Nursing is Lalita Thompson’s calling. “It’s always been more than just a profession – nursing is who I am,” she says. “Every day at work I know I’m fulfilling my destiny. When someone asks me who I am, I say without hesitation, ‘I’m a nurse.’”
As coordinator of the Intrathecal Baclofen Pump Program at TIRR Memorial Hermann, Thompson is part of a tightly integrated team of clinicians who help patients manage spasticity through a surgically implanted mechanical pump that delivers medication directly into the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord. Patients undergo a trial or screening test dose of the medication to assess their response to the therapy; those with a favorable response are eligible for implantation of the pump.
Thompson came to rehabilitation nursing in a roundabout way. Skilled at math, she was encouraged by her father, a career Navy officer, to study engineering. “Even in high school I was a fighter for people who couldn’t fight for themselves,” she says. “I wanted to do something to help people, and I didn’t think engineering would satisfy that need. I viewed nurses as people who sacrificed everything to take care of others. I knew nursing was hard work, but I was willing to do it. That’s part of who I am.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s in nursing from Prairie View A&M University, she went to work at Ben Taub Hospital in the Texas Medical Center. Following a one-year critical care rotation, she accepted a position in the hospital’s pediatric intermediate care unit.
“I was fresh out of school and really wanted to acquire critical care skills,” she says. “I loved the work. Being an acute care nurse is exactly how I had envisioned myself.”
Later, Thompson accepted a weekend position at Houston Methodist Hospital and rotated to the adult cardiac telemetry units, which fueled her adrenaline on weekends and allowed her to be a fulltime mom during the week. She had been at Methodist for a little over five years when a co-worker convinced Thompson to accompany her to apply for a position at TIRR Memorial Hermann.
“Joining the staff at TIRR was really a quirk of fate. Houston Methodist’s compressed fulltime weekend program was ending. My children were young and I wanted to be home during the week. I agreed to accompany her but didn’t intend to apply for a position. I was still in my fast-paced critical care mode and I thought rehab nursing would be something I might want to do when I retired,” she laughs. “I was sitting in the HR department talking to a receptionist and I mentioned that I had pediatric experience. Back then TIRR had a pediatric rehabilitation program. Before I knew it, the nursing manager from the pediatric rehab program was standing there interviewing me. I didn’t even fill out an application. They needed a nurse with pediatric ICU experience and offered me a job on the spot.”
Thompson agreed to join the pediatric team for a year with thoughts of returning to acute care afterwards. “I wasn’t happy at first,” she admits. “I was addicted to the adrenaline rush of working on busy acute care units. TIRR had a much slower pace, but as you get deeper into your nursing career, your desires and nursing philosophy change.”
About eight months later she accepted a supplemental position at Houston Methodist on weekdays and kept her commitment to TIRR Memorial Hermann on weekends. “After I went back to Methodist it took me a while to adjust to the fast pace again. I thought about my core desire to help people and realized I was doing that more at TIRR than I was in the acute care environment. My former vision of nursing was very narrow. I thought a real nurse was the critical care nurse running down the hall with a crash cart – a nurse that was part of the team that saved lives. Now I think that helping patients is much more than regaining a heartbeat and respiration. People are very complex beings, and life is more than vital signs. At TIRR Memorial Hermann, we help patients regain their optimum level of physical functioning and take a holistic approach to saving lives – mind, body and spiritual restoration for enjoyment of life in spite of the life circumstances that caused the disability.”
Thompson’s pediatric skills and leadership qualities caught the attention of the former nurse coordinator of the Intrathecal Baclofen Pump Program. A patient’s mother and a resident spoke favorably of Thompson’s quick actions during an emergency situation involving a child who had a baclofen pump placed, and Thompson was asked to join the pump program part time.
“A few years later the manager started to groom me, unbeknownst to me,” she says. “She taught me more and more, and one day she told me she was leaving and wanted me to take over the program.”
That was 1997, when the Intrathecal Baclofen Pump Program had 75 patients. Today, Thompson coordinates the care of more than 500 patients. “I was able to put some practices into place that improved patient safety with the support of some great doctors – Dr. Cindy Ivanhoe, Dr. Gerard Francisco and Dr. William Donovan. It has been a wonderful experience. All of us know that it takes an entire team to help patients achieve their rehabilitation goals. We are all very strong patient advocates.”
Thompson, who received her master’s in nursing from the University of Phoenix last October, is a strong advocate for the nursing profession. “My ultimate goal is to have the greatest possible impact on patient safety and quality of life, and to be a part of the political decision-making process on issues that impact the nursing profession,” she says. “TIRR Memorial Hermann has given me the opportunity to effect change at the hospital level. I don’t know of any other environment that would have allowed me to have so great an impact on improving patients’ lives. I get to know my patients and develop long-term therapeutic relationships with patients and their families. I believe fate brought me to TIRR for this purpose, and to fulfill my destiny. It has been an amazing journey.”