A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

14 Heartwarming Stories of Nurses Who Went Above and Beyond Their Call of Duty

These (and all) nurses deserve a major thank you.

1 / 16

When it comes to kindness, compassion, and caring for others, nurses have us all beat. They work long shifts doing many of the tiny, important tasks that keep us healthy, everything from school nurses who fix booboos with Band-Aids and send kids back to the playground, to nurses in hospitals who perform complicated, life-saving maneuvers on the sickest patients every day. During the coronavirus crisis, nurses are the first line of defense in clinics against the ravages of COVID-19. Many even exceed the already arduous call of duty. These are some of their stories.

2 / 16
School nurse provides masks for the community
Courtesy Jessica Molstad

School nurse provides masks for the community

The pandemic closed schools but didn’t keep elementary school nurse Amber Mehrkens from helping others. She continued to check the temperatures of the childcare students at the school and those of the teachers preparing for distance learning. When she wasn’t in her office, she was home caring for her four children in Mazeppa, Minnesota. During pockets of spare time, Mehrkens began sewing. She created a few hundred masks with the fabric she had on hand, then placed them on her porch for her neighbors to take at no charge. She quickly depleted her supply of fabric and other supplies. After she and a few friends spent several hundred dollars at a craft store, they asked for donations to cover their costs. With help from her children and a few friends, Mehrkens has sewn over 4,000 masks and provided them to the local fire department and area businesses. 

3 / 16
Nurses fill in for family during chemo treatments
Courtesy Wendy Goodine

Nurses fill in for family during chemo treatments

After Wendy Goodine was recently diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer, she moved in with her mother and stepfather to receive treatment at the Levine Cancer Institute in Albemarle, North Carolina. When she arrived at her first appointment, Goodine was nervous, frightened, and understandably, emotional. Due to the coronavirus, she is not allowed to bring anyone with her to her weekly chemo sessions. Filling in for her family, the nurses provide an understanding ear and continuous support throughout her sessions. When Goodine couldn’t leave her home, RN social worker, Heather Keith, delivered three boxes of food to her every week. Goodine considers these caring nurses her heroes.

4 / 16
Rachel Hartley driving the boat to new york
Taylor Hartley Photography/Courtesy Rachel Hartley

Virginia nurse sails to assist NYC hospital staff

When the coronavirus outbreak began, and Rachel Hartley’s hospital started canceling elective surgeries, the anesthesia pre-op nurse knew where she could be more helpful: New York City.  She contacted a nursing recruiter and subsequently signed a contract with New York University (NYU) Langone Hospital in Brooklyn. Instead of seeking traditional housing, she and her husband embarked on a 35-hour trip from Virginia to New York in their 50-foot sailboat. They invited other traveling nurses to live on the boat with them. On her first day working in the intensive care unit (ICU), cases were mounting and the hospital was overwhelmed with sick and dying COVID-19 patients, according to Yahoo! Life. Hartley’s contract ends in early June but says she would be happy to stay longer and continue to treat coronavirus patients.

5 / 16
Nurse surprises patient with a horse
Courtesy Maggie Keller

Nurse surprises patient with a horse

Nurse Bethany Varney guided her patient, Robert Wagner, through the Hospice Buffalo campus as part of their daily routine. One day, with the help of the facility and the Lothlorien Therapeutic Riding Center, Varney turned their typical outing into a memorable moment for the 81-year-old. As he was taking in the view of the blooming flowers, Wagner looked up from his wheelchair and spotted a horse. He has loved horses since he was a child. “It is scary during this time for the elderly and already compromised,” Varney told Spectrum News in Buffalo, New York. “So I thought it would be something to take away all of this craziness.”

6 / 16
Adventurous nurse travels to the frontline
Courtesy Mark Shipman

Adventurous nurse travels to the frontline

Sako Hirata, an ICU nurse, was working in a hospital in Wenatchee, Washington, when the coronavirus hit. The healthcare staff had seen only a few coronavirus cases and the hospital was relatively calm. Searching for a challenge and eager to contribute to battling the pandemic on a larger scale, Hirata offered her services to a New York City hospital. The climbing and paragliding enthusiast is spending six weeks on the east coast, utilizing her expertise and saving lives on the frontline.

7 / 16

Motherly love

As a nurse at MetroWest Cancer Center in Framingham, Massachusetts, Karen Mott tried hard to get one patient to open up. But Patrician McNulty usually tried to avoid conversation—unless it was about her nine-year-old son, Stephen. After McNulty went to hospice when her cancer took a bad turn, Mott wondered what would happen to Stephen. He couldn’t live with his father, who had permanent brain damage from a car accident, or any of his mother’s five siblings. McNulty didn’t want him in foster care. So after Stephen’s mother passed away, Mott and her husband, who have three other older children, brought him into their own family and adopted him.

