Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

This Northside Hospital nurse was born to look out for every child

Nurse Ana Coggins isn't bound by time when she's taking care of someone. "I truly don't let time constraints stop me from doing what I feel is best for the patient; my time with them is their time," she says. "I do whatever I can to make them comfortable with their plan of care." Before she left for an ER post at Northside, her approach allowed her to reclaim a child with a horrific background while working at an ambulatory clinic for Children's Healthcare of Atlanta's pediatric care.

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"She spotted early symptoms of respiratory distress in this patient who came to our ambulatory clinic," says co-worker Kimberley Dorsey. "This was a victim of child trafficking who was afraid of medical intervention. Ana's calm and soothing nature with the child relaxed her enough to be evaluated. Ana's quick assessment and intervention skills stopped the child's breathing problems from becoming a devastating event."

Coggins needed to work closer to her home in Buford and recently left CHOA after 12 years for Northside. But the specific patient population doesn't matter much to her. She is first and foremost a nurse and says she knew she would be from a very young age. "I had a Pink Panther stuffed animal that got IVs and bandages and was always hurting himself," she says with an easy laugh. "He was really quite sickly, but I patched him up."

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And no matter where Coggins nurses, she always works to honor two special women: her mother and her aunt.

"My mother gave me life, " Coggins says, in a tone that makes it apparent this event is still fresh, though it happened more than 40 years ago. Doctors discovered cancer on her mother's ovary when she was 10 weeks pregnant. They gave her the option of a complete hysterectomy or carrying the baby to term, knowing that the cancer would metastasize to deadly proportions by the time her daughter — Ana — was born. "She didn't believe in abortion, so she died of cancer a week after I was born," Coggins says. "She chose my life over hers. That's a lot to live up to. When someone gave their life for you, you live your life the best way you can."

Coggins has an older sister, too. Before her death, her mother asked her own sister to help her husband raise these children, to take on an infant and 6-year-old who had just lost their mom. The aunt, age 55 at the time, stepped up.

At work, Coggins emulates her aunt, from her warm personality, always joking, to her quickness to reach out. "I am not afraid to touch someone — my aunt was like that, always hugging," she adds. "Really a lot of what I do in nursing is to honor her."

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Coggins was born in Cuba and came to the U.S., straight to Decatur, Georgia, at the age of 6. She remembers fondly the Midway Elementary School teacher in Decatur who took a special interest in teaching her English. "She worked with me carefully, especially on the ways you have to shape your face to say words a certain way," Coggins remembers. "She would make me move my facial muscles, pucker my lips a certain way, so I wouldn't have an accent when I spoke English." But Ana does speak with that teacher's slight Southern drawl, enhanced by residing in Georgia since childhood. She earned her associate's at Georgia Perimeter and then her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from South University in Savannah.

Coggins recalls the time after she graduated being very different from what they are today. "The nurses I see coming out of school now, the market is different. The pay per performance, how many patients you see, how quickly you assess, all those metrics. That's the expectation; everyone is trying to catch up to that. Most of the new nurses I see are not very hand-holdy."

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She considers the increased number of patients per nurse as the biggest challenge facing the profession and health care in general. But she won't succumb to the time restraint, vowing to always be patient-centric. "We get into nursing because we care," she says. "Our main role should always be to translate medical jargon into normal verbiage that patients can understand. And to do what is needed to bring comfort."

One really important aspect of comfort is being able to draw blood and start IVs. When the patients are children, Coggins has a special method. She always puts a warm pack on the patient's veins so they dilate. Past that, if they're young, she navigates to YouTube on her phone and has the parent hold it. "Distraction can be a good thing," she says.

When giving an IV to a teenager, she says she gives them as much control as possible, "Developmentally, that's what a teenager is all about, autonomy and having a say."

Children ages five to about 12, she invokes play practices. "Instead of walking in the room and saying, 'Here, I'm going to poke you,' I play with them," she says.

Coggins is one of the rare nurses who juggles two jobs. She works a second position to make enough money to pay the bills for her middle son's autism treatments.

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Her son was normal developmentally until he got ear tubes as a 2-year-old and developed encephalitis from an associated infection. He now has moderate autism. As a nurse, Coggins settled on the idea that applied behavioral analysis could help him. "It's the only evidence-based treatment for autism," she says. "He's verbal and in kindergarten because we have been so aggressive with that therapy and because we had God's help."

She works a second job at an outpatient surgical center to pay for the treatments, three or four per week. "I have worked in ICU and the ER and I am used to being the nurse, the one who fixes things," Coggins says. "Autism doesn't have that. So instead I work the two jobs, make the extra money. I am doing what I can."

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