Through her nearly 52 years in nursing, Shirley Stuckwisch has had a heart for patients.

Working in nearly every hospital department in some capacity over the years, the Brownstown native has helped numerous people through their health situation.

Since 1998, she has worked in the cardiac rehabilitation area at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour, allowing her to have a heart for heart patients.

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The hospital may have experienced physical changes and advancements in medical techniques and technology, but Stuckwisch said taking care of patients always has been a priority.

“Patients are patients,” she said. “They want the same care and people being kind to them and compassionate. That part of it hasn’t changed any.”

With 50 years of service, hospital officials say Stuckwisch is Schneck’s longest-tenured employee. The hospital opened in 1911.

The 73-year-old plans to keep working to help people feel better.

“I love the people, absolutely love the people,” she said. “I feel like I’m helping them to feel better and to cope with their disease. I just really, really like the people. It’s just a passion I have.”

Stuckwisch said she was fortunate to choose a career she likes.

“Not everybody is that fortunate, and they always think that the grass is greener on the other side to get another position,” she said. “You can change positions here periodically, and I did that throughout the years, so it has not always just been the status quo. You try to grow along with it.

“It has just been an awesome journey,” she said. “It’s just continuous care of patients and education. It’s still interesting to me after 50 years.”

Stuckwisch was among those honored in May during Schneck’s employee recognition dinner. Each year, employees are recognized for their years of service in five-year increments. They used to receive pins, but in recent years, they have had the option of a pin or a gift from a brochure.

Stuckwisch had kept all of her pins together in a jewelry box, but those were among the items stolen a year ago when someone robbed her home.

At the recognition dinner, the hospital surprised her with a shadowbox containing the pins for each of her five years of service.

“That was a surprise. That was awesome,” she said. “The people in (the cardiac rehab) department knew (about the robbery), and I guess that’s how they figured that would be a good memento for me.”

Kathy Covert, vice president of workforce and organizational development, said 50 years of service certainly is something to celebrate.

“We appreciate Shirley’s dedication to our organization, our patients and our community. Her loyalty is unmatched,” Covert said. “We thank Shirley for her many years of service and truly appreciate her commitment to Schneck Medical Center.”

Lifelong dream

Stuckwisch said she was drawn to nursing after being diagnosed with a calcium deficiency and an enlarged heart when she was 6.

She was on bed rest for six months and never was admitted into the hospital, but she went there for X-rays and checkups over the years.

By her early teens, she said she knew her career path would be nursing.

After graduating from Brownstown High School in 1962, she earned a diploma from Norton Memorial Infirmary School of Nursing in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1965.

Stuckwisch completed the 33-month program and passed her state board exam. At that time, it was a two-day process, taking eight hours each day, and she didn’t find out if she passed until a few months later.

Her first job was working as a registered nurse in the orthopedics department at Bartholomew County Hospital in Columbus.

Then in October 1966, she started at what was then known as Jackson County Schneck Memorial Hospital in Seymour.

She worked the evening shift on the medical surgical floor, helping patients who were admitted into the hospital for medical or surgical treatment.

In 1971, Stuckwisch moved to the hospital’s first intensive coronary care unit. She was one of 16 people who completed the 10-week course to learn the proper techniques and procedures for that department.

She later spent time in a supervision role that allowed her to work in various areas of the hospital.

“Anybody that had problems or if you needed to help them in any way — answer questions, admit patients and whatever — you were kind of a jack-of-all-trades at that point,” Stuckwisch said.

In 1986, she was one of 14 people who completed Schneck’s first advanced cardiac life support class.

When the cardiac rehab area opened, she shifted her focus to monitored exercise and education for people with heart conditions, those who suffer from a heart attack and have bypass surgery, valve surgery or a stent put in and those who receive a heart transplant. That area also includes pulmonary rehab for people with a chronic respiratory disease.

There are now three rehab classes in the morning and two in the afternoon.

“You see them just come alive almost because they can come in so debilitated and they can come in depressed, and then you get them interacting with a group and with you, and they start feeling better,” Stuckwisch said. “You can see that because we’re with them for six weeks or a lot of times longer than that, so it’s really rewarding to see that happen. The satisfaction is probably as much mine as it is for them to get better.”

Stuckwisch said it’s important for her to be educated on heart disease, blood pressure, nutrition and more.

“It’s not just about the heart because they have other problems, too,” she said. “You’ve got all of these joint issues and back pain and psychological things. There is a lot of emotional trauma when people have heart problems.”

Enjoying the work

Providing comfort to the patients is Stuckwisch’s favorite part of the job.

“It’s almost like the farther down they are, the more you want to help them,” she said. “You just really feel bad for them, and you want to do everything you possibly can.”

Even though continuing education isn’t required for licensed nurses in Indiana, Stuckwisch said she has chosen to read a lot to keep up with the latest trends.

