Ones and Team Members a Breath of Fresh Air In the midst of uncertainty and stress, it’s important that all of us take a moment to ... October 12, 2020 Understand the importance of safe sleep While the prevalence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in the United States has de... October 12, 2020 Olcott’s Gift Paves Way for Nurse Navigation at the New Regional Academic Health Center Joan Olcott will be long remembered as an important figure in the Bloomington community... October 11, 2020 Breast cancer patient found lump two weeks before mammogram At the recommendation of her family physician, Kelly Kelso scheduled a mammogram. Two w... October 09, 2020 Merriman Award Honors Compassionate Team Members Statewide Five IU Health team members around the state have won the “Lynda,” the Lynda A. Merrima... October 09, 2020 From Riley to University Hospital – Patient relies on music therapy He first came to IU Health as an infant and recently when he came back as an adult, Nat... October 07, 2020 Former school bus driver fights pancreatic cancer For 25 years, Alan “Dale” Albright drove a school bus. He looked at the kids on his rou... October 06, 2020 How Could My Alcohol Use Affect My Family? “It’s just one more drink.” “I haven’t had any legal problems.” “I worked really hard t... October 06, 2020 IU Health midwifery practice invites women to “call the midwife” In a nod to the popular PBS television series “Call the Midwife,” four IU Health nurse ... October 01, 2020 Mother’s devotion: Driven to improving mental health care After years of experiencing firsthand her son’s diagnosis of mental illness, Joan Ester... September 30, 2020 LifeLine crew reunites with seriously injured teen airlifted to Methodist It was his second time to board a LifeLine helicopter and this time, Brandon Stuckwish ... September 29, 2020 How to Recognize & Prevent Heart Disease During COVID-19 Have you given much thought to your heart this year? During the COVID-19 pandemic, ma... September 29, 2020 IU Health, IPS launch career development program at Crispus Attucks Upon graduation and completion of the fellowship program, students will be guaranteed a... September 28, 2020 Grant Connects People in Rural Communities to Emergency Behavioral Care Thanks to a new grant secured by IU Health Foundation, people in rural communities in n... September 24, 2020 White Memorial helping patient move from a motorized cart to walking the fields Gene Dallinger suffers from COPD and started working with pulmonary rehab at IU Health ... September 24, 2020 From North Africa to the U.S.: Expatriate encourages community engagement A native of Algeria, Mohamed Merzoug joined IU Health’s Community Outreach and Engageme... September 24, 2020 As he retires: Transplant leader dedicated to patients and hospital community After more than a decade of serving as IU Health’s Medical Director of Kidney & Pancrea... September 23, 2020 Lab worker driven by niece’s death from sepsis Thousands of children die each year as a result of severe sepsis. Matthew “Trevor” O’He... September 22, 2020 Methodist childbirth educator looks forward to Riley move The new maternity tower at Riley will centralize all inpatient and newborn care so even... September 21, 2020 In Pursuit of Health Equity: An Evolution in Healthcare At the crossroads of storylines between the COVID-19 pandemic and summer-long protests ... September 21, 2020 Practicing Mindfulness During Times of Uncertainty The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the fact that things in life can be out of our co... September 18, 2020 IU Health Arnett donates masks to local food banks Indiana University Health Arnett is donating masks to local food banks to help improve ... September 17, 2020 Two surgeries, one day - Father donates kidney to son When his son’s kidneys began to fail, Shannon Dobrucki did what most fathers would do –... September 16, 2020 IU Health Foundation’s Jessica Journey Receives International Industry Honor “Serving people with excellence, compassion, ethics, and positivity” has earned Jessica... September 15, 2020 Her nursing career is an extension of her life of empathy for others Melyssa Sams started her career later in life but she’s always been headed toward nursi... September 15, 2020 Hospital dietitian first came to IU Health as a pediatric patient Long before she even knew about careers in healthcare, Jennifer Golding was a patient a... September 14, 2020 Wear a Mask Because You Care … and Because It Works One of the best ways to protect yourself, your loved ones and the people in your commun... September 14, 2020 Why it’s Crucial to Get Your Flu Shot in 2020 2020 has taught us a lot of lessons. One major lesson being the importance of maintaini... September 10, 2020 Nurse: “I chose IU Health because I trust the oncology care” There are hospitals closer to her home, but when DaJuana Moore was diagnosed with breas... September 09, 2020 College student recovering from bone marrow transplant When she discovered the mass two years ago, Mayra Rodriguez completed