8 / 16

Night of their lives

Sixteen-year-old Madison Hurd had spent the year prepping for prom. She took a part-time job to afford her dress, and helped the student council plan and decorate the big night. But the week of the dance, she ended up in the hospital. Complications due to infection revealed she was having heart problems, and she knew there was no way she’d make it to prom—so nurses brought prom to her. They spent their day off doing Madison’s hair, makeup, and nails, and decorating the room to match the Great Gatsby theme she’d planned for the dance she was missing. They draped her dress over her hospital gown, and her boyfriend flew in from Alabama to Omaha, Nebraska, wearing a tux when he arrived, according to Live Well Nebraska.

9 / 16

Two new beginnings

Julie Stroyne Nixon and her new husband, Andrew Nixon, were glowing after their wedding. The two were heading to their hotel from the reception when they heard yelling. People were calling for a doctor, so Julie rushed over. A woman on the bench was barely breathing and didn’t have a pulse. Luckily, Julie was a nurse at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. She performed CPR—still in her wedding gown—until the woman came to, according to CBS Pittsburgh.

10 / 16

Bringing back romance

Visiting a patient at Stony Brook University Hospital, oncology nurse Maggie Knight noticed the man seemed down. She figured a date night would make him feel more at home, and from there an idea was born. She and other nurses and staff surprise cancer patients with romantic dinners with their significant others. They set up music, decorations, and order food from the couple’s favorite restaurant. A “do not disturb” sign on the door ensures they get some privacy for an hour or two while they enjoy the alone time, according to ABC 7.

11 / 16

Weathering the storm

A major blizzard in January 2016 kept most New Yorkers safely in their homes, but one woman braved the elements. Knowing her Hebrew Home patients might need her, nurse Chantelle Diabate walked about two miles in the snow to get to the Bronx nursing home. She was the only nurse to report there that day, so she and other staff members worked double shifts to cover. “My job is really humbling because you realize you could be a patient…at some point you’re going to have to depend on somebody,” she told ABC News. “We all need each other. I treat my patients well because I treat them like family.”

12 / 16

Doubly happy day

A Fort Worth couple rushed to North Hills Hospital when the soon-to-be mother started having contractions. While his girlfriend, Brandi, was waiting for an epidural, James Anderson vaguely told her he needed to go to the store. Little did she know he was asking the nurses to help him spontaneously marry Brandi before the baby was born. One nurse called her dad, who was a preacher, while the dad-to-be ran out to buy a ring. (Learn the not-so-romantic history of engagement rings.) At the surprise wedding ceremony, their six-year-old son was a ring bearer, and about half an hour after tying the knot, baby Janelle was born, according to CBS DFW.

13 / 16

Making memories

Spending months waiting for a heart transplant in a Rochester, New York, hospital, Rich Danieu wasn’t able to make the father-daughter dance at his five-year-old, Mara’s school, according to KOMO News. Mara’s grandpa took her to the dance, but she got upset when she started missing her dad. Danieu was sad he couldn’t be there either. When nurses at Strong Hospital heard what happened, they planned a daddy-daughter dance just for him. Without letting Danieu in on the secret, they set up a dance, complete with music, balloons, and his two giggling daughters dressed to the nines.

14 / 16

In sickness and health

A bad fall that broke several bones left Betty Hughes, who had Alzheimer’s, in Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, barely hanging on. Later that month, her husband of 68 years, Arthur, had a heart attack. The couple was originally in different units in the hospital, but nurses found a hospice room where they could both stay, according to WSBTV. Betty passed away just one day before Arthur, but the couple stayed side-by-side in their final days, thanks to the hospital staff.

15 / 16

Feeling the love

Four-year-old Abby was in the hospital with Pre-B Cell Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, but she couldn’t stop talking about wanting to marry her favorite nurse, Matt Hickling. When Abby’s mom told the nurse, he planned a special ceremony. With Abby, wearing a white dress and veil, walked over roe petals to Hickling, who was wearing a tuxedo T-shirt. The two sealed the deal with a big hug and Ring Pops, according to CBS News.

16 / 16

Spinning a yarn

As a former oncology nurse, Holly Christensen knew that the scalps of children who lost their hair after chemotherapy were usually too sensitive for traditional wigs. So when her friend’s three-year-old daughter got a cancer diagnosis, Christensen made her feel like a princess. The former nurse made her a Rapunzel-like wig from soft yarn, decked out with faux flowers. Seeing the girl’s glee inspired Christensen to make more, according to ABC News. Launching The Magic Yarn Project, she and other volunteers create princess wigs from The Little Mermaid, Frozen, and more, plus ones based on Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean. The organization has sent more than 1,900 wigs to kids, at no cost to the parents.

Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.
Lisa Kanarek
Lisa Kanarek is a freelance writer who covers family, relationships and acts of kindness. Her work has been published in Reader’s Digest, the New York Times and the Washington Post, among other publications. She lives in Dallas.