In 1975 when Charlene (Char) Maxen started working at Akron Children’s as a staff nurse things were a little different. There wasn’t a single parking deck. Akron Children’s Hospital Pediatrics (ACHP) didn’t exist. There was, however, a tennis court right in the middle of Perkins Park where she witnessed more than a few epic battles among her coworkers.
Back then Char didn’t know that the hospital would one day grow to become the region’s premier pediatric hospital, or that 42 years later she would become an indelible part of the Akron Children’s legacy. On January 25, Char joined an elite group when she was chosen by her peers as the hospital’s 2016 Distinguished Service Award (DSA) recipient.
After spending 17 years as a staff nurse, float nurse and nurse practitioner, Char found a forever home on the hematology/oncology unit where she has worked for the last 25 years. As a case manager, she helps arrange home care, prior authorizations, coordinates discharges and patient transfers, and works with outside agencies and other support services.
Working at Children’s has been a family affair for the Maxens. Char’s 2 sons and daughter-in-law have worked here and her husband, Jim, and dog, Tequila, were part of the Doggie Brigade for 7 years.
“Jim came up with the idea to make a trading card of Tequila to leave behind with the patients we visited,” she said. “I remember one little boy who was so delighted he was sure the trading card would be worth something someday.
“Now the hospital has trading cards made of all the dogs in the brigade, but I like to think we started it all.”
Char says Drs. Carl Krill Jr., Alex Koufos, Mohammad Talai and Jeffrey Hord with teaching her a lot through the years.
“They not only grew the hematology/oncology department to what it is today, they helped me become who I am both as a person and practitioner,” she said. “They taught me the care we give is our legacy and one that we should be proud of.”
One of Char’s job duties is working with insurance companies to confirm treatments and procedures are covered and paid for at the best possible rate – removing one very large stressor for families.
“I do my best to keep their out-of-pocket costs to a minimum,” she said. “Parents are so appreciative because it’s one less thing they have to worry about.”
In 2005 Char experienced what is was like to be a patient instead of a caregiver when she was diagnosed with endometrial cancer. She says the experience helped make her better at her job.
“I could relate to all the symptoms, the treatments, the medical equipment needs,” she said. “My diagnosis helped me bond with my patients – one even told me the best place to go buy turbans and hats. I realized if these children could summon the strength to fight cancer then so could I.”
That strength was something she would draw upon again 10 years later. In 2015 she tragically lost both of her sons and battled a cancer recurrence. Char says it was her coworkers who helped get her through the darkest time in her life.
“I continued to work during my cancer treatments, which kept me distracted and gave me a sense of purpose,” she said. “My hospital family helped me see sunshine through the tears and lifted me up during the bad times. The hospital was my home away from home and a place of solace.”
Today Char is thankful to be cancer-free and enjoys spending time with her husband at their condo in Sandusky on the weekends.
“I am honored and humbled to be considered worthy of this award,” she said. “It really means a lot to me.”