LeAnn Thieman was a 25-year-old nurse in 1975 strolling through an Iowa mall with her daughters when she noticed a bake sale that compelled her to make a difference.
“I stopped to buy a dozen cupcakes,” Thieman said. “Understand, that is all I ever intended to do.”
The bake sale was raising money for babies in Vietnam. A dozen cupcakes turned into a rescue mission for Thieman, as she soon became a member and chapter president of the organization, Friends of Children of Vietnam (FCVN).
Soon after, she became a volunteer tasked with escorting six babies from Vietnam to adoptive families in the U.S., and once Operation Babylift was approved by President Gerald R. Ford, six quickly rose to 300.
“When people see this they say ‘Wow, LeAnn, you were so brave.’ That’s not the truth,” Thieman said. “Things happened to me there that brought me to my knees. I watched a plane-load of orphans crash. I was no hero. I was a bawling bubble of mess. I was an ordinary person caught up in something that was so over my head, I was grabbing for anything I could to help me cope.”
‘Hearts & Healing’
Her experience launched a career in which she’s helped nurses and caregivers learn to cope when dealing with stressful situations, showing them that it is essential to care for themselves before helping others. Now a resident of Fort Collins, Colorado, Thieman spends her time traveling the country, inspiring those who dedicate their lives to caring for others.
“The lessons I learned from Operation Babylift apply to balancing life,” Thieman said, “caring for our minds, bodies and spirits, because that’s the way we survive and cope in the war zones of our lives.”
Last week, Thieman shared some of what she’s learned in a presentation titled “Hearts & Healing” at the Nevada System for Higher Education. In light of the Oct. 1 mass shooting on the Strip, Thieman spoke to a group of caregivers about tools for achieving mental balance and ways to cope with stress. Many said they strongly identified with what they heard.
“It touched me personally because we as nurses do not care for ourselves,” said Debra Gulley-Collins, senior program manager for health care workforce at Workforce Connections. “I realized I needed to take that time, and as she said, ‘take care of me.’ ”
Gulley-Collins has cared for her parents, children and her husband. She was struggling to find time to focus on her health. She ended up in the hospital and strangely enough, at that moment, wished she would’ve paid more attention to her puppy, as she showed her how to take time and appreciate life.
“When I take her for a walk, I become irritated because I want to walk and finish the walk, whereas she smells the flowers,” Gulley-Collins said. “She smells every bit of everything. Now when I look at her I say to myself, ‘She stops to smell the roses, she stops to smell fragrances.’ She’s not in a hurry. When I walk with her now, I appreciate that.”
‘We need more laughter’
Gulley-Collins said that it’s important for people to step back and take a deep breath.
“We need more laughter,” she said. “There’s so much going on in the world. (The Oct. 1 shooting) was tragic. We came together as a community, which I found to be very spiritual and inviting. I think if we have more of that, we would see that it would definitely help us. Caring for yourself is key. You can’t take care of anyone else unless you’re whole.”
Coping in the wake of tragedy can be difficult, as outlined in Thieman’s presentation. Eva Carley, clinical manager of Healthcare Partners of Nevada, said it’s important to join support groups or find an outlet in distressing situations.
“As nurses, we just deal with the situation,” Carley said. “We grieve afterward, but we have a specific job to do, so we must focus on that. If not, we could really hurt someone or not give the support they need. To handle tragedies, whether it’s Vietnam or the shootings that have taken place recently, you have to find an outlet. For myself, I love to bake.”
Erica Crisologo, a nursing manager also with Healthcare Partners, noted that it’s important to find inspiration within tragedy and find the light in the situation.
“You see people come together,” Crisologo, said. “They come together and people who don’t normally help will help. Look to it as inspiration instead of something that will cause you fear. Be inspired by what it gets people to do.”
Thieman ended Tuesday’s presentation by describing essential ways to care for oneself physically, mentally, and spiritually. She noted that it’s important to eat healthy, focus on individual needs “and give yourself permission to make your self-care a priority.” Mind, body and spirit require equal attention to maintain balance.
“When a toddler figures out what they need, they ask for it until they get it,” she said. (They scream) “ ‘I want some juice. I want some juice, I want juice,’ until someone gets them juice. As grownups, we tend not to do that. … We need to ask for our juice so we can put our lives into better balance and then we can bring that balance into the workplace.”
A recipe for self care
LeAnn Thieman uses the following acronym to remind people, particularly nurses and caregivers, to care for themselves: CARE4ME
Connect with your higher power — find a spiritual balance.
Ask for your “juice.”
Rest and sleep — 7 to 8 hours of sleep in a 24-hour period is essential. Take it.
4 times a day, breathe — take slow, deep breaths regularly each day.
Mind your mind — positive thinking is key.
Exercise three times a week.
Contact Mia Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0298. Follow @miasims___ on Twitter.