Recipients of the Dare to Care Award represent the values of nursing in their service to the community. An award recipient is a nurse who, through volunteerism, advocacy, or other community work has gone above and beyond the call of duty to make a difference in the lives of others and has been an integral part of establishing or growing an organization that reflects the values of nursing. Chris received her award at this year's Honors for Nursing event, Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at Little America Hotel. To learn why Chris chose to establish The Sharing Place, read her story below.
When Life Gives You Lemons, You Make Lemonade
Christine Pannier Chytraus received a BSN from Westminster College in Nursing and her CPM from the State of Utah. She is currently a Manager with Health Services at SelectHealth where she is responsible for the transition of Medicaid clients to their new plan and nurses that provide care management of the adult, perinatal and behavioral health members.
Chris has worked in pediatrics, intensive/coronary care, recovery room, short stay surgery, education, and nursing administration. She spent two years as a lobbyist for Utah Children and then accepted the position of manager for the Fostering Healthy Children Program with the Utah Department of Health.
As a girl, Chris vividly remembers a poster her sister had. The caption read . . . “When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade.” Always amused by the saying, Chris had no idea how much it would someday impact her life.
Chris always felt she would go into pediatrics because of her love for children. However, after receiving her degree, she found herself in the Intensive and Coronary Care Unit, a place children don’t usually end up. On the rare occasions there was a pediatric patient, Chris would volunteer to be at their bedside and prided herself on the care she gave both the child and their family.
Chris then advanced her career into nursing education and management, finally obtaining what she felt was the ultimate position, Administrative Director of Nursing at St. Mark’s Hospital. After working only six weeks, Chris received a phone call while picking up her children from school. The message was unfathomable, “You need to go to the hospital, your husband Jeff, has collapsed and is being taken there by ambulance.” Two hours later, Jeff was pronounced dead. As they left the E.R. her four-year-old son Christopher announced to the waiting room that his daddy had just died.
A few weeks later, Chris and her children returned to the same E.R. after her daughter, Megan, had an asthma attack. While there, Christopher wandered off. When Chris found him, he said, “Mommy, I’m just looking for daddy. Remember, we left him here the other night.” Chris was devastated. All her knowledge as a nurse couldn’t aid her in helping her children understand death and grief.
Chris found grief support groups for adults, but nothing for her children. In all of the calls she made, she was told that “kids don’t grieve.” Chris knew otherwise. Her daughter complained that her heart hurt. Megan also became introverted and wouldn’t talk about her dad dying to her friends. Christopher was the opposite. He would tell people that his daddy died and then a few minutes later he would ask if they could go see him. He would say things that a six year old wouldn’t normally say like, “I’m going to commit suicide so I can see daddy and I’ll come back tomorrow.”
A year after Jeff died, Chris saw a program on 20/20 about a grief center in Portland, Oregon. The center gave children who had lost a loved one the chance to grieve and heal with other children in the same situation. Chris realized this was what her children needed, a safe, caring place where children, and their families could share their feelings and heal together. She contacted the center, but was told there wasn’t a place in Salt Lake. Not giving up, Chris requested information and took a copy of the training video to her children’s therapist, Nancy Reiser. The rest is history, Chris with the help and encouragement of Nancy started the first Sharing Place group in a small office with six children.
Soon after, Chris was driving home from group with Megan, when her daughter said, “Mommy, tomorrow I’m taking daddy’s picture to Show and Tell. I’m going to tell everyone in my class that he died. Did you know, there are other kids in my class who have had someone they loved die?” This is when Chris knew in her heart she had done the right thing by starting the Sharing Place. Chris also now understands the real meaning of . . . “when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade.”
Today there are 15 groups for children and teens and 15 groups for the parents/caretakers. In addition, there are three Salt Lake area school satellite groups one of which is for those who speak Spanish. Families attend support groups twice a month and learn to support each other in the healing process.
Katie Schrier is the Communications Manager for the College of Nursing.