Nurse makes lasting connection with patients

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Leilani Swan, an infusion-services nurse, has been named North Valley Hospital’s Caregiver of the Year. (Heidi Desch/Whitefish Pilot)

Nurse Leilani Swan likes making a personal connection with her patients.

She remembers the patient who likes a chocolate milkshake with their treatment, she asks about their family and friends and for one of her young patients she couldn’t help but give a stuffed dog for a birthday present.

“I get to help people when they are in their saddest or most vulnerable moments in their lives,” Swan said. “I get to be present with them — to talk to them and hold their hand. It’s an honor to work with them. They give me insights on life.”

Swan, an infusion-services nurse at North Valley Hospital, was recently named the hospital’s Planetree Caregiver of the Year.

The hospital became a Planetree affiliate in 2002, adopting a model of health care that focuses on patient-centered care. The Caregiver of the Year is a recognition used by Planetree hospitals to recognize a staff member who serves as a catalyst for healing of the mind, body and spirit in a patient-centered environment.

“Despite the frightening diagnoses Leilani’s patients may have, they are transformed under her care into people who not only look forward to their sessions, but are able to relax in a tranquil environment,” the letter nominating Swan says.

Swan began in infusion-services at North Valley Hospital in 2014. She spent 17 years working as a nurse in Kalispell in several different areas including oncology and orthopedics before coming to Whitefish.

Swan has also been entered as a nomination to the Planetree International Conference.

In infusion services, Swan works with a variety patients both young and old facing a variety of health concerns. Some patients receive frequent injections for chronic diseases and others receive intravenous treatment such as chemotherapy. As she explains it, infusion services means “anything in the vein.”

“The beauty of working in outpatient care is that my patients tend to have to come back to see me,” she said. “I like it because I get to know the patients.”

She says she’s happy when a patient’s health improves and they no longer needs to visit infusion services, but she says it’s also bittersweet because she knows she won’t get to see them again or as often.

Outside the hospital, Swan and her husband Todd are the owner’s of the Trego Pub and General Store, which opened in late March.

Swan moved to the Flathead Valley from Phoenix with her late husband, Bruce Etter, who passed away in 2001. They moved to Trego in 1988.

She worked for the U.S. Forest Service with timber sales, mapping roads and fires. When she was looking for a new career that would be less physically demanding she returned to a long ago desire she had to work in medicine and in 2000 she earned a nursing degree from Montana State University.

“I have a gift,” she said. “I’m comfortable with people in distress and not everyone has that.”

She seems to have a gift for talking with just about anyone. She lights up when she tells about the day three older patients came in for treatment and when they wanted to move their chairs close together to chat during treatment she made that happen. A smile spreads across her face when she tells about a local patron who visited the Trego Pub asking her examine his ear because he wasn’t hearing well.

“Most people like to help other people and I get paid to do it,” she says. “That’s a win-win.”

Swan says she’s humbled to be named Caregiver of the Year. She knows how many staff members at North Valley work hard to treat patients and provide a healthy environment.

“It’s really a collaborative effort,” she said. “From the ground up everyone works to make sure the patients feel cared for.”

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