An Extraordinary Healer essay honoring NIKI WOHLFORD-WILL, RN [LUTHERAN HEALTH NETWORK, FORT WAYNE, INDIANA]
BY James G. Coe, Ph.D.
James G. Coe, Ph.D., and Niki Wohlford-Will, RN PHOTOS BY MEG MILLER
After getting a diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer in 2012, I was recently diagnosed with a cancerous mass sitting on my pancreas and spleen. My wife and I were devastated. We met Niki before meeting Dr. Neal Agee, M.D., my pancreatic cancer surgeon. Among other responsibilities, Niki assists Dr. Agee. She was very professional and expressed care and concern for us by preparing us for the doctor visit, a remarkably helpful service prior to pancreatic cancer surgery. I could immediately see that only an outstanding person like Niki could work with Dr. Agee, because he expected only the very best out of himself and others.
Prior to our retiring in Fort Wayne, I had served as a nonmedical professional who sat on the safety committee of a hospital. I listened and learned about all of the things that can go wrong with patient care. My expertise in systems and business provided the hospital with some different ways of looking at patient care. I learned to observe with some objectivity excellent patient care and protocols.
Upon meeting Niki, I knew that she was going to give me (and my wife) the best help possible. She has a vast knowledge and understanding of pancreatic cancer and the subsequent surgery protocols. She puts the patient at ease with her steady and genuine smile, which seem to say, “All will be well, and you will heal.” After answering my myriad questions, Niki did an amazing thing by offering her private cellphone number and telling me to call at any time if I had a question. She was not just saying that; she meant it.
In another instance, she came into the room after my surgery to check on me. When the other nurses did not know what to do with a post-op drainage valve that had stopped working, Niki, without fanfare, immediately worked on the tubing and valve to get it going again. She did all of this with a smile, all the while comforting me that all was well. She elicited my trust — and to gain the trust of an academic is not easy, since we tend to typically see the other side or remain suspicious of the care.
She was always in step with the surgeon, Dr. Agee. He is a perfectionist with an intellect I admire. Niki works so well with him that she anticipates his thinking, and had already prepared me for a visit by removing some of the stitching tape. We laughed at her preempting of Dr. Agee’s action. It is good to be able to laugh in a cancer treatment room. My last interaction with Niki was when Dr. Agee, out of the blue, asked her to sign us up for the hospital yoga sessions. She did not do this regularly, but within several minutes she came into the room and gave us the contact number and name along with the time the class met.
In battling two cancers, it is very important to me that I can depend upon the oncology nurse to know not only about the cancers, surgery, etc., but also to know how to talk to and reassure a patient who walks with a cloud of cancer on his mind. It did not matter how many questions I posed, she answered them all and took the time needed to help us to understand what was happening. Niki is an outstanding medical professional because of her expertise and knowledge concerning pancreatic cancer and cancer surgery. She knows how to assess a situation and go beyond what is necessary to solve any problem. She goes far beyond the nursing requirements to offer additional help when others would not offer it or even know how. Niki offers as much help as possible to the patient and surgeon — and truly understands the strain that faces a patient with cancer.