‘I’m Not Going to Leave Your Side’
Still groggy from the anesthesia, Justin Hart wondered why he couldn’t open his left eye.
The 32-year old corrections officer was lying in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) of The University of Vermont Medical Center, where he was recovering from a procedure to treat his atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat. He’d had the procedure, known as an ablation, several times before.
On duty monitoring his recovery was Christie Gordon, a registered nurse who had recently returned from maternity leave. Amidst an otherwise routine shift, Gordon stopped to check on Hart. As she entered the room, he seemed to be improving as expected -- both of his eyes were open.
“The problem was, he was telling me he still couldn’t see anything out of his left eye,” Gordon recalls. “In that moment, I realized that I was watching him have a stroke.”
‘Those Simple Words Changed Everything for Me’
Gordon immediately took action, issuing a stroke alert that summoned specialists and other rapid response physicians and nurses trained to deliver stroke care.
“In those first few moments, I found myself overwhelmed with uncertainty and wondering if I was going to make it,” Hart says. “I just started to cry.”
What Gordon did next has stayed with him to this day.
“She walked over and held my hand and said ‘I’m here with you. I’m not going to let anything happen to you. I’m not going to leave your side until I know you’re OK,’” Hart recalls. “And in that moment, those simple words changed everything for me. I calmed down and felt confident that things would work out.”
Tests would soon confirm that a clot was blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to Hart’s left eye, a type of stroke known as an ocular occlusion. During the next several days, Hart’s care team succeeded in breaking up the obstruction by gently massaging his eye, setting him on the road to recovery.
Throughout it all, Gordon was true to her word, never leaving his side.
Hart’s vision gradually improved. His recollection of those terrifying minutes in the PACU faded, overtaken by another, more powerful memory. He kept thinking about the power of Gordon’s gesture of support and the impact it had on him.
“I realized that I wanted to do for others what Christie had done for me,” Hart says. “I wanted to give back and be that person who will hold someone’s hand and say ‘I’m not going to leave your side.’”
A year later, Hart was an employee of the UVM Medical Center after he graduated from a phlebotomy program offered by Vermont Technical College. In the future, he plans to go back to school to become a registered nurse, a path his wife is currently pursuing.
“Only one of us in school at a time,” Hart says with a grin. “I’d really love to go on and become a nurse practitioner. For the time being, I’m just taking it slow and enjoying what I’m doing – it’s nice to see Christie around the halls too.”
“We’ve become friends,” Gordon says. “It’s amazing to have him around and to hear about the great work he’s doing – taking it slow with his patients, building trust and getting to know them. It makes me proud.”
For his part, Hart tries to make sure that Gordon never forgets how much her care changed his life.
“Every day, I try to be like Christie and give others the strength she gave me. There’s no better way to honor what she did for me.”