Rachel Shafer, a senior recruiter at RNnetwork, was 21 weeks pregnant with twin boys when she received devastating news in October 2016: Her boys had twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome (TTTS).
Saving twin boys through a risky fetal surgery
Unfortunately, because of a shared placenta, the twins were not growing at the same rate. One brother was receiving too many nutrients and fluids, which caused the heart to thicken and added pressure. The other brother was not receiving enough blood and nutrients and was significantly smaller.
“I was told that in a moment’s notice I might have to fly to one of the five fetal therapy surgery centers across the country for life-saving surgery for my twins,” Rachel recalls. “If I didn’t have the surgery, both babies would die.”
Rachel researched fetal surgery centers and decided to fly to Los Angeles, California, where Dr. Ramen Chmait practiced. He had been trained by a Miami surgeon Rachel was familiar with, and she felt good about going there, despite the five-hour flight from Florida.
Finding the right nurse and the right facility
Now measuring 33 weeks because of fluid overload, Rachel was swollen and uncomfortable. Doctors told her it was safe to fly both ways, but she worried about making the trip. A call from the Los Angeles Fetal Surgery Center put her at ease.
“Dr. Chmait’s nurse, Kris, had the kindest voice and guided me on what I needed to do and why. I was so anxious, and she calmed me down and gave me her personal cell number,” Rachel says. “I let Kris know what time I would fly in, and she said she would fit me in no matter the time.”
After an uncomfortable 4 a.m. flight to California, Rachel drove straight to the surgery center for tests and ultrasounds. The surgery was scheduled for the following day, and Rachel finally met Kris in person.
“Kris was so sweet and went through all the pre-op papers and the plan for the next day. Her energy was so calming, and I felt I was 100 percent doing the right thing,” Rachel recalls. “My anxiety was gone because of her presence.”
Celebrating success with the medical team
Dr. Chmait and staff performed the complicated surgery, removing a liter of amniotic fluid from the larger baby’s sac and lasering blood vessels in the placenta so the twins would have their own blood supplies. Hearing her twins’ heartbeats afterward made the long journey well worth the effort.
“My twins were still very sick, but they had been cured of TTTS and would recover over the next four weeks,” Rachel expresses. “I was smiling from ear to ear when Dr. Chmait and Kris walked in. He talked about what I could expect with the pregnancy, and then he left me alone with Kris, who had something big to tell me. I couldn’t imagine what it was.”
Reclaiming a friendship eight years later
Back in 2008, Kris Rallo had moved from the east coast to California and begun working with RNnetwork as a travel nurse. As she was filling out paperwork after Rachel’s surgery, she realized why RNnetwork seemed so familiar when she saw it on Rachel’s forms.
“I thought, ‘Oh, RNnetwork was my first travel company.’ Then I put two and two together and thought, ‘OMG, Rachel was my recruiter!’” Kris, now a clinical nurse coordinator at the Los Angeles Fetal Surgery center, recalls. ”I had developed such a close relationship with her, but it was always over the phone. I had no idea what Rachel looked like. I was dying to go back over to the hospital and tell her who I was.”
“When I met Rachel the day of her consultation, I had no idea that this was the person who had made such a positive impact on my travel nursing experience so many years ago,” Kris says. “I’m not even sure she realized how much she helped me get through a very scary and lonely initial month as a travel nurse.”
Kris recalled that Rachel had spent hours on the phone with her, encouraging her to keep going and give travel nursing a chance. She also told her what to expect and comforted her as she moved across the country during the holidays. That encouragement made a difference.
“Kris ended up loving the hospital and the area, and she extended her contract multiple times,” Rachel says. “I marveled at how we had come full circle. I helped her over the phone when she was a travel nurse, and she helped save my babies’ lives eight years later. Kris went from being a labor nurse to being hired on Dr. Chmait’s special life-saving team.”
Making a difference as a travel nursing recruiter (and a nurse)
Kris says working with Rachel years earlier had a big impact on her as a travel nurse.
“Find a recruiter you feel comfortable with, who listens to your requests and advocates for your best interests,” Kris says. “You want someone who has the experience to help you navigate through the trials that come with living in a new area, starting a new job and meeting new people. A great recruiter makes a world of difference in your travel nursing experience.”
A great nurse makes a difference when you face a dangerous surgery, too.
Just a few months after Rachel reconnected with Kris, she delivered two healthy baby boys — and those twins are now two months old. Rachel is thankful for the relationships she has with nurses across the country who save lives each day.
“Thank you nurses, doctors, ultrasound techs and nursing assistants for going above and beyond for your patients during the scariest moments of their lives,” Rachel says. “I am so proud to be a nurse recruiter with RNnetwork. This is real life. We touch and change nurses’ lives, and they touch and change ours.”