Heart mom goes back to school to become a Riley nurse

Patient Stories |



After Calley Burnett’s son was diagnosed with congenital heart defects, she changed careers and came to work at the hospital that saved her little boy’s life.

By Maureen Gilmer, Riley Children’s Health senior writer, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

When her youngest son was born seven years ago, Calley Burnett thought everything was fine until shortly before they were discharged.

“We had an incredible nurse who heard a heart murmur, and she got the cardio team involved,” Burnett said.

An echocardiogram of Spencer Burnett’s heart found he had multiple heart defects, including coarctation of the aorta and ventricular septal defects.

The hospital team where Spencer was born contacted Riley Children’s Health, and that’s how Burnett’s journey with Riley began.

“It was very scary,” she said, “especially because I didn’t have the medical knowledge I have now.”

Burnett had a degree in management, but she was a stay-at-home mom at the time, with an older son, Cameron, and her newborn.

“I had no idea what it all meant until they sat us down and explained everything to us,” she said.

Their Riley journey, which included multiple surgeries and procedures, feeding problems, weeks in the hospital and hours upon hours of worry, opened Burnett’s eyes to the power of nursing.

When Spencer was about 18 months old, Burnett went back to school to earn a fast-track degree in nursing from Marian University.

While the doctors, including surgeon Dr. Mark Turrentine and cardiologist Dr. Mark Hoyer, were terrific, it was the nurses that had the biggest impact.

“The bedside nurses were what really hooked me,” Burnett said. “That’s when I said if I had another career, this is what I’d love to do.”

By the time Spencer was 3, his mom had earned her nursing degree. She worked for a time in a NICU at another local hospital but joined the Riley Maternity Tower NICU team in August 2022.

“This very much feels like home,” she said. “I look forward to going to work. I feel like I have a strong connection with the families.”

In the NICU, she knows how babies often take two steps forward, then three steps back, a pattern that takes a toll on parents.

“I can say, ‘I’ve been here,’ and I can be encouraging. It helps me in my care for the babies and the parents,” she said.

“I feel like once they get home, the babies just take off. We do what we can at the hospital, but there’s just something about being home.”

Her little heart warrior sees his cardiologist yearly for an EKG and echo, but he is doing well today, his mom said.

The second-grader plays soccer and basketball, swims, ice skates and loves to tag along after his 9-year-old brother. It’s a picture that might have been hard to see seven years ago, but Burnett believes it’s all part of a bigger plan.

“I think it was totally a God thing and I’m placed exactly where I’m supposed to be.”

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

Explore inspiring & meaningful careers at Riley Children’s by visiting rileychildrens.org/careers.

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