“This is where my heart is”




For PICU nurse and new mom Kearstin Deno, returning to Riley is like coming home.

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

Kearstin Deno didn’t think she could love anything more than her job as a nurse at Riley Hospital for Children.

Not until she gave birth to her first child, that is. Of course, she’s crazy about her husband, Nate, but there’s something about a baby that rocks your world.

Deno had been a nurse in the pediatric intensive care unit at Riley for a few years before leaving to have her baby. Plenty of new moms go back to work after having their babies, but Deno lives in Lafayette, about an hour away.

Deno family photo

“When I had my son, I was pulled because I drive an hour to and from work every day. Should I work closer to home?”

She decided to leave Riley and took a full-time job working with adult patients in Lafayette, but she agreed to work an occasional shift at Riley to get her “fix.”

She did that for a couple months, trying to make it work.

“I still had my ‘good for the soul days’ at Riley,” she said, “but it wasn’t a good fit for me, and every time I went back to Riley, even if it was once every two weeks, I knew I missed being here so much.”

So she did what her heart told her to do. She returned to Riley, alternating between two 12-hour days one week and three days the next, giving her plenty of time with her now 7-month-old son, Knox.


Charge nurse Jane Watson couldn’t be happier that Deno is back working in the PICU.

“She’s just a gem,” Watson said. “She makes your heart happy when you see her. It’s hard for her to have the extra drive time, but she slipped right back into gear like she never left. It is a true gift to get her back.”

Deno converses with a coworker

For Deno, it is a blessing to be back where she believes she is meant to be.

“I love my job, and I love going to work every day,” she said. “When you know where you’re supposed to be – and you leave and come back – it’s eye-opening. This is where my heart is; this is where I have a purpose, besides being a mom.”

On the days she works, Deno leaves at 5:30 in the morning when Knox is still asleep and he’s in bed by 9 p.m. when she gets home, so it’s not easy. But she’s lucky that her mom and grandma take care of him while she’s working, giving her peace of mind. Her entire family has supported her return to Riley, joking that she is in a much better mood now.

“When you’re happy with your job, it’s just so worth it,” she said.


Deno grew up in Lafayette and decided as a freshman in high school that nursing would be her career path after learning about the care a young cancer patient received at Riley. She went on to the University of Indianapolis for nursing school and found her place in the PICU as a tech before she completed her RN degree.

“Those nurses handle anything and everything with such grace,” she said. “I knew it would be amazing to be here.”

As dream jobs go, it’s everything she hoped it would be.

“When you walk into Riley, I feel like the atmosphere is just so different from any other hospital. People actually want to work here,” Deno said. “In the PICU, there’s a new learning and growth opportunity every day for me, and I love being able to connect with families and patients.”

Watson has seen those connections first hand.

“She’s so good for those families. She brings that little ray of sunshine during their darkest moments, a gentle, compassionate, bright light.”

Deno baby photo with dog

Deno said she worried that when she became a mom it would be harder to care for her patients – that she might be too emotional.

“I’m a pretty emotional person, but when I’m at work, those emotions are factored into the care and I’m able to focus on the patient,” she said.

“They are in the most vulnerable spot of their lives, and I just have so much compassion for them. I feel like now that I am a mom, any of the patients are like my children now. How would I want someone to care for my child?”

That’s what Watson means when she describes Deno as “the ideal nurse.”

Not only is she skilled, hardworking and a team player, but she gives a little piece of her heart to every patient she takes care of, Watson said.

“She is one of those people you love to see her name on the roster for the day because you just know everything will be OK. You can turn her day upside down with whatever assignment you ask her to do and she’s just always so pleasant, always so willing to do whatever it takes for the greater good,” Watson said.

“She just leaves a little sparkle wherever she goes.”

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