Making Pain a Thing of the Past

Categories: Donor Story, Medical Center News

When it comes to pain, Nancy Bright knows a thing or two. Not so much because she’s suffered from pain herself, but because she spent most of her career as a pediatric nurse alleviating it in children. So, it’s not surprising that once she retired from her career at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center Division of Pain and Palliative Medicine, she and her husband, Steve, wanted to perpetuate her work through a gift to the division. Specifically, they created the Bright Palliative Care Endowed Fund—a $50,000 gift that was doubled to $100,000 through Connecticut Children’s “Perfect Match” endowed-gift matching program. The Brights’ fund will support palliative care at Connecticut Children’s for many years to come.

The Palliative Care Program has a broad mandate, not only to provide end-of-life care to patients and families but also to work with children who have conditions that will shorten their lives and who will need support for years. Their motto is “Adding life to a child’s years, not years to their life.” Because many of these children have complex illnesses, providing pain management for them is resource intensive, making the Brights’ gift all the more important.

“We haven’t had an endowment specifically for the Palliative Care Program,” says William Zempsky, MD, who is now the head of the division. “This money will allow us to do all kinds of things, including supporting the research our staff conducts, and trying new approaches. For example, one thing we’ll be trying is this little device called Enso that allows you to share heartbeats. By holding it in your hand it will take your heartbeat and upload it into the cloud. One of the things you could do is if you have a child who is in the hospital or who has passed away, you can save their heartbeat in the cloud and feel it whenever you want. It puts out a vibration. That’s the way we’re going to use it in the Palliative Care Program, for end-of-life care.”

Introduction to Pain Medicine

Nancy Bright has always been a pediatric nurse and was introduced to pain medicine when she was at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center in Hartford. Dr. Neil Schechter, with whom she was working, wrote the first text book on pain in children, and that piqued her interest. “That’s what nurses deal with all the time,” she says, “so that really resonated with me.” In 2000, Dr. Schechter and Nancy moved across town to Connecticut Children’s to start a pain medicine program along with Dr. Zempsky. The division has expanded significantly since those early days, including adding palliative medicine, and Nancy was there for all of it, retiring in 2014.

“It was very entrepreneurial, with lots of creativity,” Nancy says. “We cobbled together the many disciplines needed to support children with pain in the hospital.  If your child suffers from chronic pain, it takes a long time to work your way out, and you need help, not only from the medical side, but from the psychology side, the physical-therapy side and the community, school side. Part of my job was to coordinate all the services to help the child and family. I was the cheerleader. In the early years of the program, palliative care was an area we hoped to develop someday, and now it’s here. In a similar fashion, palliative medicine requires a multidisciplinary, highly personalized approach to care at a very precious time.”

Steve Bright is a portfolio manager at People’s United Bank, working with high-net-worth individuals and nonprofits. “Steve’s work is in a lot of ways like palliative care,” Nancy says. “He helps people make financial plans for their retirement years, to add life to their years.” “It’s funny how similar we are,” Steve says. “We just work in different neighborhoods.”

He’s a warm, thoughtful and intelligent man; you might never guess that in his early working life he spent several years on oil rigs in Texas and Alaska. He and Nancy met when they were teenagers and their families spent summers on the same bay in Maine.

“There were a bunch of teenagers there, and we would do fun things together,” Nancy says. “Steve was the only one who had a driver’s license, so that’s how we met.” They stayed in touch through college as their friendship grew into love, and after college they married; they now have two grown daughters.

Recognized for Excellence

For Nancy, the pinnacle of her career in nursing was receiving the Nightingale Award for Excellence in Nursing, an honor established by several nursing organizations and hospitals in Connecticut and given to only a handful of people a year. Awardees are nominated by their peers, recognizing nurses who have achieved a life-long legacy in a particular area of nursing, who have gone above and beyond the call of duty and demonstrated excellence even above what is normally expected of nurses. Considering the incredible dedication, skill, and hard work that all Connecticut Children’s nurses show, this is a very high bar to get over. “It’s very meaningful to me,” Nancy says, pointing to the beautiful Nightingale pin that comes with the award. “To be recognized by your peers is really special; it really is the cap on my career. It makes me feel I must have done something right.”