Long days and nights spent in a hospital by her son’s bedside more than 20 years ago helped a restaurant owner find a new passion and put her on a path to service.
Karen Hodges was at the hospital every day for months while her then-16-year-old son, Michael Lowrance, was being treated for osteosarcoma. Through surgeries and chemotherapy, Hodges found comfort in the nurses who would share hugs, kind words, and support when she and her son needed them the most.
The warmth and family-like atmosphere Hodges experienced with the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas nurses made her want to become an oncology nurse.
“I came from a family of 13 children. I’m number 11, said Hodges. “My mom wasn’t a nurse, but she really tended to a lot of people in the community,” Hodges said. She and her siblings were never seriously ill, so they never visited hospitals, and the only nurses they knew were the ones who came to their home to give vaccines.
With little knowledge of the ins and outs of hospitals, Hodges was impressed with the bubbly nature of the nurses who helped her and her son throughout their time there. The impact was so significant that Hodges decided to join the staff by becoming an oncology nurse.
“If you’re in a room with someone and they need something, and you’re not fully capable of supplying that … I wanted to do things for [my son], but I didn’t have the knowledge to do things for him. I swore that I was going to change that,” explained Hodges.
In 2014, Hodges found her way back to Texas Health Presbyterian, starting out as a patient care technician. She wrote to Lowrance’s former oncologist, Lalan Wilfong, M.D., who contacted nurse Joyce Lee. By then, Lee was the oncology nurse manager, so Wilfong asked Lee if she would hire her, and she did.
“I got into her office for the interview, and the first thing she does is stand up, walk across the floor and hug me,” Hodges recalled. “It just cemented my feeling that I needed to be on this unit.”
“I went to the local community college, and I had to take remedial classes for no credit because I had been out of school for so long, I didn’t even know how to learn anymore. So, I went from remedial classes to MSN classes,” said Hodges, who took a year between her BSN and master’s degree to get certifications and learn as much about oncology as possible.
After Hodges received her associate’s degree in nursing, she joined Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas’ resident nurse program while continuing to work in the oncology unit.
With the help of Texas Health’s tuition reimbursement program and other resources, Hodges obtained her bachelor’s and later her masters of science in nursing. She also received her certification as an oncology nurse, rising to the nursing manager position for the oncology unit. She is currently pursuing her administrative certification.
Hodges has gained experience as both a giver and a receiver of health care services at Texas Health Presbyterian. She then turned to the hospital for care during her own battles with breast cancer and melanoma.
She chose to be intentional throughout her health concerns and difficulties.
“I had two choices,” said Hodges. “I [could] either be really bitter about it and just fight and cry and be awful. Or I could allow the situation to make me better. And I really dug down and tried to see what I could learn from this.”
Learning is something Hodges believes never comes to an end.