Now 23, Ballard, who has been cancer-free for several years, is returning to Children's Healthcare of Atlanta — not as a patient — but as a nurse in the emergency room department.
“My goal is to provide the best care possible and meet every need required,” the Atlanta woman said in a recent interview at the hospital. “I want to pay it forward and provide each of my patients and their families with the care and compassion shown to me and my family.”
The petite woman with hazel eyes and a sweet smile credits her parents and hospital staff with ensuring her long stretches in the hospital provided her with as much normalcy and optimism as possible.
“My mom only took photos of me smiling and on days when I was feeling OK,” she said, “and she would show me those photos on days when I was not feeling well.”
Ballard also remembers doctors and nurses offering a steady stream of emotional support and doing their best to bring warmth and cheerfulness to the sterile, sometimes scary hospital setting.
Her family and hospital staff joined forces to throw Ballard a “Lion King”-themed birthday party for her fourth birthday. The party was held in a special family room, which was fully decorated with yellow balloons and party hats.
“My mom always said I was born with a joyful spirit. … She discussed the future a lot,” Ballard said about being in the hospital. “Whether it was five minutes or five years, I had so much to look forward to once this was over.”
At 17 months old, Ballard arrived at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta with a 106-degree fever. She was quickly diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Shortly after a 27-month-long treatment, she relapsed. At 4, she received a bone marrow transplant from her older brother Robbie, now 25. Luckily, he was a perfect match.
After being in remission for five years, Ballard entered a survivor’s program at Children’s Healthcare. Over the next several years, Ballard had regular checkups at Children’s. She attended Camp Sunshine, a special camp for children with cancer. She made good friends, grew close to counselors and nurses at the camp, and became a camp counselor at Camp Sunshine.
Her experiences cemented her desire to work with children and be a nurse. In December, Ballard graduated from Georgia Southern University’s nursing program.
She started working as a nurse at Egleston a few months ago.
Having various schedules, she said working in the emergency department means you “have to be ready for whatever comes your way.”
Julie Adams, a registered nurse and assistant manager at Egleston’s Emergency Room Department, said the fact that Ballard chose a profession in pediatric nursing speaks to the influence and impression nurses had on Ballard as a young patient.
As any new nurse, Adams said, Ballard “has a lot to learn, but we have great people to guide her.”
And then she added, Ballard “has a special compassion and understanding for patients because of her experience as a patient.”
She plans to eventually work in pediatric oncology and is planning to go back to college to become a nurse practitioner with a specialty in pediatric oncology.
And while some people might find it too emotionally difficult to work in an oncology department, Ballard doesn’t see it that way.
“Those kids have a lot of potential,” she said. “They are going through a lot. For a lot of them, there is a light at the end of the tunnel, there are better days ahead. I want them to know that there are good days ahead.”
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