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Richard Dillon was in end stage liver failure. The medical team knew things were dire. Dillon did, too.
Still, he continued on with his cheerful demeanor, his humor – and his love of all things “Star Wars.”
And then, Dillon met an unlikely partner in his “Star Wars” love. Her name was Brandie Kopsas-Kingsley, his nurse at IU Health University Hospital.
One night, when he wasn’t sleeping well, Kopsas-Kingsley took her laptop into his room and showed him the blueprints for the new Disney “Star Wars” theme park.
“I swear two hours passed looking at that stuff,” says Kopsas-Kingsley, a nurse and night shift coordinator for the medical intensive care and progressive care units at University. “We were totally nerding out.”
The two bonded over the “long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” space series. It just so happens, Kopsas-Kingsley’s husband, Tommie, is a huge “Star Wars” fan. One of the couple’s first dates was to a “Star Wars” convention.
Kopsas-Kingsley decided something epic must be done.
The result was a masterful surprise. Kopsas Kinglsey brought in a full-costumed group of “Star Wars” characters – part of 501st Legion – to Dillon’s room.
When a Stormtrooper popped his head around the door, Dillon couldn’t believe it. He was given an authentic Stormtrooper helmet. He was elated.
When Dillon passed away, that “Star Wars” group lit up websites across the country in his memory. And since that day in November of 2015, they have spread their force throughout the IU Health system.
The 501st Legion now visits Riley Hospital for Children, Methodist Hospital and University regularly. Kopsas-Kingsley is always by their side.
“People will say, ‘Oh, you’re the ‘Star Wars’ nurse,’” she says.
Yes, she is. But Kopsas-Kingsley is so much more than that.
From tiny wishes, to small requests, to big “Star Wars” surprises, she sees her job as one that extends far beyond the realm of a typical nursing galaxy.
“At the end of the day, we get to go home and they don’t,” says Kopsas-Kingsley, a mother of two, who has been at University since 2011. “They are going to remember how they were treated, how they were cared for here. Either, we can be the bright part of their story or we can be the bad part of their story.”
Her plan was to be a history teacher. Kopsas-Kingsley loves ancient history. She graduated with degrees from IUPUI in history and classical studies. She made plans to go to Greece to work.
But, as often happens in life, things took a turn.
The call came from her uncle. Kopsas-Kingsley’s great-grandmother had fallen in the bathtub. She had been lying there for hours, bleeding and crying for help, when a maintenance man found her.
When Kopsas-Kingsley got to the hospital room, her great-grandmother was in bad shape. But as she watched the team at work, the doctors and nurses, the way they cared for her great-grandmother, she started thinking.
“I thought, ‘You know what? This is pretty cool,’” she says. “These people are awesome.”
Her great-grandmother ultimately passed away from the accident. Kopsas-Kingsley never went to Greece.
She went to school to become a nurse.
In 2011, Kopsas-Kingsley landed a job as a full-time nurse in the medical intensive care unit at University.
“It’s the sickest of the sick,” she says. “And it’s nurses working at the top of their game.”
Kopsas-Kingsley, also a certified critical care nurse, will graduate in December with a bachelor of science in nursing. She loves her unit and she loves the fast pace. She also loves the relationships she builds.
In her unit, though, there is a high mortality rate. People often don’t make it out. And it’s in those darkest of times that Kopsas-Kingsley shines.
Just recently, Kopsas-Kingsley saw a patient who needed her hair washed. A good wash.
So, she took a bedpan and laid the woman’s head back in it -- like a sink.
“Just the simple things,” she says. “One of the things I teach the newer nurses is, regardless of how much you know, if the room is clean and the patient looks comfortable and the patient looks cared for, the family is going to feel better.”
When she can, Kopsas-Kingsley likes to joke with patients and their families. She likes to make things fun and tease them.
“But sometimes you can’t make it fun,” she says. “Sometimes, it’s just all about making it through the night.”
What does the patient need? That’s what Kopsas-Kingsley often asks. There was Dillon who got that Stormtrooper helmet.
There are the patients who seem restless at night. Kopsas-Kingsley knows about the 8-hour lullaby channel on YouTube. She turns it on for them and they are soothed.
Her superiors are taking note of this nurse, who stands out.
“Brandie is an up-and-coming nurse leader who is creative and dedicated,” says Teresa Gibbs, director of clinical operations, critical care at IU Health. “She always puts patients and families first.”
Among Kopsas-Kingsley’s most memorable patients was a young woman who was in organ failure. Her fiancé was flying in to see her. The young woman wasn’t expected to make it through the night.
Kopsas-Kingsley comforted the young woman’s parents, as they thought about funeral arrangements. She then made room on the hospital bed, strategically placing cords and lines and machines so the woman’s fiancé could lie next to her.
She put on the couple’s favorite music and turned down the lights – giving them one last night together.
“A lot of times, it’s not about a good clinical outcome,” Kopsas-Kingsley says. “But in 10 years, that’s going to be their memories, how those last days and moments were. How the family was cared for. How she was cared for. And that is what truly makes a difference.”
-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
Reach Benbow via email email@example.com or on Twitter @danabenbow.