For years, Barbara Simms has helped aspiring doctors sharpen their diagnostic abilities by portraying patients suffering from a wide spectrum of ailments and disorders. But it wasn’t until she found herself in the midst of a real-life traumatic situation that she gained a true appreciation for the critical role that nurses play on the health care team.
When her longterm boyfriend at the time was involved in a horrific motorcycle accident that left him in a coma, Simms kept a vigil at his bedside for nearly a month. As he recuperated and endured surgery after surgery to reconstruct the right side of his body, she witnessed firsthand the highly skilled level of care given by the nurses at Strong Memorial Hospital’s Kessler Trauma Center. Not just to him, but also to her, which was invaluable in helping her cope with her loved one’s near-fatal ordeal.
“I don’t think I ever would have made that month without the nurses. They not only saved him, they saved me,” said Simms, who has been a volunteer standardized patient for the UR School of Medicine and Dentistry for more than a decade after retiring from a 32- year career as reading teacher in the Penfield School District.
“They dealt with his physical needs, but they also dealt with the emotional reality for the ones who were there with him. For me to give any support to him, I needed support from them. It was a different support for the two of us, but both of us needed it. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have survived that month.”
Simms was struck by the ways the nurses at the Kessler Center provided such compassionate and empathetic care to patients and families who were at their most vulnerable: The way they talked to her ex-boyfriend and treated him as if he was awake during his coma, how they wheeled him through the halls on a tour of the floor after he began speaking and expressed a desire to get away from the same four walls, or how the nurses patiently explained each procedure and test to Simms so she understood what was happening at any given moment. They even offered to call her at home to give her updates on his condition to ensure that she would occasionally leave the hospital to rest or run errands.
Even after her ex-boyfriend was released from the ICU, Simms continued to marvel at the exemplary attention they received through countless follow-up appointments and procedures.
“Those nurses really cared for him,” said Simms. “They were unbelievable. It didn’t matter what nurse was there. I had complete faith in all of them.”
Simms was eager to offer her appreciation to those who had made such a difference in her life. She considered nominating all the nurses in Kessler for a Strong Star – the hospital’s employee recognition program for outstanding service – but she felt like she had so much more to say than what could fit on one of the nomination forms.
So she decided to express her gratitude with a gift to the UR School of Nursing. The Barbara A. Simms Endowed Scholarship in Nursing, established in late 2017, will provide support for future generations of outstanding nurses to ensure that other patients and their families will benefit from the same tremendous nursing care that she witnessed. Since then, Simms has expressed her intention of including the School of Nursing in her will with a bequest that will have an even greater impact on supporting future students.
“I think if these nurses are that loving and that caring, there are other people out there who are just as loving and caring and want to do this for people, too. Why not give them a chance to do it?” Simms said. “Nurses are a real asset, and they are the life of the hospital. To me, the more you can make of them, the better. If that means helping them financially, that’s what I’ll do.”