Debra Murphy: Helper of Little Hearts at Riley

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Murphy is one of those nurses who knew she always wanted to be one.

She started her career at Riley back in the seventies, long before the first heart transplant there was done. “I’d spend my days in the infant unit, taking care of sick babies,” recalls Debra Murphy, RN, pediatric clinical cardiac transplant coordinator at Riley Hospital for Children.

Murphy is one of those nurses who knew she always wanted to be one. “I grew up in a small, Southern Indiana town and worked as a candy striper in high school. Then, I attended nursing school at Vincennes, moved to Spokane, Washington and worked on a pediatric unit at a hospital there for a few years. I just always knew it was what I wanted to do—nursing was a natural choice for me.”

When Murphy moved back to Indiana with her family a few years later, she was determined to work at Riley. “There was no place else I wanted to be,” she says. Murphy was ultimately hired as a part-time nurse and placed on the infant unit. “I loved caring for the babies born with heart conditions and worked closely with a coordinator for the heart transplant team. One day, she said, ‘I’ll be leaving soon and you should apply for my job.’”

It meant Murphy would have to go back to school. “I had a two year degree so I needed to obtain an advanced practice degree for the position. So, I enrolled at Indiana University. The job opened up after I graduated and I was hired. I’ve been working here ever since.”

While Murphy’s title is a mouthful, many say it translates to little heart helper. “I follow all of the kids who have already had heart transplants—making sure they get whatever they need, whether it’s working with other consult services, primary care providers, insurance companies, pharmacies, schools,” she says. That’s where I step in.”

No two days on the job are ever alike, she says. “People often think I am in the midst of chaos every day but that’s not the case. Certainly, we get donor offers in the middle of night when I’m on-call. So, yes, I can be up at 2am working on that and then when we accept a heart from a donor that can take straight work for up to 24 to 36 straight hours afterwards by our team. But my job is also about being involved in the day to day coordination of care after a pediatric transplant has occurred, working with our team and the patients and their families to ensure the best results,” explains Murphy.

She says Riley completes 5 to 7 heart transplants a year. The waiting time varies by the acuity of the child, Murphy says. “We deal with the sickest of the sick. One of the guidelines for a new heart is that the child will not be able to live more than a year without one. And some of our recipients also have to be re-transplanted. Our hope is to get at least 10 to 15 years from a new heart for a child. But it can vary greatly.”

The best part of Murphy’s job: “It’s a privilege to help these families navigate this journey. To see how well these kids feel after they’ve gotten a new heart is truly inspirational. It gives you a sense of accomplishment to see how well these children do in life and how they function after something so life-changing. It’s a joy.”

This seasoned nurse is also quick to applaud her skilled team. “Our team is tremendous. I feel so privileged to be in their company and enjoy coming to work every single day. I’m incredibly proud to say I work at Riley.”

-- By Sarah Burns 

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