Leukemia patients feel her caring touch

Nurse practitioner roots for her charges throughout their treatment journey

December 01, 2012
UC Irvine nurse practitioner Karen Sommers has devoted her nearly 30-year career to caring for patients with leukemia.

When she was eight years old, Karen Sommers watched a movie about a young woman struggling with leukemia. It made her realized that she wanted to help people with cancer.

Sommers has been doing exactly that for nearly 30 years, first as a registered nurse and today as a nurse practitioner caring for leukemia patients at UC Irvine Medical Center.

"I see patients from their first diagnosis through their last treatment," she said. "I  take care of them every day when they are in the hospital, or several times a week if they are outpatients. I help them through their journey."

Sommers is just one of the more than 1,300 compassionate nurses and nurse practitioners of UCI Health.

"Nurses spend more time with patients than any other member of the healthcare team," says Karen Grimley, RN, UC Irvine Medical Center’s chief nursing officer. "Our nurses approach patient care not only with clinical expertise, but also with an empathy for their patients that is truly inspiring."

Since 2003, UC Irvine Medical Center has been honored with Magnet recognition, an international designation signifying hospitals’ nursing excellence awarded by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

"The nurses here treat you like this is your home,” says 20-year-old patient Emmanuel Leon, who spent four weeks in the hospital undergoing treatment for leukemia. “I’ve never been treated so well.”

Leukemia is a cancer that affects the body's blood-forming tissues, including the bone marrow and the lymphatic system. Some forms of the disease are most common in children, while others occur mostly in adults. Treatment usually involves chemotherapy and may also include radiation, targeted drug therapy and bone marrow transplants.

For Sommers, who works closely with the oncologists at the Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, taking care of leukemia patients means more than performing procedures. She also lifts patients’ spirits, comforts them when they have a tough day, roots for them in their fight against cancer, and joins their joy when treatment succeeds. 

"I am able to help my patients and their families manage this disease, sometimes for years. I see it as the greatest gift I can give," explains Sommers. "And I receive so much in return. My patients teach me how to live."

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