Tina Toner couldn’t have been more surprised Tuesday to be reunited with a nurse who inspired her to enter the nursing field more than 20 years ago. The surprise was kept under wraps for a number of weeks by Toner’s colleagues who tracked down the nurse, who is now a nurse manager at a large hospital in New York, and chipped in funds for travel expenses to bring the nurse, Nikki (Carlson) Brockler, to Lovell.
Toner has been a nurse for 21 years. She came to NBHH in her current supervisory position several years ago. Previously, she worked as a nurse in many different hospitals and in many different capacities as she followed her husband to various locations during his military career.
Toner was inspired to become a nurse by Brockler, who cared for her in the neo-natal intensive care unit (NICU) of a hospital in Great Falls, where, as a teen, she was giving birth to her first child prematurely.
Toner, who was only 16 years old at the time, said she felt like her future was ending as she lay in a hospital bed for nearly a month. Still in shock by the news, her parents weren’t particularly thrilled with the unplanned pregnancy, either, and she received a lot of negative feedback from teachers and others.
One teacher, for example, told Toner she was going to end up working in a fast food restaurant, but Brockler told her otherwise.
“Nikki told me that I would be able to take care of my son and that my life wasn’t over,” said Toner. “She gave me hope for my future.”
Toner’s son Sean was only 3 pounds, 11 ounces at birth. He required hospital care and an extended stay in the neonatal unit. During her stay Toner’s discussions with Brockler continued. Brockler talked to Toner about getting her high school equivalency test as soon as possible and encouraged her to consider nursing as a career.
Toner said one of the most difficult experiences she had was in 1992 when she watched her high school classmates receive their diplomas and was unable to receive her own. Inspired by Brockler’s words, she immediately got her GED degree that summer and enrolled in nursing school. Eventually, she not only earned her nursing degree but bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well. She is currently the Director of Nursing at NBHH.
Toner recently won the Norman S. Holt Award for Nursing Excellence, recognizing her as a nurse outstanding in her field. The Wyoming Hospital Association presented the award to her in September.
During Toner’s acceptance speech, she told the story of how Brockler inspired her. Deb Anderson, a representative for Pacific Mountain Quality Health, was in the audience. So inspired was she by Toner’s speech, Anderson took it upon herself to track down Brockler. With very little information to go on, not even a name, Anderson found Brockler in Rochester, New York. Anderson then co-conspired with NBHH CEO Rick Schroeder and others to reunite the two.
On Tuesday afternoon, Toner was invited to a ruse event to hear “a special speaker who happened to be passing through the area.” At first she didn’t recognize Brockler, who after a few moments called her forward to stand with her in front of a room full of nurses and other staff from the hospital. Toner was quickly brought to tears once she realized the woman at the podium was the one who had inspired her to go into the nursing profession so many years ago.
Brockler joked that she thought she was getting sued by someone from her past when she got a phone call from Schroeder. Though she hadn’t thought much about how things turned out for that young girl from the past, she was clearly pleased to have been a positive influence in Toner’s life and encouraged the nurses in the room to show the same compassion for their patients.
“Obviously, Tina really listened to what I said and took it to heart,” said Brockler. “I can’t even get my own kids to do that.”
The moving reunion brought many to tears in the audience.
By Patti Carpenter