“Medications, especially nowadays, they change so rapidly. When we went from brand names to generics, I thought, ‘Oh my gosh! This is the end of me,’” she said, laughing. “But you get through that, too.”

She also has attended seminars to learn more.

“You want to go to as many seminars as they will let you because that’s where you learn and you talk to your peers and you know what another hospital maybe in a larger city is doing that we’re not doing here, and you want to bring that back here so that you can keep up and progress,” she said.

A year ago, Stuckwisch decided to go from full time to working two or three days a week through Schneck’s job share program. She and Rhonda Pardieck rotate working two or three days every other week.

“I thought if I couldn’t do part time, if they didn’t have an opening in this department, which they didn’t, maybe I would just retire. I didn’t really want to retire, but I was thinking about it,” she said, smiling. “By the time I work five days, I’m about done, so three days works better for me, and then the two days the following week. Of course, we fill in for vacations and stuff like that, too.”

For others thinking about becoming a nurse, Stuckwisch said she recommends getting some on-the-job work experience while in nursing school, which is what she did.

“We had that experience before we ever got a job someplace else,” she said. “To get that base of knowledge, it’s just real important.”

Stuckwisch said she never thought she would stay with the same job for 50 years. After having kids, she wasn’t sure if she would return to work.

“Then you decide you want to go back to work, and then things just evolve, and you don’t think of it,” she said.

At one point, she thought she would retire after turning 59½, but that didn’t happen, either.

“I still can’t see myself quitting completely,” she said. “I guess the reason that I still want to do it is because I like it and I can. God has given me the health to do it and the ability to do it, so I really just want to continue that. I really don’t have any reason not to work right now, but if I do, then it will be time to retire.”

Stuckwisch file

Name: Shirley Stuckwisch

Age: 73

Hometown: Brownstown

Residence: Brownstown

Education: Brownstown High School (1962); Norton Memorial Infirmary School of Nursing (1965); 10-week intensive coronary care unit course (1971); advanced cardiac life support class (1986)

Occupation: Registered nurse at Schneck Medical Center in Seymour since October 1966

Family: Husband, Fred Stuckwisch; sons, Ed Stuckwisch and Russ Stuckwisch; grandchildren, Amanda Stuckwisch, Matthew Stuckwisch and Abigail Stuckwisch

Pull Quote

Here’s what some of Shirley Stuckwisch’s Schneck Medical Center coworkers had to say about working alongside her and also her 50 years of service.

“I think one thing that always stood out in my mind about Shirley is the phenomenal work ethic that she has. I always felt that she has this work ethic because she truly cares about those patients that she comes into contact with. Shirley just had a vast amount of nursing experience. I learned so much from Shirley. When you look at how she connected with each individual that she came into contact with, she had this special way of connecting with each one of them. That was evident in watching these individuals come back to our facility after being discharged at six months, a year, two, even five years later on multiple occasions just to reconnect with Shirley, the nurse that helped heal them.” Matt Chandler, director of risk management and safety

“Shirley has taught me so much, and I’m pretty sure that she could work any nurse in this hospital under the table. Going from expert in one field to a novice in another has been really difficult, but Shirley has been there for me every step of the way. She has been a great resource. She has taught me so much. She is an outstanding nurse and has been a great role model for me.” April Burnside, registered nurse in cardiovascular services

“What stands out the most to me about Shirley is her passion. Shirley has a heart for her job, and the patients know that. Several cardiac patients will return just to visit with Shirley or to seek advice from Shirley.” Sherri Campbell, echo sonographer in cardiovascular services

“When I tell people that she knows everything, she doesn’t like that; however, she has seen things in nursing come and go, and the things that have evolved have come back around again.” Kim Ellerman, cardiac sonographer in cardiovascular services

“I’ve learned so much by working with her. One of these days, I want to grow up and be just like her. I’ve been here for 25 years, and I’ve got 25 more to go.” Barb Leffler, certified cardiac tech in cardiovascular services

“She amazes me the amount of energy that she has. She is one of the most honest people I’ve ever met. She knows everything. She’s a great reference. Whenever I need to know something, I’ll go to her. I’ve really enjoyed working with Shirley. She’s a great mentor and wonderful friend. Absolutely she has been a blessing, and I told her she can’t retire until I retire, so I hope she’s around many more years.” Rhonda Pardieck, registered nurse in cardiovascular services

“I think just being here so long, knowing our culture and really buying into that culture and being an example for others, whether it be current employees who also have been here awhile or just new employees that can come in and kind of see what we’re all about and see that model by somebody like Shirley. And then the continuity, just having that constant there that you know you can be confident in her abilities and know that you’re going to get that same effort from her year after year, day after day.” John Doriot, director of nutrition services and cardiovascular services

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.