By Emma Mann, for Riley Children’s Health
“I mean he’s had like a thousand careers. When he was younger, he was a window washer like on a high-rise. He’s worked in the oil fields. He was a clown that would come to your kids' birthday parties,” Maria LaRosa, shift coordinator, said of Craig Sylvester.
When Craig Sylvester applied for a nursing job at the Riley Outpatient Center, he knew he was in the right place when he saw a statement engraved just beneath the directory board of the ROC.
“Let all who walk this way know that Indiana cherishes her families, that she loves her children. In this very special haven, no child shall cry unheard… none shall walk alone… and no mother or father shall be friendless.” – Dr. Morris Green, first physician-in-chief of Riley Hospital.
“If I can walk in here every day and practice like that, then this place is for me,” Sylvester said. “This is what I want to do for people.”
Sylvester has been a nurse at Riley for 13 years in the outpatient surgery center, and he looks at that quote every day when he walks in. Before that, he worked at IU Health University Hospital for many years. At Riley, he has been a charge nurse and led various committees, but he is most well-known for his passion for people.
His co-workers say Sylvester truly goes above and beyond, and that he receives more positive comments from his patients than anybody. It is safe to say that radiating positivity is his mission. Just ask Mary Ash.
Ash has worked at Riley Hospital for 45 years, taking on various roles within the hospital, starting out on the infant unit when Riley was age-based and transitioning to roles such as clinical educator, night-shift supervisor and patient-care coordinator. Now, she dedicates her time solely to caring for patients.
Sylvester was one of the first people Ash encountered when she transferred from another area in the hospital to the outpatient surgery center.
“He was friendly from the get-go,” Ash said.
Sylvester and Ash have formed a good working partnership and friendship over the years, which inspired Sylvester to create an award last year called the “Mary Ash Award” to deepen the sense of camaraderie within the unit.
Ash was training for her first marathon when she cracked her tibia and tore her meniscus. Nevertheless, she came to work the next day walking on crutches down the sidewalk when Sylvester spotted her on his drive into work.
Sylvester said Ash came into work and completed every task that normally would have been expected of her in the PACU, even on crutches.
That inspired Sylvester to challenge his colleagues: “If Mary Ash can make it to work on crutches, there’s no reason why you can’t or I can’t make it to work today.”
Eventually, Sylvester created the Mary Ash Award when one of the unit’s nurses fell and hurt herself and came into work the next day just like Mary Ash did.
“I signed my name as the commissioner,” he said. “I had found a doll crutch in the parking garage when I was coming out from lunch, and so we have the award up at the nurse’s station, with the crutch there. If you do something good, you get the crutch for the day.”
Ash, a little embarrassed to have an award named for her, said it has helped camaraderie on the unit.
Sylvester, currently on medical leave, nominated Ash for the Nursing Excellence Award, and at the ceremony in May that celebrated the winner and nominees, Ash received a note from Sylvester with his nomination comments.
Although she didn’t win, his kind words and friendship are greater gifts to her, she said.
“I don’t think it was the award,” she told Sylvester. “It was the fact that you did this with the stuff that you had going on.”
Ash’s nomination is posted in the hallway so everyone can see it.
Others have also felt Sylvester’s kindness.
“I’ve worked with Craig for 13 years,” Maria LaRosa said. “He is wonderful with patients and families. He is so caring and so giving. And the families really flock to him.”
That caring philosophy extends to the staff as well.
Connecting with co-workers is something Sylvester has always worked at in his career. He likes to point out when other nurses are doing a great job and tell them when he can see that the family really appreciated the care their child received. He especially praises the student nurses, because they are the future of the nursing profession, and he said he wants them to enter with good attitudes.
“It’s easy enough to point out the bad things people do. And it’s easy enough to hold a grudge against someone you work with. That’s not the way I like to work,” he said. “I want to go to work every day and drop everything at the door. We are going to get down, things will happen that make us sad, but that’s why I think it is important to keep everyone’s spirits up.”
While he may not be physically in the building, Sylvester is still a prominent part of his team and has been working on several new projects that celebrate current and past doctors/nurses for their contributions to the spirit of Riley Hospital.
He has made it his mission that no one walks alone in their journey at Riley, whether they are a patient or provider.
And he is on the receiving end of the compassion that he so willingly shares with others. His co-workers from the outpatient surgery center unit remain in close contact with him throughout his personal healing journey, and they look forward to his return, LaRosa said.
“The place isn’t the same without him!”