HINSDALE – When Ana Ahlenius began her career, she hoped to combine her love of science with her desire to work with people.
“I originally started going into research and worked at Loyola for a while, and that was not just enough people contact,” the Lombard resident said.
That’s when Ahlenius realized the field of nursing would address her scientific and social interests. For the past 28 years, Ahlenius has been a registered nurse. She has spent 20 of those years at Adventist Hinsdale Hospital, where she now works in the intensive care unit. Ahlenius was named “Nurse of the Year” at Adventist Hinsdale for 2013.
“You have to think pretty quickly,” Ahlenius said. “Each day you’re not sure what you’re walking into, so you have to be very flexible and be able to walk patients and families through really difficult situations, and also making difficult decisions.”
Ahlenius said she’s usually assigned two to three patients to work with.
“It’s very gratifying to know that you can be there with people in very difficult times,” she said. “You just have to help them deal with what is right in front of them.”
The job can be emotionally draining. Ahlenius sometimes has to help families cope when their loved ones aren’t going to survive. But even the bleakest situations can take a surprising turn, as Ahlenius discovered a few years back.
One day, while working in the neuro ICU, she was assigned to care for a young female patient who had fallen down a flight of stairs and was found unresponsive at the bottom. When Ahlenius came in to work that morning, she was informed doctors didn’t think the patient would survive because she had a severe brain injury.
“Later that day, I started seeing her actually move her fingers and get better,” she said. “She was in the hospital for a very long time, but after a month she was well enough to go into rehab, and about six months later she came back walking into our unit and she had completely recovered. That was very exciting and very rewarding to see we made a difference.”
In addition to being a nurse, Ahlenius also is a member of Adventist Hinsdale Hospital’s stroke committee and is part of the hospital’s skin care team. In her free time, she expresses an artistic side by making her own greeting cards.
“We got together as a group [of nurses] and made sympathy cards and when a family member would pass away, we’d all sign it,” she said. “When you are caring for someone, you become very close to their family.”
Regarding her recent recognition, Ahlenius said she was humbled by the award, especially because she was singled out in a team of nurses.
“There’s a lot of people who work very hard every day and a lot of nursing work is behind the scenes,” she said. “Nobody realizes exactly what you do sometimes. It was very humbling, because it’s not just me. It’s a whole lot of nurses who work very hard every day.”