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
Niki Wohlford-Will is an extraordinary healer. Niki, among other roles, assists Neal Agee, M.D., my pancreatic surgeon. After a diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer in 2012, I recently learned that I had a cancerous mass sitting on my pancreas and spleen. My wife and I were devastated by the diagnosis. We met Niki before we met Dr. Agee. She was very professional and expressed care and concern by preparing us for our visit with the doctor, a remarkably helpful service prior to pancreatic oncology surgery. I could immediately see that only an outstanding person like Niki could meet the high standards of a top-notch surgeon like Dr. Agee.
Prior to retiring in Fort Wayne, Indiana, I served a hospital as a nonmedical professional who sat on the safety committee. I listened to and learned about all the things that can go wrong with patient care. My expertise in systems and business gave that hospital 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 provide me, and my wife, with the best help possible. She has a vast knowledge and understanding of pancreatic cancer and the relevant surgical protocols. She puts the patient at ease with her steady and genuine smile, which seems to say, “All will be well, and you will heal.” After answering my myriad questions, she did an amazing thing by offering her cellphone number, which I could 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 a postoperative drainage valve stopped working, Niki, without fanfare, immediately worked on the tubing and valve to get it working again. She did this with a smile, all the while comforting me that all was well. She elicited trust. To gain the trust of an academic is not easy; we tend to always see the other side or remain suspicious of the care.
Niki was always in step with Dr. Agee, a perfectionist and intellect whom I admire. Niki works so well with him that she anticipates his thinking and even prepared me for a visit by removing some of my stitching tape. We laughed because she had preempted Dr. Agee’s action. It is good to be able to laugh in a cancer treatment room. Niki knows how to assess a situation and go beyond what is necessary to solve any problem.
My last interaction with Niki was when Dr. Agee asked Niki 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.
When battling two cancers, I must be able to depend upon my oncology nurses to know not only about the illnesses and surgery but also how to talk to and reassure someone who walks with a cloud of cancer on his mind. It did not matter how many questions I posed: Niki answered them all and took time to make sure we would understand what was happening.
Niki is an outstanding medical professional because of her expertise and knowledge concerning pancreatic cancer and surgery. She goes far beyond the nursing requirements to offer additional help. She understands the strain that cancer patients face and offers as much help as possible to the patient and the surgeon.