By the time she was 18 years old, Rachel Hardy had endured more than 17 surgeries to repair her congenital cleft lip and palate. After being adopted from South Korea, Rachel had her first surgery on her lip at 6 months of age at Akron Children’s.
“Many of my surgeries happened when I was young,” said Rachel. “The first one I remember is around age 8 when they grafted a bone from my hip to fill bone defects and provide structural support to my palate.”
As she got older, she remembered the hospital’s child life specialists helping her overcome her fears of surgery.
“I remember one putting on a gown and walking me back to the OR holding my hand,” she said. “She then went out to talk to my parents to tell them how brave I was and that I climbed up on the operating table myself.”
Now 26 years old, Rachel said it was those experiences that influenced her desire to become a nurse. The cherry on top is getting to work in Akron Children’s James A. Lehman, Jr., MD, Craniofacial Center, taking care of patients just like her.
“As I was searching for jobs, I was encouraged by Dr. Lehman (who was my surgeon and mentor) to apply to Akron Children’s,” she said. “As soon as I began working here in 2022, I knew I made the right decision.”
Although she started her career at Children’s in the Transitional Care Unit, Rachel said her personal experience as a former patient inspired her to become a member of the craniofacial team.
“My experience allows me to relate to what my patients are going through, including their fears and their pain,” she said. “I can empathize with them and follow their progression from birth throughout the craniofacial experience.
“I enjoy the atmosphere, the team attitude and the support I’ve always received from my colleagues,” she added. “We collaborate and discuss the best treatment options for our patients. It’s a thoughtful process in which all aspects of care are considered.”
Rachel said no day is ever the same working in the craniofacial center.
“I am involved in all facets of health care and get to interface with specialists like orthodontists, feeding therapists, speech pathologists, audiologists, social workers and ENTs in addition to our own plastic surgeons,” she said.
What makes Rachel a unique nurse is the fact that her patients can see themselves reflected in her.
“Sometimes a family member will notice the scar above my lip and ask me if I had a cleft,” she said. “Often it puts parents at ease because they know that I understand what their baby is going through. And hopefully it reassures them that their child is going to be OK.”
Rachel epitomizes the saying if you love what you do, it isn’t work. That’s also the advice she would give to new nurses.
“Find what you’re passionate about and run with it,” she said. “Know that Akron Children’s will provide you with the support and resources you need to be successful in your nursing career.”
Some of her happiest moments on the job are seeing the transition for infant patients from their initial feeding team visit to their cleft lip/palate repair.
“It’s so heartwarming to see the physical and emotional change for the patients and their families,” she said. “Dr. Lehman and the team at Akron Children’s truly changed my life, and I hope to be able to make the same impact on my patients.”
Interested in a career in nursing at Akron Children’s? Visit careers.akronchildrens.org to learn more.