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News | May 22, 2023

Former patient salutes nurses on Navy Nurse Corps’ 115th birthday

By Bernard Little, WRNMMC, Office Command Communications

A nurse’s face.

That was one of the first things retired Army Master Sgt. Cedric King said he saw after waking up from a coma at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (WRNMMC) in August 2012.

On July 25, 2012, during his second tour in Afghanistan, King, then on active duty, was severely injured by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED). Although the IED claimed his legs, caused internal injuries, and permanent damage to his right arm, it did not destroy his gung-ho spirit and enthusiasm about taking on any challenges life puts before him, he said. The soldier was at WRNMMC as a patient for nearly three years following his injuries in Afghanistan.

King was back at Walter Reed on May 12 of this year to thank those who helped him on his road to recovery, and to celebrate with Navy nurses on their 115th birthday, officially May 13. He also shared his views on things helpful in recovery from a patient’s perspective.

“You’ve got to have people around you who can see and believe a little bit bigger than you can at the time [you’re a patient],” said King. “When I was down a pair of legs, I really didn’t know what would be possible. I knew how confident I was in myself prior [to my injuries], but without the parts I had before, it was very difficult for me to know what was now possible.”

“Fortunately, God put people in my life [such as nurses and the rest of the medical team] who were funny and able to see what was in me that maybe I didn’t see. I needed to know that I just wasn’t all talk, and I needed to know the same person they saw was the same person I could be. It’s not necessarily about trying to prove people [who may doubt you] wrong, but to put the work in, not just the talk. You sometimes need someone to stir up the fighter on the inside of you to push you along. Otherwise, how would you know how brilliant you are if there is no resistance?”

While recovering from his injuries, King also found time to complete his bachelor’s degree and cultivate his speaking voice.

“I had nurses to help me understand that some of the holes in life were there for a reason,” King said. He explained those holes were challenges that only made him stronger to tackle life’s hurdles and give him direction. “They helped me see the possibilities,” he said.

Also, during the celebration, Navy Capt. Jessica Beard, chief nursing officer and director of nursing at WRNMMC, thanked all nurses at Walter Reed for what they do daily for its beneficiaries. She also provided a brief history of the Navy Nurse Corps.

“On May 13, 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt signed a bill establishing the Navy Nurse Corps. At the time, the corps only included the women known as “The Sacred Twenty.” They were the first women to serve in the U.S. Navy representing the Nurse Corps formally. They were assigned to the U.S. Naval Hospital in Washington, D.C.

Beard added that the Navy has two warships named in honor of a Navy Nurse Corps officer. The USS Higbee, commissioned in 1945, was the first U.S. Navy warship to bear the name of one of a female Sailor, and the USS Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, commissioned May 13, 2023. Both ships are named after Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee, one of the Sacred Twenty who served as superintendent of the U.S. Navy Nurse Corps during World War I and was the first female recipient of the Navy Cross for leading the corps through the war.

Men didn’t become a part of the Navy Nurse Corps until 1965, when George Silver was commissioned into the corps.

Currently, more than 4,000 active duty and reserve nurses in the Navy Nurse Corps serve in 20 different specialties, according to U.S. Navy officials.

“Here at Walter Reed, we have almost 2,000 active duty, GS, and contract nurses,” Beard shared. “Here, we recognize our nurses as caregivers, patient advocates, administrators, researchers, educators, comforters, and confidants to our patients, counterparts, and each other. Our nurses take on many challenging positions across military medicine, even when they’re working on their units and despite a severe nursing shortage,” she added.

Beard encouraged nurses to “remain mindful of the importance of family and self-care, as well as to ask for help, so we can continue to realize the vital roles we play in the lives of our patients and those we love and depend on us.”

Navy Capt. Anthony Keller, acting commanding officer of Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command (NMRTC) at WRNMMC, pointed out that May 12 is the birthday of Florence Nightingale, considered the founder of modern nursing because of her emphasis on improving hygiene and living standards in hospitals. She is credited with setting an example of compassion, commitment to patient care, and diligent and thoughtful hospital administration. She also used statistics and visual presentations, such as pie charts, to advocate for better hospital sanitary conditions.

“It’s been said, ‘You save one life, you’re a hero. You save 100 lives, you’re a nurse,’” Keller continued. “If nurses in this country went on strike for one day, I shudder to think of the countless lives that would be lost,” he added.

The program concluded with the cutting of the 115th Navy Nurse birthday cake by Beard, the most senior member of the Navy Nurse Corps at Walter Reed, and Ensign Renee Boudreau, the most junior member of the corps at WRNMMC, which symbolized the passing of tradition from one generation of nurses to the next.
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