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Cancer patient becomes an honorary “nurse in training” at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital

Nurses at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital named Meadow Waryan, an 11-year-old lymphoma patient, an honorary “nurse in training.”
11-year-old Meadow Waryan (center) poses with Nurses Em Schmalz, RN, BSN (left), and Marti Dompierre, RN, BSN (right), at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. Meadow, a cancer patient, was named an honorary “nurse in training” after forming a special bond with her nurses.
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What is it like to be a nurse in training?

Just ask 11-year-old Meadow Waryan, a lymphoma patient at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital. During a hospital stay this spring, Meadow was surprised by her nursing team in the hospital’s Blood and Marrow Transplant (BMT) unit.

Pediatric Nurses Em Schmalz, RN, BSN, and Marti Dompierre, RN, BSN, made Meadow an honorary member of their staff. Schmalz and Dompierre gave Meadow a personalized “nurse badge,” which she proudly wore around her neck. Equipped with her new badge, Meadow got straight to work practicing her nursing skills with her gloves, med cups, mask, and her very own practice IV bag filled with purple food coloring.

“Having a fun distraction and a way to be involved in her care really helped her cheer up after she was readmitted to the hospital,” Schmalz said. “It’s fun to incorporate regular kid’s play into a patient’s stay so that the patient still gets a chance to be a kid.”

In December 2015, Meadow was diagnosed with T-cell lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that affects the body’s white blood cells. She started treatment and was in remission until September 2016, when doctors learned the cancer had returned, according to her mother Katherine Waryan.

Meadow’s care team agreed that she should undergo a stem cell transplant. During the procedure, a patient’s unhealthy bone marrow is replaced by healthy bone marrow from a donor, allowing the patient to begin producing normal white blood cells once more.  

Meadow received her stem cell transplant in January 2017 under the watchful care of Pediatric Blood and Marrow Transplant Physician Angela Smith, MD, MS. She stayed at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital for several months after the transplant, which allowed her to form close friendships with many nurses, including Schmalz. The two bonded when Meadow was recovering from her transplant during her first hospital admission over the winter. They regularly spent time together making crafts, including paper snowflakes.

“We meet them as patients being admitted to the hospital,” Schmalz said. “But it’s important that they feel like they’re more than ‘just a patient,’ and can still enjoy some of the things they like to do. It helps them see beyond the difficulties they’re facing and look toward the future.”

Learn more about blood and marrow transplant care at University of Minnesota Masonic Children’s Hospital.

After a three-month stay, Meadow was discharged from the hospital in March, only to return later this spring because of infections. Her nurses could see that she needed a distraction, so Schmalz and her colleagues created a plan. Since Meadow frequently asked to play with medical supplies, Schmalz decided to make her a nurse in training to lift her spirits. Schmalz gave Meadow a variety of safe medical supplies, while Dompierre helped create Meadow’s special nursing badge to make her title official.

Meadow’s mom Katherine said her daughter loved the experience and is now thinking about possibly becoming a nurse or entering another profession that helps others.

“These actions speak to the exceptional members of all the BMT nursing staff; they are an excellent nursing team,” said Katherine.

Meadow’s stem cell transplant in early 2017 was successful. Her mother said she is now looking forward to a summer of play before returning to school as a sixth-grader in the fall. Meadow is looking forward to visiting Target and eating out with her family. She will ride a bike without a mask. At home she plans play with Legos, create crafts and spend time with her 9-year-old sister Julia.

Those summertime activities may seem small or mundane, but when she was ill Meadow couldn’t participate in them due to risks associated with her cancer.

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