Thrive by IU Health

December 02, 2022

Operating room nurse: ‘Treat every day like Christmas morning’

Operating room nurse: ‘Treat every day like Christmas morning’

She is one of three family members working at IU Health and she has a motto: “Act like You’re the Patient.”

By IU Health Senior Journalist, TJ Banes,

On any given day, Kellie Tillotson can be juggling up to 25 procedures. Working alongside a team of people she calls, “Unsung heroes,” Tillotson is an anesthesia nurse, caring for patients both at IU Health University Hospital and Simon Cancer Center.

She’s been with IU Health through four name changes and a career that spans 33 years including positions with Riley Hospital’s infectious disease unit, and IU Health West Hospital’s neurology unit.

“I love that neurology team. Their doctors and patient care is amazing, but seven months ago, I felt a pull to move to surgery,” said Tillotson. Part of that pull came from personal experience.

A cancer diagnosis resulted in multiple surgeries and treatments at IU Health University Hospital.

“They did such a great job taking care of me. I felt so at ease coming out of surgery and I knew they were not recognized often - partly because they are with the patient when we are asleep,” said Tillotson. She took treats to the staff to show her appreciation and then took the leap of faith joining the team.

She is quick to recognize IU Health Dr. Aladdin Hassanein for his professionalism and personal commitment to her surgical needs.

She joins her twin sister, Jamie Birkle, and her daughter, Janikka Tillotson in the unit. Birkle is a senior improvement leader, and Tillotson is a team lead, certified surgical technologist.

Sometimes I joke that this is “Kellie’s Clan” because I’m always recruiting family and friends to join IU Health. “Sometimes people don’t see all that happens in surgery because it’s not so out in the public eye,” said Tillotson. She talks about how one patient went in for a procedure on his birthday and the team orchestrated a chorus of “Happy Birthday” before his surgery.

“I often ask: ‘Have you been a patient, or do you know anyone who hasn’t been a patient?’ I think that explains why everyone deserves the very best care and we should always work to impact lives in a positive way,” said Tillotson.

“As one of the oldie but goodie staff members I explain my role like this: ‘You should treat every day like Christmas Morning. Every day is a gift and some days you may get the gift you were hoping for, and other days you may get the gift you weren’t so excited about but every day you should still hope for the best.’”