Mom to mom: “I just wanted to tell you how much you’ve meant to me”




Jenifer Potter’s son has undergone more than 30 surgeries at Riley. Each time she has found quiet support from Riley team member Myrna Lisa Almodovar.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist,

Myrna Almodovar and Jenifer Potter embrace

Myrna Lisa Almodovar had no way of knowing the impact she’d had on a Riley mom until Jenifer Potter stopped her one day last December and wrapped her in a hug.

The gesture of gratitude was simple but heartfelt, and it revealed to Almodovar how much her presence was appreciated during a stressful time.

Potter and Almodovar’s paths have crossed more than 30 times – Potter kept track – over 13 years at Riley Hospital for Children. Potter’s son Owen was born with spina bifida, as well as a cleft lip and palate and hydrocephalus.

His mom estimates they have made the two-hour trip to Riley from their home in Fort Wayne about 160 times, and Owen had surgery on 32 of those visits.

That’s where Almodovar comes in. She is a patient visitor representative in the family lounge outside the surgery suites at Riley. She’s also a PCA and an interpreter for Spanish-speaking patients and families.

For Potter, she was a comfort during a time of turmoil.

Owen and Potter smiling

In a Facebook post, the mother of five shared how she was moved to tell Almodovar “thank you” and take a selfie with her.

“This lady. Myrna Lisa. She is the surgery waiting receptionist. And she has been present for ALL of Owen’s 30-some procedures. She is the first person I talk to after seeing him rolled away. She may be the only person I talk to during the wait. She’s the one I tell when I’m heading down to get breakfast or lunch or supper or just to walk around. She’s the one I tell when I’m back. She’s the one who helps me with the vending machine. She’s the one who tells me the doctors are ready to talk to me and leads me to the little room. Without knowing it, she, as well as the surgery nurses Mary and Stephanie, have become a part of our journey. I told her this day what a calming and comforting presence she is to me. And yes, I cried. I have very vivid memories from certain surgeries and walking up to her desk to check in and there she is smiling and reassuring. … Thank you, Myrna Lisa, for your unwavering smile and presence.”

Almodovar, a mother of five herself and grandmother of four, shrinks from the attention. She is just doing her job, she said, looking after parents while they wait for their child to come out of surgery.

“I always introduce myself. I tend to parents until it’s time for their child to go to recovery,” she said. “I’ll see if they need anything, offer them a blanket. Or, if I see that they are sad, I’ll talk to them.”

Compassion is in her DNA.

The last time Potter was at Riley with her son was just before the coronavirus outbreak. And there was Almodovar, doing her job again.

“It’s funny how it just struck me that time at that surgery,” Potter said. “I went up to her and said ‘thank you so much, I just wanted to tell you how much you’ve meant to me,’ and of course I started crying. But I realized she’s been here for all these moments.

“Sometimes she would be the only person I’d talk to, and she was just always smiling and pleasant and kind,” Potter added. “I can’t remember a single surgery she wasn’t here for. Her presence has been a comfort to me when everything else feels crazy.”

Owen with casts on his legs

Owen Potter, who turns 14 in January, has had surgeries on his spine, brain, neck, legs, face and more over the years, but it’s something no parent could get used to.

“It’s a weird thing to send your kid off to surgery and have to wait, but Myrna Lisa is part of our memories of all of it,” Owen’s mom said. “When I think of Riley, I have nothing but good memories. There have been a lot of hard things we have walked through, but we just felt very loved and supported through it all.”

Almodovar appreciates the acknowledgment even if she downplays her role.

“It’s very rewarding when you can help people and be there for them, and they show their gratitude and you can make them smile. It just warms my heart when I can do that.”

Photos submitted and by Mike Dickbernd, IU Health visual journalist,