Her heart is in the right place
Nurse practitioner inspired by experiences she had as a patient at Cook Children’s
Being a cardiothoracic nurse practitioner isn’t an easy job. It means spending long hours monitoring, counseling and educating heart surgery patients during one of the most stressful times of their lives. For Crystal Flores, it also means using her personal experience as a congenital heart defect patient to convey a message of hope.
She had her first heart surgery at Cook Children’s when she was 11 months old. Her second came at age 15 and left her with vivid memories of the place where she would one day work.
“It was magical. I still remember the atrium, the paint on the ceiling and all of the colors. I also remember the staff. The nurses and doctors were excellent and so friendly.”
Heart surgery isn’t something one would expect to have fond memories of, but Flores says her experience as a Cook Children’s patient helped guide her life in a direction she may never have imagined.
“Growing up, I always wanted to be like my pediatric cardiologist, Dr. Lai. Now, here I am, working alongside him.”
Not only is she working with the physician who cared for her as a child, but also with her current cardiologist, Scott Pilgrim, MD, Medical Director of the Adult Congenital Heart Defect Program at Cook Children’s. Flores may be the only Cook Children’s employee able to say she’s a lifelong patient, still being treated today, but it’s a title she carries well. She knows what the patients are going through, and uses her experience to reassure them and their families.
“Sometimes I tear up because I’m thinking wow, ‘Is this what my mom was like or is this what I was like?’” said Flores. “I know surgery is scary. I’ve been through it, so I’m there, scared with them and praying with them. It can be hard but also very rewarding. “
When it comes to the future, Flores doesn’t seem too concerned about change. She says she wants to continue what she’s already doing, helping patients understand what to expect and helping parents understand what their child is going through. Most of all, she wants everyone to know that having a heart defect doesn’t need to hold a person back.
“I want patients to know that you can do anything you want to do. You can be a nurse, you can be a nurse practitioner, you can be a teacher or you can be the president!”
As for Flores, she’s perfectly happy being a nurse practitioner at Cook Children’s.
“I just want to continue working here forever. I fell in love with this place when I was a kid and am still in love with it now. “