Lisa Harrelson earns her dream to become a nurse

Lisa Harrelson receives her nursing pin from instructor Ruby Graber

Sometimes, Lisa Harrelson has to pinch herself to realize she’s not in a dream. But then, the 2009 Hesston College nursing grad remembers the hours of hard work, and she knows she earned the dream-a dream that began as a child, but seemed destined never to be fulfilled.

Harrelson, who lives in Colwich, Kansas, and works at Wesley Medical Center in medical intensive care, knew she wanted to be a nurse from a young age. But Lisa had a learning disability, and she was taken out of school after the seventh grade. She passed her General Education Development test at the age of 18 and decided to pursue her dream. But the nursing schools she contacted weren’t willing to take a gamble on someone without an SAT or ACT test score; someone with no algebra, chemistry, biology, or computer classes; someone who was missing four years of high school.

So Lisa began work as a certified nursing assistant at Wesley Medical Center in Wichita-a job she could do in the field she loved, but that didn’t require licensure as a registered nurse. At Wesley, she had the opportunity to work with Hesston College students in their clinical classes, as well as with Hesston grads. “Everyone I asked about Hesston said how awesome their education was,” Harrelson said. “I kept hearing about the teachers and how supportive they were. Many people said, ‘Lisa, you would love Hesston because they will go the extra mile to help students learn.'”

Lisa’s lack of education wasn’t her only concern as she contemplated contacting Hesston College. She didn’t know how she’d finance the nursing program, and she wasn’t sure about the 50-minute drive to Hesston. But she decided to visit the campus and see what would happen.

“I felt like I was at home the minute I set foot on the campus,” Harrelson recalled. “Everyone, as they walked by, said hi. There’s a man who keeps the grounds-I don’t know his name-but every time I would see him he would smile or wave. The students are full of life and no matter how old you are, you fit in.”

Harrelson found out about grants to assist her in funding her education. Someone in her church walked up to her and handed her a check for the exact amount she needed for a class, and told her that God said to give her that amount of money. Harrelson knew God was putting the pieces together for her. She enrolled in the Hesston College nursing program.

“You can do anything with the right support around you,” Harrelson said. “There are many gifted teachers in this world, but there are few who will pick you up when you feel you can’t go on. This is not a job for the nursing department at Hesston-it’s a true ministry. I can’t tell you how much healing I have received in the program. They helped me realize my true potential, not the messages I had told myself my whole life.”

Harrelson graduated this spring, and faced another daunting challenge: the RN licensure exam (NCLEX-RN). She knew, based on how the test is set up, that she had either done extremely well or failed it miserably since she answered the minimum number of questions a candidate can answer – 75. When she got the results, she couldn’t believe it. “Lisa Harrelson has passed” the letter stated.

“I am still in shock,” Harrelson said. “It feels like a dream.”

And it is a dream-a dream come true because of the courage of a young woman with a learning disability, the mystery of God’s perfect timing, and the willingness of a nursing program to go the second and third mile with a student.

But there’s more. Lisa Harrelson prays that God will put people in her path to whom she can minister. Apparently, God honors those prayers. Gary and Gladys Voth of Hesston and Buddy and Mary Shook of Wichita certainly believe it to be true.

Gary Voth was in his third week at Wesley Medical Center due to a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs). One medication that was supposed to help had left him in excruciating pain for sixteen hours, with damaged nerves, and unable to walk. The doctors recommended Gary begin another medication, the blood thinner Coumadin. That night, worried and uncertain about the future, neither Gary nor his wife Gladys could sleep in the hospital room.

Around 2 a.m., Lisa Harrelson entered the room. It was a busy night and they were short-staffed, but Lisa was determined that her patients wouldn’t know that. She took Gary’s vitals, and as she did, she could see fear on the faces of the couple in the darkened room. She began to talk with the Voths about Gary’s medical situation.

“I shared about my husband having a similar medical scare several years ago,” Lisa recalled. “I talked about the fear I experienced with my husband having to be on medication for life and living with the fear that he may get another blood clot. Then, after awhile, I was afraid that maybe I shared too much. I really want to focus on my patients and not what I have gone through, but in that moment I just wanted to offer them some kind of hope. ”

And she did.

“Lisa’s calm reassurance of God’s nearness and guidance, plus the practical ups and downs of living with Coumadin were the right prescription of nursing care,” Gladys said, her voice breaking. “God’s timing was perfect. Even a year later, we still recall her confidence and reassurance that any medication has its uncertainness, but God is constant.”

Harrelson and the Voths credit God with her placement in Gary’s room that night. At the time, she was working in a “float pool.” Each night, when she arrived at work, she would go wherever the need was the greatest. She worked in 16 different departments. That night, she was where she needed to be.

Just as she was this past Easter Sunday morning. Near the end of the service at Glenville Bible Baptist Church in Wichita, Mary Shook noticed that her husband Buddy’s head had dropped down and he was having difficulty breathing. A paramedic from the congregation was at his side quickly, and soon other medical professionals from the congregation came to pick him up and lay him on the floor.

“As soon as I got to Buddy, it was clear that he had lost his blood pressure,” Harrelson said. “His face was gray. We scooped him up and I started CPR. I recall the incredible feeling of hearing hundreds of people all around us praying for Buddy.

“I think about so many times at Hesston College I was told ‘you are the equipment.’ The teachers wanted us to know that we were not to rely only on monitors and machines but on God and ourselves as well. ‘Treat the patient, not the machines,’ they would say. That day I had no machines-I just had God and my training. I could have done everything possible and Buddy’s outcome could have been different. Buddy didn’t die-he came back to life. Now, every Sunday Buddy comes up to me and hugs me and thanks me. If I never have another opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, that Sunday was worth all the blood, sweat, and tears of school.”