Mother of pediatric patient sees the impact nurses have — and becomes one herself

Mary Prokop, pediatric oncology nurse, Palm Beach Children’s Hospital at St. Mary's
Our-Stories-ProkopMary Prokop knew that her life would never be the same after her 4 year old daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with leukemia. But she never thought she’d be so touched by Kate’s nurses that she'd want to become one herself.   
"The doctors come in once a day, but who’s there with you for 24 hours? That’s your nurses!" Mary says. "Your nurses are there 24/7. They’re the ones who help you get through what you need to get through. So it came to me one night: this is what I should do."
Kate, now 9, fought and won her battle with leukemia, further strengthening Mary's decision to join a team like St. Mary's.  After graduating nursing school in 2011, there was never any question about where Mary wanted to work — she wanted to give back to the hospital that had given so much to her daughter. 
Mary started working nights in a pediatric department at Palm Beach Children's Hospital to get her feet wet. A year later, there was an opening with the pediatric oncology support team. Mary knew that was her chance, but she was worried — what if all the emotions she felt during her daughter's illness resurfaced the moment she stepped on the floor? 
"I called the director, Barbara, and said, ‘Ok, Barbara, there’s an opening, but I'm not sure if I'm ready,'"says Mary.  "She said, 'Well, if you don’t take the job, who will? Somebody who doesn't know what the kids are going through?' And I said, 'Ok, fine.'"
Were there difficult moments? Of course, Mary says. She had to take some computer training on the second floor, the same floor where she'd spent so many anxious hours with her little girl, and it triggered memories that simply overwhelmed her.
"I went to the bathroom afterward, and I couldn't come out. I was sobbing," she recalls. "Even walking onto the unit was hard. But the more fears I overcome the less anxiety I have about caring for pediatric patients."
But Mary's presence in pediatric oncology has become a sincere and comforting one for anxious parents because she knows exactly what they're going through. She can make a difference for them, just as the nurses made a difference for her all those years ago. 
"It's not just a chance to work with the nurses, but the doctors and families, as well," she says. "It's great to know that we can and do make a difference. We can offer our children better treatment because of the care we provide   at Palm Beach Children’s Hospital with the Children's Oncology Group."
"I think the children's hospital has come a long way in the past few years, and we are building a really strong team from the top down. I’m really proud to work here."
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