CINCINNATI, Oct. 29, 2018 /PRNewswire/ -- Kelli Kolkmeyer is a pediatric bone marrow transplant nurse at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
She knows what it's like to be on the other side.
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer and knew she would lose her hair, she wanted to take charge and bring a little levity to the situation.
"I have an incredible friend who's also my hairdresser, and we kind of came up with this idea that we'd just have a lot of fun with it," said Kolkmeyer. "We cut it into a bunch of different styles before she eventually just shaved it all off."
Getting cancer meant Kelli had to take some of her own medicine and listen to the advice she gave patients herself.
"I would constantly look at little girls and say, 'You know, it's just hair after all. And you are still going to be beautiful. It doesn't change anything about the person you are or what you have to offer. It's just hair.'"
That's the thing about Kelli, her friends and coworkers say, she's real.
"She's never walked into a patient's room that didn't immediately fall in love with her and vice versa," said Jane Stanberry, RN. "She treats every patient like they're her own and she's just an amazing caregiver."
Kelli's own cancer diagnosis made her both vulnerable and strong, her co-workers say.
"We take care of patients not only with cancer but other life-threatening disorders – bone marrow failure, immune deficiency," said Laura Flesch, clinical manager of the Division of Bone Marrow Transplantation and Immune Deficiency (BMTID). "And so, when it hit home with one of our own, she was a beacon of light for us. She gave us hope, she gave us strength. Because we were struggling with her diagnosis."
"I think that she just has this empathy for people that are going through difficult times," said Deanna Best, RN and friend. "Not long after she came back from work, I went through a difficult time where I lost a baby and she just really supported me through that."
Kelli's personal experiences also help form bond with patient families.
"She's not just a nurse. She is a friend. She is a playmate to my son," said Carrie Bramlee whose son is getting treatment at Cincinnati Children's. "And when I walk in and I see her face, I sigh a deep sigh of relief because I know that Cohen is going to be well cared for."
"I like to think I was a really good nurse before but an even better one now. I think I can understand things that I didn't necessarily understand before. I've been through chemo now, I've had a port, so I think I can empathize and relate in a much different way."
Kelli is being recognized for the passion she brings to nursing. Bethesda North Hospital honored her making a difference in the lives of cancer patients. And this month, during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Mercy McAuley High School in Cincinnati is honoring her as one of the "2018 Women Who Inspire."
"I've watched her go above and beyond for every single family that she takes care of, and it's truly inspiring," said Chelsea Sensibaugh, RN. "She makes me want to be a better nurse every day."
"She makes all of our patients and families feel so comfortable, when they're going through probably the roughest time that they will ever go through," said Leah Aho, RN. "She's always somebody that's so down to earth, explains everything so well, and she just has a heart of gold."
"I like to think I walked in the hand that I was dealt with some grace, and some laughter and light and I could not have done that without the support of my family and my friends, my coworkers here. I'm just so, so lucky to have that modeled for me, and that I just want to be a reflection of that kindness and love that people have shown me," said Kolkmeyer.
SOURCE Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center