Mercy Medical Center Nurse Creates Lasting Gifts for Family Members

SPRINGFIELD — With a nursing career that spans more than 20 years, Maria Hermanson, RN works the overnight shift in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Mercy Medical Center. The work can be difficult and labor-intensive, with the need to provide specialized care and monitoring of acutely ill patients with life-threatening conditions.

Patients sometimes have lengthy stays in the ICU, and, since the pandemic began, they aren’t able to have visitors. ICU team members not only care for these patients, they often form strong bonds with them and their family members. For Hermanson, these bonds are especially heartfelt when the patient passes away, so she creates keepsakes for family members who lose a loved one in the ICU.

Patients in the ICU are placed on a heart monitor that provides a printout. Hermanson makes copies of the deceased patient’s heart-rhythm strip, cuts the paper down, and places the strips in tiny, sealed glass bottles that she gives to the patient’s close family members. “This small token allows them to keep their loved one’s heartbeat with them during the difficult days ahead,” she said. “Our patients are very sick, and it’s an honor to care for them.”

The exchange is often emotional, on both sides. “We talk with family members every day, providing updates on their loved one’s condition,” Hermanson said. “It’s a stressful situation. This is one way we can say, ‘we cared about your family member, and we care about you.’ The family members who receive the bottles are really moved by the gesture.”

Aptly named “Heartbeats in a Bottle,” Hermanson began creating and distributing the three-inch tokens several years ago when she worked at a hospital in Eastern Mass. She purchases the small bottles online, using them to hold the keepsakes that are personally given or mailed to the decreased patient’s parents, spouse, or children. Each bottle comes with a small card that Hermanson signs on behalf of the ICU team. “I cry every time I write out a card,” she said.

Hermanson’s connection to Mercy Medical Center began when her husband was admitted as a patient in the ICU, she noted. “I was so impressed by the nurses because they took such great care of him. I knew then that I wanted to work here. You can tell when people really care, and that’s the culture at Mercy.”

Added Darlene Cunha, vice president of Patient Care Services and chief Nursing officer at Mercy, “Maria embodies our core values and stands as a living example of our mission to serve as a transforming, healing presence. Through her generous actions, she makes a tremendous difference in the lives of her patient and their families.”