treatment at IU H... September 09, 2020 IU Health Foundation Funds Officer Down Kits for Tipton Police & Tipton County Sheriff's Departments Pictured from Left: Thomas Sliwa, MD – Emergency Medicine; Brad Robins – Sergeant Tipto... September 09, 2020 IU Health Foundation Grant Helps People Quit Smoking Indiana ranks fifth-highest in the nation for tobacco use, but the IU Health West Centr... September 08, 2020 IU Health Team Member Gives to Transform Healthcare Inequities For Craig Brooks, transformation manager for IU Health Physicians, “transformation” is ... September 07, 2020 Healthcare at home with virtual visits As the COVID-19 case number increases throughout Indiana, more and more Hoosiers are fa... September 04, 2020 Indiana University Health Tipton Hospital opens COVID-19 testing site TIPTON, Ind. – Indiana University Health Tipton Hospital understands the need for a loc... September 03, 2020 Brain surgery on a former president? We can do that From president to patient: Amos Sawyer led the country of Liberia for four years, but i... September 03, 2020 Pharmacy Technician: "I'm exactly where I need to be." For 23 years, Jennifer Harshman has worked as a pharmacy technician. Throughout Harshma... September 02, 2020 Is Addiction Really a Disease? Is addiction really a disease or a matter of choice? Ask the mother who lost her 19-yea... September 02, 2020 Occupational therapist starts sexual health program for cancer survivors Addie Jacobs, occupational therapist at IU Health West Hospital, developed the idea for... August 31, 2020 Administrative Coordinator celebrates ninth year at IU Health Saxony Hospital Holli Smith, administrative coordinator, celebrated her ninth year as an IU Health Saxo... August 28, 2020 How COVID-19 Affects Heart Health COVID-19 is a disease caused by a virus that is closely associated with a very importan... August 28, 2020 Guest Relations team members work to provide patients and visitors with a memorable experience Sonali Patel and Emely Villalta know how difficult it can be for patients and visitors ... August 27, 2020 Open Arms Miscarriage and Infant Loss Support Group Two nurses from IU Health Arnett are teaming up to lead a support group called Open Arm... August 26, 2020 Father Patrick is a ray of sunshine at Methodist Hospital “Chaplaincy is not all about religion. It’s about being present through human suffering... August 25, 2020 Saxony Knee Replacement Patient is Grateful for Her Personalized Care Andrea Colbert worked with Dr. Leonard Buller, orthopedic surgeon at IU Health Saxony H... August 25, 2020 Q3 2020 Quarterly Report: Ball Memorial Hospital Foundation joins IU Health Foundation family Crystal Hinson Miller, chief philanthropy officer for Indiana University Health and pre... August 20, 2020 COVID patient with down syndrome: “Thank you God; You saved the day” She was alone and an hour away from the most trusted people in her life – her parents. ... August 19, 2020 New Website Focuses on Possibilities of Philanthropy Three years after IU Health Foundation opened its doors, a revamped website focuses on ... August 19, 2020 Patient: “Extremely rare disease diagnosed because I was at a teaching hospital” Some of her symptoms went unrecognized; others were more obvious. In the end, it was a ... August 17, 2020 IU Health North Clinical Educator Supports New Nurses and PCAs Megan Miller, clinical educator at IU Health North Hospital, discovered her love of nur... August 17, 2020 IU Health Frankfort now offers Pulmonary Function Tests (PFT) “PFTs are a group of tests that measure how well your lungs work,” explains Kareena Wel... August 17, 2020 Nurse: “I can help save people but I can also give them dignity in the final time” She’s spent three decades caring for critically ill patients. Jennifer McAvene knows th... August 17, 2020 IU Health North Lactation Consultant Helps Mothers Through Their Breastfeeding Journey After experiencing personal struggles with breastfeeding, Martha Ollikainen, neonatal i... August 14, 2020 IU Health West Lactation Consultant Shares the Importance of Breastfeeding Jan Record, lactation consultant at IU Health West Hospital, knows how difficult breast... August 13, 2020 Transplant patient: “The nurses were my lifesavers” At the worst of times, Angela Michael was so ill she didn’t think she could make it thr... August 11, 2020 Nurse Spotlight: Ashley Ritsema After suffering a pregnancy loss, Ashley Ritsema, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) n... August 10, 2020 COVID-19 Funds Expand Yoga Programs Donors to the COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund have helped to bring the healing powers of y... August 05, 2020 IU Health to add eight blocks to downtown campus, build new $1.6B hospital In a major transformation of its downtown medical campus, Indiana University Health pla... August 05, 2020 IU Health files plans for transformative new hospital in downtown Indianapolis INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana University Health has outlined plans for a world-class ho...