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Sunday, September 24, 2023

Tivalee Hansen elevates patient care at UF Health Shands Hospital

Hansen aims to become nurse practitioner

<p>Tivalee Hanson poses for a portrait outside of the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital Saturday, March 18, 2023.</p>

Tivalee Hanson poses for a portrait outside of the UF Health Shands Cancer Hospital Saturday, March 18, 2023.

Tivalee Hansen’s life came to a halt when her mother, Jill Hansen Holker, became one of 100 million people to get COVID-19. 

Most people get better within a few days to a few weeks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but Holker’s sickness got worse. It got so severe she needed a double lung transplant. 

Hansen, 21, had to shift her priorities, becoming a mother figure for her 18-year-old sister and balancing a church service mission to take care of her mother. 

That experience brought her, from Spanish Fork, Utah, to UF Health Shands Hospital — not just to support her mom during the surgery, but to work. 

“I, to be honest, didn’t even think of Florida as a place to live, but then my mom got sick,” Hansen said. “She had a double lung transplant, and Shands did it.”

Inspired by her mother’s surgery, Hansen now works as a patient care assistant for cancer patients at Shands. She’s also enrolled in the nursing program at Santa Fe College and hopes to one day be a nurse practitioner.

A history of health care service can be traced back through Hansen’s family. Her mother and grandmother were both nurses, so she’s known she wanted to be in the medical field since she was young. 

She basically grew up in the hospital, Hansen said, often visiting her mom in the Shock-Trauma Intensive Care Unit at Intermountain Healthcare. Despite being young, she enjoyed spending time surrounded by medical workers, she said. 

“She got all the gnarly, gnarly things,” Hansen said. “And I’m a little kid, you know…probably should not see that. But I wanted to hang out with my mom.”

Hansen’s mother first experienced symptoms of illness on Halloween in 2020. She didn’t want to go to the hospital, but Hansen knew there was something wrong. 

“If you're in the medical field, you're the most stubborn human being when it comes to going to the hospital,” Hansen said. “So, she was laying on the couch dying, and I'm like, ’Yeah, we're done with this.’”

On Nov. 5, 2020, Hansen brought her mom to the hospital. By Christmas, they had transported her from Utah to Gainesville. They flew her on a private jet, but Hansen’s mother was upset because she was in a medically-induced coma for the flight.

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“They had to wake her up and be like, ‘Hi, you're sick and had to get a double lung transplant. You're also in Florida. Surprise,’” she said. “She was mad. She's like, ‘I was in a private jet, and I was unconscious the whole time.’”

When Hansen’s mother got sick, it was hard for many reasons, she said. As the oldest child and of legal age, a lot of decisions were hers to make.

Doctors informed Hansen if her mother couldn’t receive a lung transplant, she might have to make the decision to end her mother’s life. They made a pact that if she was “like a vegetable,” then Hansen could call it, she said. 

But the rest of Holker’s body was working, so they decided to follow through with the lung transplant. After a few weeks of searching, they found a perfect match, and on Jan. 21, 2021, Holker had the surgery.

“That was probably like the hardest thing I've ever done,” Holker said. “But as far as nursing goes, it's very interesting to be on both sides of the ICU and to see what your patients go through.”

Holker recently became a nurse practitioner, and as she prepares to take this next step in her career, she hopes to honor the trials she’s been through, she said. 

“I don't want the person who gave me these lungs to ever think that I was a waste,” Holker said. 

Hansen’s responsibility to care for her mother extended to caring for her 18-year-old younger sister, Tylee. It was usually just the three of them at home, she said, so when their mother got sick, Hansen had to step up and be a mother to her sister.

It drove a bit of a wedge between her and her younger sister, Hansen said, because she had to be strict with Tylee. But in the end, it also brought them closer. 

“When you go through something traumatic, all you have is your family,” Hansen said. “You can tell your friends all the things that you're going through, but no one actually understands how it feels to have your mom dying in the hospital and having to take care of your little sister.”

Tylee also carries on the family legacy in the health field in a different way. She hopes to go to school to study neurology. 

When Holker was in the hospital, Hansen and Tylee would meet their mother’s boyfriend at the time at his garage and then go to Culver’s almost every night. In the fast-casual restaurant chain, the three were able to draw strength from one another, she said.

The concrete mixers — ice cream shakes with mixed-in toppings — became a comfort food. 

Hansen would always get chocolate with strawberries. Tylee would always get mint chocolate chip. 

Though it was a difficult time, it strengthened Hansen’s resolve to become a nurse. 

It took several months of recovery before Holker was able to move again. Being in a coma for so long limited the use of her muscles. It’s up to PCAs like Hansen to help patients upkeep personal hygiene. The first thing Holker wanted to do when she was able to move again was brush her teeth.

“In health care, you always think ‘We have to give them a bath, we have to get the meds out and yada yada yada,’” Hansen said. “But, at the same time, I feel like sometimes we forget to do the super small, simple things.” 

Hansen deals with the big things like pain and death working with cancer patients, too. 

“It just kind of sucks because you sit there and you watch them suffer,” Hansen said. 

Still, she’s grateful to be there when patients are at their weakest and most vulnerable, holding their hand and wiping their tears. One of her patients, Cathy, recently passed away after being in the hospital for almost a year. 

“I don't completely understand what they're going through, but I know it sucks and I can love them, be there for them when they're sitting there in their minds at 3 in the morning crying,” she said. “Someone's got to be there.”

Holker thinks her daughter has a level of compassion that sets her apart, she said. 

“Tiv is one that loves to sit and talk to patients, and I admire that because that gives you that sense of you're not just a disease — you're a person,” Holker said. 

Contact Aubrey at Follow her on Twitter @aubreyyrosee.

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Aubrey Bocalan

Aubrey Bocalan is a third-year journalism major. She is also pursuing a double major in Art. When she isn't writing, she's probably watching TV with her dog, Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Bocalan.

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