Work That Matters

Run For Your Life

CHLA nurses rely on passionate foot power to exercise away their stress and keep fit.

Growing up, Lauren Bryant, BSN, RN 4 West, hated running so much that for years she chose to play goalkeeper on her soccer team. “I was happy to dive for that ball,” she says, “but I didn’t want to run for it.”

That all changed after Bryant became a nurse and started running to “cope with the realities of pediatric oncology and of life itself,” she says.

Now she’s an evangelist for the sport. In seven years, she has competed in multiple 10Ks and half-marathons, along with two Tough Mudders (an endurance obstacle course) and the Marine Corps Mud Run at Camp Pendleton. She loves to run trails—”It’s worth the view”—and she tackled her first 50K (roughly 31 miles) on Catalina Island in 2019. She’s training for her second one this winter.

Several times a week, she ventures out at 4:45 am to run. Her weekly goal is between 15 to 30 miles. “Running is a passion I need,” says Bryant. “I function better as a nurse, a wife, a sister and a sister-in-law when I run.”

Nurses all over Children’s Hospital Los Angeles are donning their running shoes and hitting the streets, sidewalks, tracks and trails—all in pursuit of stress-busting clarity and all-around fitness.

For Kenneth Salmon, RN, in the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Foundation Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit (CTICU), running has been life-changing and has had a great affect on his diabetes. “It helps me control my blood sugars,” he says. A 30-minute run can drop his glucose levels 100 points.

Almost a decade ago, a multidisciplinary group of CTICU staff, including doctors, nurses and respiratory therapists, started riding mountain bikes, hiking and running together. “It helps makes our teamwork that much stronger,” Salmon says.

He has joined the group for half-marathons, marathons and relay races. Trail runs in the mountains above Sierra Madre are his favorite. “You can go forever and ever.”

Anna Pasquarella, BSN, RN, CPHON, Bone Marrow Transplant (BMT), also prefers to feel the ground beneath her feet. For the past 10 years, she has gone nearly barefoot in a minimalist footshaped shoe, the Vibram FiveFingers. “They feel like slippers, and I blister less,” says Pasquarella.

She runs three or more days a week, five to 15 miles each time. After an emotional day in the BMT unit, she says, “it’s wonderful, wonderful stress relief.”

Jennifer Meyers, BSN, RN, CPN, CAPA

Jennifer Meyers, BSN, RN, CPN, CAPA, Post Anesthesia Care Unit (PACU), is relatively new to the sport. She completed her first marathon in December 2018. “I feel a lot of joy when I run. It’s addicting,” she says.

This year, Meyers joined a Tri Club in Pasadena, which helps members train for triathlons. To her, running is a lot like nursing. “It’s amazing how far your body can take you when you don’t think it can,” she says. “Just like the times you think you can’t make it through a challenging shift, and suddenly you do."

Another PACU runner, Jace Vargas-Weisser, BSN, RN, CPN, loves the fresh air and sunshine. “As nurses, we’re indoors so much, breathing HEPA-filtered air; it’s good for our health to be outdoors.”

With numerous 10Ks and longer races to his credit, he concentrates these days on his neighborhood, passing bird estuaries along the L.A. River or even “running through a cloud of butterflies.” The experience “helps me defragment my brain,” says Vargas-Weisser, “throw out the superfluous and have that Zen moment.”

A native Angeleno, Katrina Lazo, BSN, RN, CPN, Float Team, also enjoys exploring city streets.

“I get to see my hometown from a different perspective,” she says. “You just put on some music and enjoy the sights.”

A former high school volleyball player, she got hooked on running when she got bored with the gym. In March 2019, she conquered the 26.2-mile L.A. Marathon a second time.

For Lazo, going for a run after a night shift is rejuvenating. “It gives me the energy boost to be my patients’ cheerleader.”

Phyllis D’Ambra understands that feeling. At age 40, she ran her first marathon. Nearly 32 years later, she has completed 11, plus countless other races (including a half-marathon last year before tearing her meniscus).

Now, she mostly “fast walks,” close to her running speed, says D’Ambra, who has raised thousands of dollars for CHLA at race events. Her seven-mile-a-day habit has staved off the family illness: heart disease. Her parents both succumbed to it, and all her siblings have had heart surgery.

“It’s good for my mind, too,” D’Ambra adds. When the endorphins kick in, “I get the most creative ideas.”

Michael Baldauf, BSN, RN

Michael Baldauf, BSN, RN, has found that harmony with a four-legged running partner. His nursing schedule interrupted his running practice—until a Jack Russell Terrier puppy came into his life. Kaulani was high energy, and “a handful to the point of tears,” says Baldauf, part of the Margie and Robert E. Petersen Foundation Rehabilitation Center. “Running brought the peace back.”

The terrier logged eight miles on a dog trainer’s treadmill at max speed without a sweat. Now Baldauf and Kaulani run at least four miles daily. The exercise is bonding and she happily obeys commands. The side benefit? “I feel healthier, too,” Baldauf says.

Ellize Ergina, MSN, RN, PNP-AC

Ellize Ergina, MSN, RN, PNP-AC, Cardiothoracic Surgery, discovered her passion for track and field in high school. Running “is a way to get everything out of my mind and let loose,” she says. She reluctantly gave it up during grad school but is back at it. Two years ago, she completed all three events in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Then, in 2018, she did two half Ironman Triathlons—a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1-mile run.

Ergina was aiming for her first full Ironman this summer when she injured a tendon. That bucketlist challenge will have to wait. But, like other CHLA nurses, she says, “When I see the kids and families in the hospital, I realize how lucky I am to be able to run.”

Bryant agrees. “I run because my lungs and legs can carry me the distance,” she says, “when so many kids I take care of are denied the possibility of the runner/athlete they could become.”

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