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Riley Dialysis Nurse Suzie: ‘These Kids Are The Heroes’

Blog Riley Dialysis Nurse Suzie: ‘These Kids Are The Heroes’

For 25 years, Suzie Hedrick has worked as a nurse at Riley. In the dialysis unit, she is known as a calming force with a caring heart.


Suzie Hedrick has fallen in love – again. In the past 25 years, she’s fallen in love more times than she can count.

This time, his name is Peyton Hammons, a 7-year-old patient on dialysis with end stage kidney disease, in desperate need of a transplant.

And this time, like most other times, Peyton has fallen in love with Hedrick, too.

“She has fun and she is really fun and she gives me surprises,” says Peyton, when asked what he loves about Hedrick, a nurse and shift coordinator on the dialysis unit at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health. “And she is easy with me.”

Easy with him. Peyton’s little body has to go through a lot. Miss Suzie is gentle and understanding and funny.

Today, Hedrick is in Peyton’s room. He is coloring and joking with her about the stuff little boys like to joke about.

But then he gets serious, as he turns to talk to Hedrick.

“I didn’t cry,” he says. He didn’t cry when he got his labs drawn earlier in the morning.

“You are my hero,” Hedrick says, smiling. “Growing up to be such a big boy.”

In her pocket, Hedrick carries a shiny little stone. Peyton gave it to her. He says he dug it up, to bring her luck.

Hedrick believes he just might be right.

“I get more from them than they get from me,” she says. “This is more than a passion to me. It’s my heartbeat.”

***

She grew up in Brown County, in the rolling hills of southern Indiana, the daughter of a single mom.

Hedrick knew early on she wanted to do something in the medical field. Her mom was a phlebotomy supervisor.

But she didn’t know exactly what she wanted to do, although she was sure about one thing. She wanted to work at Riley. That was her dream.

Life, as it sometimes does, got in the way. When Hedrick graduated high school, she started working at a fast food restaurant and worked her way up into management.

She got married and had kids. College was put on hold.

But then, one day, her boss at the restaurant was reminded of a letter she had written when she was a little girl – about how she wanted to be a nurse.

“My boss and I were just like, ‘This is not what we wanted to do with our lives,’” says Hedrick.

They quit their restaurant jobs within two weeks of one another – and went to nursing school together. 

Six months after graduating, that boss – who had landed at Riley – got Hedrick a job in the NICU. It was 1993. Seven years later, Hedrick moved to dialysis.

This time, she fell in love, with the job.

***

Being on the dialysis unit is technical, knowing the ins and outs of the machines. Training families to do dialysis at home.

“There is a lot to know,” Hedrick says. “It’s very unique. It’s very specialized.”

Hedrick takes care of patients both in the hospital and outpatient. She also is a huge advocate of getting her kids out of the hospital.

She is cofounder of Kidney Camp, which welcomes kids with kidney disease each summer. 

“These kids are the heroes,” Hedrick says.

Inside Hedrick’s office is a powerful drawing, created by a teenage girl after being diagnosed with kidney disease. She was on dialysis and in high school.

In her art class, she was asked to draw a picture that represented who she was. The girl drew herself in a hospital mask, dark and light contrasting one another. She framed it and gave it to Hedrick.

That girl grew up and got married. She now has a baby. Hedrick smiles as she tells the story of the drawing.

“I love Riley. I love working here,” she says. “I’m blessed to be able to be here.”

More With Hedrick

Personal: She married her husband, Newt, in 1985. She has three grown children with Newt, a stepson and five grandchildren. 

Outside of Riley: She is an avid volunteer, co-founder of Kidney Camp and active with the National Kidney Foundation. She also loves to spend time with family and scour garage sales for deals.

Advice for new nurses: “Don’t think you know everything. If you have a question, ask. Don’t be afraid to ask. That is how you get respect from your peers. I have been in nursing a long time and I’m still learning.”

Getting through the tough times: “The good times far outweigh the bad times. These are the best coworkers and the best staff to work with. We don’t have very many bad times. Knowing that we’ve done everything that we could helps, as well as my faith in God and the love I have for this place.”

-- By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.
   Reach Benbow via email dbenbow@iuhealth.org or on Twitter @danabenbow.

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