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Crystal Aiken: Lives we touch mean the world to us

Crystal Aiken: Lives we touch mean the world to us

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Crystal Aiken

Crystal Aiken, a registered nurse at Children's Hospital of Richmond at VCU


Hometown: West Point

In Richmond region: 1985

Family: husband Will; daughters Riley, Lindsay and Emerson

Became an RN: 1992

Employer: Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU


When I was 18, my brother Kent died from a preventable disease. He was 27. As a child, he did not receive proper treatment for rheumatic fever, and that caused heart damage his entire life. He died several weeks after receiving heart valve replacements.

When I realized that he could have been saved as a child just by getting the correct course of antibiotics, I felt driven to be a pediatric nurse. I never wanted to miss any important signs or symptoms in my patients.

I’m approaching 30 years in nursing, and that thoroughness has been my goal all along, even with COVID-19. The procedures have changed; we all wear more personal protection than we used to. But my goal every day is to see, hear and meet the individualized needs of our patients and their families.

I work in the Pediatric Hematology and Oncology Clinic. Our patients and their families battle some of the scariest diagnoses: childhood cancers, sickle cell disease and many other hematology issues.

The most valuable thing I’ve learned over the years is that everyone has different communication styles, personalities, cultural practices and beliefs. You have to meet them where they are. For example, parents who are demanding or appear angry are usually just afraid of what their child is facing. They need consistency, timely information and reassurance.

During the pandemic, we began to offer home labs for our patients. I volunteered to take on this duty. Going to patients’ homes allowed us to gather the clinical data we needed and to lay eyes on them, a critical part of treatment to make sure they’re doing OK. These visits also limited exposure to COVID-19 – not only for the patients, who often have weak immune systems, but for the families as well, who often must bring along other school-age siblings.

Seeing that bigger picture is important because there’s a lot involved in caring for people. It’s not just the patient we’re treating. We are healing the family, too. We are treating a community that wants nothing more than for the patient to grow up and live a healthy, normal life.

And they often do. My proudest moments are when former patients reach out to find me.

One heart transplant patient found me on Facebook, and I was thrilled to discover she is now married with a child. Another young trauma patient I cared for in nursing school has kept in touch with me all along. Her experience compelled her to join the rescue squad as a teenager, and she became a physician’s assistant, touching the lives of others.

Sometimes you never know the impact you had on your patients. But sometimes you do, and that knowledge means the world to me.

- As told to Ben Swenson

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