MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – A journey from cancer survivor to pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) nurse is a unique one that Kevin Steurer has lived.
He’s a clinical preceptor in the PICU at WVU Medicine Children’s, “helping out on the unit, of course, educating out on the unit as well, so, anything educational-wise that I can provide that is where I come in to play.”
But before a 10-year career as a nurse, he was a child with cancer.
At the age of five, I was diagnosed with ALL leukemia, so from the age of five, like I said, all the way until about 8 years old, I was in treatment in and out of the hospitals, just getting treatment. Of course, after getting treatment and all that stuff — I really know the firsthand experiences that some of these kids go through and all that stuff. Also, the parents’ side of it too. I see — I saw my parents go through it all and now I kind of give the parents ‘this is the other side of this, you know? So, trying to help them.Kevin Steurer – PICU Clinical Preceptor, WVU Medicine Children’s
His battle with cancer was, ultimately, successful. Steurer is a father now, happily married and he loves his job.
But he still links the work he does to his childhood and his fight against cancer. That’s because Steurer was inspired in those moments, as a child, to use his “firsthand experience” to pay it forward.
“I knew from the small age of when I was in the hospital, I saw my bedside nurse, who actually followed me into her career as a nurse practitioner, and she was a nurse practitioner in the Hem/Onc ward as well. So, it was just kind of a progression and seeing how much she enjoyed what she did and just knew from that age that that’s what I wanted to be, so I continued on.”
Steurer attended WVU, earned his degree and immediately got to work. Nowadays, you can find him on the sixth floor of J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital, doing his part to save lives.
But that’s not all.
After seeing his parents struggle, Steurer said, he also does everything in his power to help families through what is often a traumatic experience.
It’s tough work. Naturally, not every patient can be saved. However, Steurer said he feels a strong sense of being rewarded in his role.
“That’s what’s the goal of this, right,” he asked. “The pandemic is kind of — it’s been a little bit strange because normally we see our patients come back onto the units we get to see them and they come up and say ‘hi’ back to us, so it’s kind of been a weird spot. We don’t get to see them as much, but that’s always the greatest reward is getting to see them come back into the unit and come with their smiling faces and say ‘this is where I’m at now this is how I’m doing’, you know? So, that’s the goal of this all.”
In essence, saving lives is the goal, not self-aggrandizement.
If you ask Steurer if he’s a hero, he’ll laugh and reject the label.
“Gosh no, not not at all,” he said laughingly.
The heroes for him, as cliche as it sounds, he said, are the children and families.
“I know everyone says it, but that’s the kids,” Steurer said. “That is the kids and that is the families. We are just here to help him along that journey and the resilience in these kids, it’s just phenomenal. And that is why we’re here, to do what we do, to get these heroes back on their feet and back up and running.”
In the meantime, from a cancer diagnosis all the way to the end, Steurer said, he and his colleagues are engaging with parents and wanting to know how they’re doing every step of the way.
Often, he said, the toughest part is making sure the family is fairing well because there is a whole medical infrastructure for the patients, but not always something in place for the parents.
But, that’s never the case at WVU Medicine Children’s PICU.
“You know, sometimes it’s the parents that are doing worse than the kids, so it really is just a matter of getting them help, the kids help,” Steurer said. “And then, of course, making sure that the families are OK as well. You really got to like — just trying to help them explain every little step that we’re doing and all that. We’re just really trying to not only lessen the fear of the patient but also the family as well.”
The commitment to patients and their families shown in the PICU extends far beyond a patient’s stay.
In fact, as Steurer alluded to, the biggest reward for him and his colleagues is seeing healthy children living their lives. That is why he does his best to keep up with patients and their families.
Their success stories are his motivation to keep doing what he loves, saving lives.
“It’s really awesome, the relationships that you form. And heck, this is my 10th year doing this and I still remember my first patients and where they’re at now, and just seeing how big they are and how much they’ve grown. And it’s pretty remarkable to be able to have that relationship continue on for years and years.”
To nominate someone as a Healthcare Hero, visit the 12 News Healthcare Heroes page.