MountainStar Health - May 11, 2022

Like mother, like daughter: An unmatched MountainStar Healthcare nursing duo

It has been repeated millions of times and shared in thousands of memes, but this single quote from Mother Teresa still resonates: “I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.”

Years ago, two nurses, separated by a couple decades, cast stones into the water while at work. One nurse tenderly cared for a small girl in a wheelchair who had to have surgery on both feet. The other comforted and tended to a very young open-heart surgery patient when her mother was away from the hospital. Both nurses inspired their young patients to become nurses themselves, so that they could, in turn, care for others as they had been cared for.

Marilyn Mariani and Mikayla Allred were those young patients. Not only are they both nurses, they are mother and daughter. Mikayla is an ICU nurse at St. Mark’s Hospital in Salt Lake City. Marilyn is chief nursing officer at Lakeview Hospital in Bountiful, Utah. As they worked together in Utah’s MountainStar Healthcare hospital system during the COVID-19 pandemic, their unique bond and perspectives as mother-daughter made both women better, more resilient professionals who were able to provide greater patient care.

Nursing is a calling

“I always wanted to be in medicine. At first, I thought I’d be a veterinarian,” says Mikayla, thinking back to when she first felt the pull toward a career in healthcare. “But that nurse who took care of me as a child—she got me through everything—she inspired me. So did my mom. They both made me want to be a nurse. I wanted to care for people the way they cared for me.”

Marilyn’s experience was similar.

“Nursing is a calling. I’ve always loved to help people, make sure they are ok. As an administrator, I love supporting other nurses and helping them advance and grow in their careers. I also enjoy supporting my nursing staff, enabling them to [fulfill] their jobs by giving them what they need to succeed.”

“Mom is the most patient, kind, caring person I know,” says Mikayla. “She always tries to see the good in others, even if there isn’t much to see. Even if someone is acting badly, she’ll say, ‘They are probably going through something, but they’re probably still a good person.’ I wish I could be more like her in that way.”

Naturally, the admiration goes both ways.

“Mikayla goes out of her way to help anyone – both at work and in her personal life,” her mom says. “She does many personal things to make sure her patients are taken care of – well beyond basic care. And she’s a wonderful mom, as well. I’m so proud of her.”

The passion for and commitment to loving and caring for people was ultimately what the two women hung on to throughout the COVID-19 pandemic; that’s what got them through two difficult years of their careers.

A mother’s advice: remember the joy

“At the beginning of the pandemic, it was super scary. Our 18-bed ICU transformed into a COVID unit,” Mikayla recalls. “I’ve never seen so much death. And we were so afraid we would take it home to our family.”

This experience was shared by nurses in intensive care units all over the world. At the beginning of the pandemic – with no effective treatments and no vaccines – ICUs filled with patients who would never recover. Most of the time, nurses could only try to provide a little comfort to patients who were dying alone, separated from their families.

“I don’t know if I brought them comfort,” says Mikayla. “Watching people who were 30, 40, 50 — people with kids, moms like me — die, knowing that the spouse would be raising those kids alone. It was so sad.”

Oftentimes, Mikayla says, the best they could offer their patients was helping them say good-bye to their family over Zoom. It was heartbreaking.

While Mikayla was struggling to care for people in the ICU, Marilyn was struggling to know how to help her nursing staff.

“Being in leadership, you’re not taking care of patients. Having my daughter in the depths of it, hearing what she was going through… she was able to give me the emotional side of it. I was better able to empathize with my nurses when I visited with them.”

“Not only that,” Marilyn continues, “but because she was in the trenches at a larger hospital, she was able to provide me with information about just how severe the condition (COVID) really was and what treatments they (the ICU staff) were trying in the earliest days of the pandemic. The first-hand information was really valuable.”

Understandably, as it did for so many nurses, COVID’s long hours and constant emotional overload took a toll on Mikayla.

“There were times when she didn’t know if she could do it anymore,” says Marilyn. Yet Mikayla still felt the pull of her calling to care for people.

“My husband and I discussed quitting, but I kept thinking, ‘What if it was my family?’” explains Mikayla. “If it was one of my family members in the ICU, I would want someone like me caring for them — someone with specialized skills and experience. I also felt like I needed to serve my community in the best way I know how.”

After every shift, Mikayla called her mom. It was a much-needed opportunity to unpack her emotions, cry, and get some motherly encouragement.

“Mom kept telling me to remember the happiness of the job before the pandemic, to remember the joy,” the ICU nurse explained.

“Remember how it was before COVID,” Marilyn told her daughter. “Hang in there. It will go back to the way it was before. Just remember — that’s the only way you can get through this.”

And she did.

Cherishing the important things

This Mother’s Day, as usual, Mikayla and Marilyn celebrated over homemade breakfast, enjoying the company of their family. Time with family and dear friends has new meaning and is all the more valued because of their experiences during the pandemic.

“We were so lucky. We didn’t lose anyone. It makes me cherish them more. I’m more grateful for my husband and my kids, grateful for the time to be with them,” says Mikayla. “And my grandmothers are still with us. I’m so grateful they have been able to meet my kids.”

Marilyn agrees, but in her role as an administrator, she feels like her “mothering” extends to the nurses she supervises at Lakeview. She’s concerned about them and nurses everywhere.

“The pandemic is not what they went into nursing for. But I hope people stay in the career. I know it was hard during the pandemic, but they need to focus on the benefits. Nursing is a calling.”

At work and at home, Marilyn and Mikayla continue to cast stones across the water every day, creating ripples that will benefit their family, their colleagues, and their patients for years to come. They truly embody the mission statement of MountainStar Healthcare’s parent company, HCA Healthcare: “Above all else, we are committed to the care and improvement of human life.”