Hearts of thanks: A letter to nurse Sara

Children’s Family Advisory Council has designated this week as Hearts of Thanks week as a way to say thank you and recognize all Children’s staff for the difference they make to them during their experiences in our hospitals and clinics. This week we’ll share some of the letters and stories from families about how our staff has been there to lend a helping a hand, a shoulder to cry on or an encouraging word during some of the most difficult times in their lives. On behalf of the Family Advisory Council, thank you to all of our team members for all you do to brighten the days, and the lives, of our patient families.

Thank you Sara – you touched our lives

Aug. 19, 1996, was the day that changed our lives forever. This was the day my husband, Tom, started a new job, and we all were so excited. You see, this job was the one that made it possible for me to quit my job to stay home with our three young children, Zachary (5), Cody (2 ½) and Hannah (10 months). The plan was for him to spend his first week in Boston training and meeting customers.

Aug. 19, 1996, was also the day I had scheduled to take Zachary in to see the doctor. Something wasn’t right and I wanted him seen. He was incredibly tired and cranky. He also looked very pale standing next to Cody, his summer-suntanned little brother. Plus, he had these pesky little bruises on his legs that I couldn’t figure out (I later learned these are called petechiae – a result of a low platelet count).

4:00 appointment. 4:30 blood draw. 5:00 cancer diagnosis, and by 6:00 p.m. we were already a “Children’s Family”. Tom was paged at a Red Sox game at Fenway Park to receive the phone call from his brother that Zach had leukemia and we were at the hospital.

It was a long, lonely night sitting in the hospital watching my beautiful boy sleep all the while knowing that Tom was alone in his hotel room in Boston, dealing with his grief alone because he was not able to catch a flight home until the morning.

The sun came up – a new day. That morning Zach and I met Sara Gernbacher. She walked into Zach’s room and introduced herself. She told us she would be Zach’s primary nurse.  This was the beginning of a very long road, and little did I know at that time, what an important role this person would have in our lives. She became more than Zach’s nurse; she was our guide, our comforter, our information source, our gentle spirited friend, and Zachary trusted her completely. She truly was part of our inner circle, and we are so thankful she came into our lives.

I’d like to share with you a few wonderful magical Sara memories…

Throughout Zachary’s treatment, she always took the time to talk one-on-one with him, listening intently to everything he had to say. She made him feel like there was no one more important than him. One memory stands out in my mind: one day that we were in clinic, Zach was very upset about getting a shot in his leg. He would have nothing to do with it. He hid under a table in the exam room. Sara crawled under the table with him, and just sat with him. She calmed him, reassured him. Within a few minutes she had his permission to move forward with the shot – right there under the table. Magic!

Later in Zach’s treatment, Sara shared great news with us. She was pregnant with her second child. We were thrilled for her, but also secretly wondered how we’d get through treatment without her. She assured us that her substitute would take great care of Zach, which she did. One day in clinic during Sara’s maternity leave, she surprised us by showing up at Zach’s appointment. She stopped in to see Zach, and to show him her new baby. It brings tears to my eyes to type this, remembering the tender moment shared between Sara and Zach as he said hello to her new baby girl.  

Over the course of our clinic visits, we discovered that Sara’s parents owned property on the same lake in Annandale that Zachary’s grandparents did. The Annandale 4th of July parade was an annual event for our family, and Sara’s too. Every year, Sara made a point to find us and say hello to Zach and our entire family. By this time, Zach was off treatment, so we especially looked forward to seeing her and her growing family.

These stories all took place several years ago. Zach is now 23 years old, and only comes to clinic once per year for his long-term follow up appointments. Sara, however, hasn’t stopped caring. Last January, Zach and I were in for his long term follow up appointment. We didn’t expect to see anyone we knew, since we had a late appointment – 5:00 p.m. As we were waiting to be seen, someone very special quietly slips into the room to say hello. It was Sara, and we all hugged – such a sweet surprise.

So here we sit, 14 years past treatment. We are thankful EVERY day for the wonderful care our son received at Children’s, and we feel truly blessed that Sara Gernbacher was a part of that treatment plan. Thank you Sara – we’re so grateful to you!

— Amy Bigot

Do you have a Children’s employee or team you’d like to thank? Share your message in the comments.

Zachary, New Year’s Eve 1996

Sara introduces Zach to Marit, her new baby girl.

Zachary today.

One thought on “Hearts of thanks: A letter to nurse Sara

  1. Mark Anderson

    I have not had the priviledge to meet Sara – however I would also like to thank her. I am Zach’s uncle,Amy’s brother. I can not imagine life without Zach. It is so special to here this story about Sara for I kind of understand what Amy,Tom, Zach, Cody and Hannah went through. We truly are blessed to have people like Sara and Hospitals like Childrens in our lives.
    Thank you Sara and God Bless
    Mark Anderson
    Better known as Zach’s crazy uncle

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