Thrive by IU Health

August 11, 2022

Nurse was on a flight when she heard the request: ‘Medical assistance needed’

Nurse was on a flight when she heard the request: ‘Medical assistance needed’

Nursing is a second career for Janice Rhinehart. Years of raising a family and volunteering to serve others, helped prepare her for a profession that extends beyond IU Health.

By IU Health Senior Journalist, T.J. Banes,

Janice Rhinehart explains her marriage and family life like this: “We see a need, and we find ways to help.” Some of those needs come from circumstances; some of those needs come from sickness.

Take for example the time Rhinehart was at her hairdresser’s. Her stylist was feeling weak and talked about making a trip to immediate care the night before, complaining of a sciatic nerve. During that Saturday morning hair appointment, Rhinehart could feel the woman losing strength on one side. She took her to the hospital where she was diagnosed with a stroke. She has since recovered.

More recently, Rhinehart and her husband were on a return flight from Seattle to Indianapolis when an attendant came over the intercom asking for medical assistance.

“At first, I was uncomfortable. I sat for a minute and when no one else came forward I pushed my call light,” said Rhinehart. “I didn’t know it at the time but my husband, who was sitting in another row, was praying for me to get up.”

Rhinehart and her husband, Walter, met at church. They were married 43 years ago. Together, they raised four boys and two girls - ranging in age from 30 to 42. They also have two grandchildren.

“My husband is still my boyfriend. We still date and he knows me well,” said Rhinehart. He even knew she would think before she leaped into action.

After she pushed her call button, Rhinehart learned that a woman in the front of the plane had passed out. When she got to the passenger, she was sitting up, drinking juice. A respiratory therapist joined Rhinehart as she asked the woman several questions to assess the situation: “Did she have a history of high or low blood pressure, hypoglycemia or diabetes?” She also asked when the woman had last eaten. Rhinehart checked her pulse and blood pressure. Medical professionals were contacted on the ground to offer additional guidance. In a short time, the woman appeared to be stable, and Rhinehart helped her to her seat. She had also learned that the woman recently had rotator cuff surgery so she knew to take special care in lifting her upper body. Rhinehart suggested the woman follow up with her primary physician when she got home.

As she recently sat in her office at IU Heath Physicians Digestive and Liver Disorders, and relived the experience, Rhinehart also offered insight into her calling.

“Before I left my seat, the gentleman sitting next to me barely spoke to me. After the incident, he helped me get situated in my seat and said, ‘Wow, you’re a nurse.’ It speaks of how people respect the profession,” she said.

It’s a profession that Rhinehart, 65, grew into over the course of her life.

“From a young girl I remember being interested in medicine. My mom, who raised us by herself got me a chemistry set when I was about 10. That was so important in laying a foundation for me,” said Rhinehart. She is the middle child of seven. The chemistry set wasn’t the only gift her mother gave her.

“My mother taught us early that no matter how much you have, you always have something to give back. She’d be driving down the road, with all of us riding along and wondering if our own car would even make it to where we were going and if mom saw someone broken down on the side of the road, she’d stop and help them,” said Rhinehart, who enjoys spending time with her mom, age 87.

Rhinehart graduated from George Washington High School and pursued a career in laboratory science. Her husband, a US Marine Corps Vietnam War Veteran and Double Purple Heart recipient worked as a letter carrier until his retirement.

When she decided to return to school to get a nursing degree, Rhinehart was working full time and raising her family. She worked at IU Health North as a laboratory technologist while pursuing her nursing degree.

“In retrospect, I wonder how I did it. I had three children under the age of six and then I had a daughter born right before Easter. I remember coming home from the hospital and sewing their Easter outfits,” said Rhinehart. She was 57 when she received her nursing degree and launched her career working in med/surgery at IU Health North.

Even when her children were younger, Rhinehart followed her mother’s advice - teaching them the importance of giving back to others. She and her husband volunteer for various causes, most recently with prison ministry serving at Rockville and Pendleton Correctional Facilities, and Indiana Women’s Prison.

Their children have continued that circle of volunteering and serving.

And where had they traveled when Rhinehart was able to come to the aid of a fellow passenger mid-flight?

They were returning from Seattle where their oldest son was honored for his years of service in the US Navy and promoted to Senior Enlisted Rank. The senior enlisted rank requires months of commitment, along with high performance evaluations and peer recommendations.

Rhinehart expresses joy at attending the milestone event where her husband had the honor of pinning and “placing cover” on his son. As she recounts the event, her mind goes back to the hours-long plane ride home. She pauses and thinks about the passenger she helped and says, “My only regret is that I didn’t get her phone number to check on her.”