Without Skipping a Beat: Nurse Thrives After Heart Surgery

Annie Dickerson and heart surgery

Not even open heart surgery could keep this nurse from pushing herself through school and beyond. Read about Annie Dickerson, who is well on her way to becoming a cardiac nurse practitioner after overcoming some obstacles along the way. 

Open heart surgery at any age or stage in life is tough. But going through it at just 39 years old while working as a full-time Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) and after starting nursing school seems impossible.

But that didn’t stop Annie Dickerson from becoming a registered nurse. And she’s not stopping until she becomes a cardiac nurse practitioner.

Annie was born with ventricular septal defect (VSD), which involves a hole in the wall of the heart between the lower chambers. But Annie didn’t show symptoms of a heart defect growing up; in fact, she participated in sports, and her lungs ended up over-compensating for her heart defect. So she never showed symptoms to have it repaired.

In 2008, Annie started experiencing heart troubles, which eventually developed into atrial fibrillation (A Fib). Her symptoms were exacerbated in 2013.

“I pushed myself too hard sometimes,” she said. “I enjoyed working as a CNA a lot, so I would work and still be having cardiac issues.”

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She struggled with heart problems through work and her first year of nursing school, and she was in and out of the hospital. Her cardiologists at Renown Institute for Heart & Vascular Health recommended she have open heart surgery to repair her VSD. They said this would in turn help reduce A Fib and other health issues.

She Didn’t Skip a Beat After Heart Surgery 

During the summer after finishing her first year in nursing school, Annie got open heart surgery at University of California, San Francisco Medical Center. But she didn’t miss a second of school: She jumped right back into classes the following semester.

“I worked light duty for a while, and TMCC worked with me on what clinicals I could do so that I didn’t have to miss any semesters for school,” she said. “I got support by everyone – my school, my doctors, my work at Renown.”

Annie Dickerson and heart surgeryBut Annie says out of all the help she’s received, her husband Charles is her biggest supporter.

“I could not have done any of this – gone to school and worked – if it wasn’t for my husband,” she said. “He’s the one that did it all to take care of me so that I could reach my goals. And he still is doing everything for me so that I can continue on to become a nurse practitioner.”

“I took on all the housework, and I’m just trying to do what I can to make sure she attains her goals,” Charles said. “Because what makes her happy makes me happy. I think she’s going to be an excellent nurse practitioner because she’s very smart and compassionate. She really cares for people, and that’s what I love about her.”

Annie now works as a registered nurse on Renown’s Telemetry Unit while also earning her Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing at the University of Nevada, Reno’s Orvis School of Nursing. She expects to graduate in May 2019. She then plans to immediately start the Master of Science in Nursing program to become a Cardiac Nurse Practitioner.

“I don’t let anything stop me from reaching my goals,” Annie said.

The Future is Bright

With a great support system surrounding her and a plan for her continuing education, Annie is determined to further her career in nursing to give back to heart patients.

“I can understand what they’re going through; I can relate to them,” she said. “Some of the patients I take care of have certain procedures that I’ve had. So I’m able to help with their anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen. I can say, ‘Hey, look at me now, I’m all fixed up.’”

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  1. You go girl...when I met you, and heard your story, I knew you could do anything you wanted to do, with your life. You came from GOOD people.