When a nurse becomes a patient and still finds ways to take care of others

Meet Vicki Ball, a cancer survivor and retired nurse whose group project creates pillows to help patients recovering from surgery.

Being a caregiver is in Vicki Ball’s DNA. The retired registered nurse says she is at her best when she is taking care of others. But don’t let that word retired fool you. Vicki is still taking care of others — just in a slightly different capacity.

Vicki’s nursing career began as an licensed practical nurse at St Joseph Infirmary. In 1981, the same year Vicki earned her registered nurse degree, she and her fellow nurses became employees of what is now Norton Audubon Hospital when it opened. Vicki worked there for 29 years Most of her time was spent caring for patients after they had orthopedic surgeries. When she retired in 2009, Vicki found hobbies to fill her time. These hobbies centered on her love for the Lord and caring for others through ministry in her church. She and Joe, her husband of 62 years, were enjoying retirement and spending time with family and friends.

The (retired) nurse becomes the patient

Because she had Crohn’s disease for most of her adult life, Vicki was familiar with colonoscopies. Her gastroenterologist reminded her in 2019 that it was time for a  “scope,” and she almost said no. But thankfully, she didn’t!

The colonoscopy showed a grape-sized malignancy, and within a few weeks, Vicki was at her old stomping grounds, but this time as a patient having part of her colon removed.

“I was fortunate that the cancer was removed and I didn’t have to do any additional therapy,” Vicki said.

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It was during her stay at Norton Audubon Hospital and in talking with Ingrid Smith, patient navigator, Norton Cancer Institute, that Vicki saw an opportunity to care for others. Pillows to help protect her surgery site were very comforting to Vicki, and she knew of a group who would be willing to help.

Vicki and her friends at Summit Hills Baptist Church in Pioneer Village, Kentucky, just south of Louisville, quickly got to work. As part of the mission project, they have sewn nearly 1,400 pillows, delivering them to the Norton Cancer Institute Resource Center about three times a year. The port pillows they make help patients who need a cushion between the seatbelt and their access port while riding in the car, and abdominal pillows help protect a patient’s surgery site when the patient coughs or sneezes.

“The port pillows are a special design that include Velcro to help stabilize while riding in the car,” Vicki said. “We collect donations of fabric and purchase a few things here and there, all in the name of caring for others through ministry.”

These gifts bring smiles

“Every time I gift the pillows to patients after surgery, their faces light up with a smile,” Ingrid said. “That is where I came up with the nickname of “Sunshine Ladies” for Vicki and her church group. They bring a ray of sunshine to these people who are facing cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Vicki and her church ministry group make enough pillows that almost every post-surgical patient receives one across most Norton Cancer Institute Resource Center locations. The group’s generosity has even inspired several patients to find ways of their own to give back.

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