Alabama Hospital Association

Lives Touched

For many of the dedicated professionals serving in Alabama’s hospitals, the health care field is not only a passion, it’s also a calling. One such individual is Karen Fretwell Deakins. After suffering a tragic event as a child, Karen knew she would devote her life to helping others.

While in the first grade, Karen was getting off a school bus when the front wheel accidentally ran over her shoulder and chest. As a result she suffered burns, broken ribs, collapsed lungs, blindness and temporary heart failure.  During her two-month recovery at a hospital, Karen’s parents were told numerous times that she might not make it. However, the determined little girl pulled through and eventually learned to walk and talk again. Today the only evidence that remains of the terrible accident is a couple small scars and a loss of vision in her right eye.

Karen says the nurses and doctors who cared for her during that challenging time provided exceptional medical care, while they tended to her emotional needs by making time for small acts of kindness, such as reading stories to her. They would leave a mark on Karen stronger than any of the injuries she sustained. Shortly after coming home from the hospital Karen told her mother that when she grew up she wanted to take care of other children.

Today Karen is the nurse manager in the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of South Alabama’s Children’s & Women’s Hospital in Mobile. Daily she finds herself comforting and caring for children and their parents who face the same type of devastating circumstances her family faced in the spring of 1976. She uses her experience to help them cope with difficult days.

“I don’t give them false hope, but they need to know you can be critically sick and still have a good outcome,” she said.

Karen is truly making a difference in the lives of those who most need comfort and caring. While her story may be unique, what she shares in common with others in the health care field is a servant’s heart. Although we may not like to think of a time when we or our loved ones could need intensive care, we can take comfort in knowing that if that ever happens, people like Karen will be by our side.

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