Like Mother, Like Daughter: Cindy Hughes, RN, Lives Up to Her Role Model

Cindy Hughes enjoys a quiet moment in University Hospital’s beautiful courtyard. Photo by Cindy Starr/Mayfield Clinic.

The question was simple, the answer was anything but. Asked why she had become a nurse, Cindy Hughes, RN, looked around the University Hospital courtyard, green and blooming and full of life, and up toward the hospital towers that were home to a never-ending mission. She had spent more than half of her life here, as a nursing student, as a registered nurse, and, for the last 20 years, as a nursing specialist and clinical nurse coordinator at the UC Epilepsy Center.

“I always wanted to be a nurse,” Ms. Hughes says. “My mom, Maggie Herrin, is a retired nurse and was my role model. She was head nurse on medicine. Her picture remains in the hospital’s old operating pavilion. I can remember back when I was a little girl, walking through the tunnel system with her. When I was a new nurse, she advised me to ‘treat patients as if they are members of your own family.’ She was dedicated to her profession and patient care, and it is important to me to do the same.”

Cynthia Hughes is one of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s best. Wednesday night she was one of 16 nurses honored, from more than 400 nominees, at the annual Florence Nightingale Awards for Nursing banquet, which celebrates nurses who have distinguished themselves in patient care.

“Cindy Hughes has had direct contact with every patient admitted to the Epilepsy Monitoring Unit of University Hospital for the past 20 years,” wrote Michael Privitera, MD, Director of the Epilepsy Center, in his nomination. “This is over 4,000 people with medication-resistant epilepsy. She is extraordinary in allaying patients’ fears and communicating special patient needs to the treating physicians.”

Epilepsy Nurse Practitioner Michele Turner described Ms. Hughes as “a vibrant and articulate communicator who interacts with both professionals and highly diverse patient populations with ease and grace.”

The award comes at a pivotal time. In August Ms. Hughes is relocating to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where her husband has taken a new position. She will miss her colleagues, her patients and a job she says has blessed her for 20 years.

“My patients have intractable epilepsy, a chronic disorder that is potentially disabling,” she says. “On a daily basis they are coping with the ‘unknown’ of when or where a seizure might occur, and they may experience difficulties with seizures and medications that impact every aspect of their lives. When working with patients and families, it is important to reach out and listen to their personal experience of living with this condition.

“These patients are very brave. Yet they get out there and live their lives. They make epilepsy a small part of who they are. It’s a challenge, and they meet that challenge head-on. They are absolutely inspiring to me. I’ve learned as much from them as I hope they’ve learned from me.”

On August 13, 2006, Ms. Hughes was on the other end of the patient-care equation. On a day that still sears her memory, her nephew became a patient in the Neuroscience Intensive Care Unit (NSICU), just a short distance from her own hospital wing, after suffering a brain injury in a serious automobile accident. Brad Herrin, then 20 years old, emerged from a coma 21 days later and traveled an uphill path to recovery. Less than a year later, as a spokesperson for the ThinkFirst National Injury Prevention Foundation, he shared his story at the University Hospital’s Neurotrauma Prevention Day.

Remembering the ordeal, Ms. Hughes reflected, “I have always been proud to tell anyone where I work because I believe in the expertise and quality of care in neuroscience here at University. Now, I have experienced close up and personal the tremendous effort given by this team for every patient who comes through those doors. I saw how hard everyone worked to help Brad and to support my family and me. I can’t say enough about the quality of care that he received, the quality of the nursing care and the medical team. This is something I will never forget, and I can’t thank them enough.  Every day I see families in the NSICU waiting room. I want to run up and hug them and say, ‘I know.’ ”

As UCNI celebrates Ms. Hughes’s contributions of 20 years of excellence and prepares to wish her well, she promises she won’t be a stranger. Her $400 Nightingale Award, she says, will be used toward 2011 season tickets to UC Bearcat football games.

Maggie Herrin, left, in a photo displayed in the old operating pavilion at University Hospital.

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