Someone Who Knows

Mary Prokop saw the impact of nurses and became one herself

Mary Prokop, pediatric oncology nurse, Palm Beach Children's Hospital at St. Mary's Medical Center

Our-Stories-ProkopMary Prokop knew that her life would never be the same after her 4-year-old daughter, Kate, was diagnosed with leukemia, but she never saw it as the catalyst for a career change.

Kate, now 9, is doing great thanks to the care she received from Palm Beach Children's Hospital at St. Mary's Medical Center.  Mary, who was an interior decorator in 2008, is now a pediatric oncology nurse at the hospital.

"We came to the hospital and started receiving treatment. Through the course of the next year or so was when I saw my business take a downward spiral," she says. "I began to try to come up with a game plan for what I was going to do, as imminent bankruptcy was coming my way."

As Mary stayed by her youngest daughter's side, she had an interesting epiphany.

"The doctors come in once a day, they visit for five minutes, but who’s there with you for 24 hours? That’s your nurses. Your nurses are there 24/7. The nurses are the ones who help you get through what you need to get through. So it came to me one night, 'This is what I should do.'"

Before her interior decorating career, Mary had worked as a chemist, so she already had a lot of the basics covered before entering nursing school. When she graduated in May 2011, there was never any indecision about where she wanted to work. The game plan the whole time was to complete her nursing degree and return to the hospital that had given so much to her daughter.

She worked nights at Palm Beach Children's Hospital at St. Mary's Medical Center to get her feet wet. "Then, about a year to the day after I started, there was an opening on the oncology floor.  I called the director of the Pediatric Oncology Support Team (POST), Barbara, and said, 'Ok, Barbara, there's an opening, but I’m not sure if I'm ready. She said, 'Well, if you don’t take the job, who will? Somebody who doesn't know what the kids are going through?' And I said, 'Ok, fine.'"

Were there difficult moments? Of course. Mary had to take some computer training on the second floor, the same floor where she'd spent so many anxious hours with her little girl, and it triggered memories that simply overwhelmed her.

"I went to the bathroom after my computer training, and I couldn't come out. I was sobbing," she says. "Even walking onto the unit was hard. But the more I do, the more fears I overcome and the more anxieties I overcome."

Her presence in pediatric oncology is surely a comforting one for anxious parents. After all, Mary knows exactly what they’re going through. She wants to make a difference for them, just as the nurses here made a difference in her family's lives just a few years ago.

"It's not just a chance to work with the nurses,  but also with the doctors and the families, knowing that we can make a difference, knowing that we do make a difference, and knowing that we can always do better. We can offer our children better treatment because of the work we do here with the children's oncology group," Mary says.

"I think the children's hospital has come a long way in the past few years, and we are building a strong team from the top down. I’m very proud to work here."