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Jennifer Beezley Holcomb was introduced to IU Health as a child when she became a patient at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. Years later she nearly died in a car accident and was transported by IU Health LifeLine Helicopter to Methodist Hospital. And that’s not all – she also became a nurse in the same unit where she was treated.
By IU Health Senior Journalist T.J. Banes, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jennifer Beezley Holcomb shakes her head as she tells her story. So many things are hard to imagine. For starters, she was the first person to be married on the Methodist helipad. After a near-death accident, she married a nurse who cared for her at IU Health Methodist Hospital.
The two are no longer married but remain friends. That nurse also had an influence on Holcomb’s career path. She went on to become a nurse in the same Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where she was a patient.
It’s true she didn’t choose to become a patient at IU Health, but she also looks back now knowing what an impact the hospital care had on her life.
Born with a cleft palate and abnormalities in the soft tissue growth of her inner ear, Holcomb received reconstructive surgery at Riley Hospital.
“When I was about 12 I went through a stage of wanting to be a vet and then I wanted to be a doctor. Someone I met said, ‘if you want to spend a lot of time with patients, become a nurse,’” said Holcomb. That stuck with her. At Wawasee High School in Syracuse, Ind. she focused on academics. It paid off. She got a full ride to Purdue and set her mind on becoming a nurse.
It was during her junior year when she was juggling a demanding academic schedule that she left campus at 5 a.m. for a two-hour drive to her Warsaw home. She visited her family dentist and at the end of the day headed back to campus.
She didn’t know then that trip would change the course of her life.
“I was so sleepy I knew I needed to pull over at the next rest stop. The next thing I knew I was plowing under a semi,” said Holcomb, who turns 43 this month. “The next thing I remember is the sound of a helicopter and the wind from the rotor blades.”
Holcomb was in a rural area traveling near State Road 115 and U.S. 24 – also known as the “Hoosier Heartland Highway” – near Wabash, Ind. A nurse was the first passerby to stop at the accident and instinctively left Holcomb buckled into her seatbelt–a move that may have saved her life due to massive internal injuries. She was transported by ambulance to a nearby hospital and was then airlifted by IU Health LifeLine helicopter to Methodist Hospital. En route to Indianapolis she was administered blood and fluids to help stabilize her.
“I had massive internal bleeding from grade five liver lacerations and was taken immediately to the operating room. I had bleeding in both lung cavities and a severe femur fracture. They removed a small portion of my liver that has regenerated, packed it and left my abdomen open for a few days. During that time I had acute respiratory distress and also disseminated intravascular coagulation,” said Holcomb. She describes the condition as severe blood clotting – blocking small blood vessels. She remained intubated and sedated for a week.
It was March 24, 1998. She was given less than a five percent to live. The next thing she remembers is looking at the calendar and reading “March 31, 1998.”
IU Health Surgeon Dr. Dale Rouch was on call the day she was transported to Methodist Hospital. Holcomb says she doesn’t think she’d be alive today without him. At the time of her accident she was engaged to be married to a nurse at Methodist. They decided not to wait until the original May date. So they arranged to be married on the LifeLine helipad – her nurses served as bridesmaids, IU Health chaplain Joseph Colquitt officiated, and her LifeLine pilot pushed her wheelchair.
“I am forever grateful to LifeLine for saving my life,” said Holcomb. Two months after the accident she was back at Methodist working as a unit secretary. When she graduated from nursing school she returned to the same cardiac intensive care unit where she was a patient and began her bedside career. She also was a LifeLine transport nurse, assisting with patients with ventricular devices.
“When I was in the hospital recovering my Purdue nursing instructors Dr. Ann Hunt and Dr. Margaret Hamilton came to visit me and washed my hair. They probably didn’t realize it at the time but that made such an impact on me. It showed true compassion that wasn’t all about medicine,” said Holcomb. As a cardiac intensive care nurse at Methodist Hospital Holcomb became known as “the cosmetologist” for the unit. She provided the same care for her patients – brushing and braiding their hair.
“I don’t know that I’d be nearly the same nurse if I hadn’t experienced the personal care from the patient side. It was the little things that made a difference – like not turning on a light when a patient is sleeping, and helping a family navigate that scary time by encouraging them to rub the patient’s feet or hold their hand,” said Holcomb. “I heard stories about nurses being fierce advocates for me when I was in the hospital and not leaving my bedside – even if it meant eating packets of crackers for their lunch.”
In 2011, after her first child was born, Holcomb knew she could not continue with full-time nursing. Like Holcomb, her son became a Riley patient. He was in NICU with breathing difficulties and eventually required ongoing occupational and physical therapy. Her second child, a girl, was born in 2014 and also became a Riley patient – diagnosed with Ketotic hypoglycemia – a condition characterized by episodes of low blood sugar. She remains in the care of Riley Hospital Dr. Brett Graham, who specializes in medical and molecular genetics.
Since her accident, Holcomb’s abdominal scars remind her of the tragedy. She stays laser focused on maintaining her health. It hasn’t always been easy. A few years ago she was working a night shift and experienced an episode of Atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart beat. Last year she was diagnosed with a rare condition known as platypnea-orthodeoxia syndrome, characterized by shortness of breath.
“When I had the car accident they saw abnormalities with my heart but at the time there were more important issues that needed to be addressed. It’s hard to tell if this is related to the accident or not,” said Holcomb, who returned to Methodist Hospital for treatment.
In recent years, she has considered the care of her children her full-time nursing.
“I will definitely return to full-time nursing some day as my children get older,” said Holcomb. “What I’ve learned over the years through professional and personal experience has definitely helped me be a better nurse. I tell people who are patients that the people who work at IU Health are here because they want to be here. They have a heart to care for people.”