A bright light working nights at Riley




Alyssa McEwen finds joy in making kids and adults smile. As a tech in the PICU, her young patients inspire her to embrace the good.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Alyssa McEwen is a bright light working nights in the PICU at Riley Hospital for Children.

Her mom once jokingly told her she talked too much and was too energetic to work the night shift in a children’s hospital, but this PCA got the last laugh.

McEwen smiles with her sons for a family photo

McEwen was thrilled to get her foot in the door at Riley three years ago as a patient care assistant and has never looked back.

“I adore kids, and I’ve always wanted to work at Riley,” she said. “I knew I wanted to work with critically ill patients or in the emergency department as a trauma nurse.”

When the opportunity came to transfer from IU Health University Hospital to the Riley PICU working nights, she was all in, even as she continues her nursing classes at Ivy Tech while raising her son and “bonus” son with her boyfriend, Vince Johnson, in the tiny town of Lizton, Indiana.

“I love my job, it’s my dream job. I love every day at work, even the hard days. I adore it.”

It’s that light and that enthusiasm that have helped take the edge off for patients, parents and team members during the months of COVID-19.

For McEwen, it started off with the rainbows in a child’s room. Inspired to add some color to the windows one night, she asked the nurses on duty if it was OK to paint. She got the go-ahead and ran with it, painting more windows and doors and seeing the joy registered on patients’ faces.

The kids loved it, of course, but so did team members.

McEwen converses with another Riley nurse

“When COVID hit and morale was low, Alyssa spent time decorating the unit by painting rainbows and inspirational words on patient doors and windows,” said PICU night shift nurse Kim Vegh.

“I always know I’m going to have a good night when I see that she is working. She is seriously the best tech I’ve ever worked with, and I know the whole unit appreciates her hard work.”

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows on the PICU for McEwen. She has hard days, just like everyone else.

“It’s harder for me as a parent seeing the kids here, especially if I have a patient the same age as one of my boys,” she said. “But the amount of talent, dedication and teamwork we have at this hospital, and the amazing things I have seen happen that completely defy all the odds, it just gives me hope.

“Anytime that a kid comes in and they’re given low odds and then they pull through and we get to finally see them extubated and smiling and see their personality, it makes it all worth it. All the bad stuff we see, it just gives you hope for the good in all of this.”

As COVID continues to afflict pediatric as well as adult patients, McEwen has figured out ways to interact with patients in isolation – whether that’s by calling their room phone, making faces at the door or playing UNO through the window.

“Anything I can do, I’ll do. I think about if my kids were in there and I just want to see them smile,” she said.

McEwen and her boyfriend

“I sometimes think we get desensitized to the fact that this is not normal. Not only is this a hospital, but it’s an ICU and then there’s COVID, so it’s scary,” McEwen said. “They’re in a hospital and maybe their mom’s not there, and we’re wearing masks so they can’t even see our faces.”

On the back of her IU Health badge, McEwen has a picture of herself and her kids without masks, which she shows to patients if they want to see her smiling face.

Even if you can’t see her smile though, her positivity shines through. She says that attitude is a reflection of the people she works with at Riley.

“Every single person is there to help you. They are there for me at work and in my personal life, and it makes it so I want to go to work” she said. “I want to be around these people. And any little bit of happiness and positivity that I can bring, well that’s just how I am.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist, mdickbernd@iuhealth.org