Nurse works in same unit where she was treated for cancer as toddler

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Bridget Sandy works at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta."Taking care of kids is my passion.".This is the same unit where she received chemo treatments as a child after being diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia at age 3.Sandy would watch the nurses access her chemo port, then go home and do the same with her dolls. .Giving back is in Sandy's nature. After being a Make-A-Wish recipient when she was 4, she is now a volunteer for the charity.Giving back is in Sandy's nature. After being a Make-A-Wish recipient when she was 4, she is now a volunteer for the charity

‘This is what I’m supposed to do’

In addition to the memories most 3-year-olds have, Bridget Sandy has some that few toddlers share.

She remembers the lumbar punctures — needles inserted between two vertebrae to remove a sample of cerebrospinal fluid.

“I remember the lumbar punctures most, just because back then they did not sedate whenever we had lumbar punctures,” Sandy said. “And those were weekly.”

And in addition to having tea parties with her dolls, she played chemo treatment.

“I would watch the nurses access my port ... and then I would go home and access my doll’s port. And I would have a little broom that I would bring with them, and it would be the IV pole.”

Although Sandy said her parents saw “something there,” she was too young then to realize she was preparing for her career.

The diagnosis

Sandy was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia, a blood and bone marrow cancer, when she was just 3. Over the next 2½ years, she endured several procedures, blood transfusions and many other treatments.

“I remember first going to the hospital and just feeling really, really sick,” she said. Her parents were hiking at Amicalola Falls, but came back to take Sandy to see her primary care provider.

It wasn’t long before treatments caused the 3-year-old’s curly, blond hair to fall out, but “I didn’t really pay much attention to that,” she said. She still has the wigs her parents bought her, but “I would always wear a baseball cap, so that was my thing.”

When Bridget Sandy's blond, curly hair fell out from chemo treatments, she scoffed at the wigs her parents bought her. “I would always wear a baseball cap, so that was my thing,” said Sandy, shown here with her brother, Tony.
Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy
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When Bridget Sandy's blond, curly hair fell out from chemo treatments, she scoffed at the wigs her parents bought her. “I would always wear a baseball cap, so that was my thing,” said Sandy, shown here with her brother, Tony. Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy

She wore her cap on trips to Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta. That’s where she met Rosemary, the nurse who taught her all about her chemotherapy port.

“And then I would go home and access my doll’s port,” Sandy said. “They tell me now that they pretty much knew I was going to be a nurse or in a medical field of some sort.”

‘That happened for a reason’

Growing up, Sandy hadn’t decided yet if she would be a high school science teacher or a nurse.

“I always knew that (leukemia) happened for a reason,” she said. “And so in high school, it was kind of more clear to me that I definitely wanted to do nursing, because this happened for a reason. I have this passion, this draw to nursing. And then, when I got accepted into the nursing program, that was like, definitely, this is what I’m supposed to do.”

While attending the University of North Georgia, Sandy made a friend with whom she had a lot in common. They were both on the golf team, both wanted to be nurses, and both were Make-A-Wish recipients as children.

LeeAnn Noble had received a heart transplant when she was 11. As college students in 2013, the duo participated in a fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Georgia and were featured on the cover of NCAA magazine.

Bridget Sandy and her friend LeeAnn Noble were both Make A Wish recipients before being teammates at the University of North Georgia.
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Bridget Sandy and her friend LeeAnn Noble were both Make A Wish recipients before being teammates at the University of North Georgia.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Not long after the NCAA cover story, Noble’s body rejected her heart. Three days after Noble died, Sandy was accepted into the nursing program.

“I knew all along that I wanted to be a nurse, but this,” she paused, “it was very clear, like I have to do this for her.”

Noble wanted to work at Children’s, on the transplant floor where she’d received her heart a decade before. “So that was just huge,” Sandy said. “And to this day, whenever I have hard days, I absolutely think of her. It made it clear this is what I’m supposed to do.”

Bridget Sandy (left) has been working at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for five years. It's the same unit where she was treated as a child.
Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy
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Bridget Sandy (left) has been working at the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta for five years. It's the same unit where she was treated as a child. Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy

Credit: Photo courtesy of Bridget Sandy

Back where it all started

While earning her nursing degree, Sandy landed a job at Children’s as an emergency department technician. In 2016, she became a nurse in the Inpatient Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center at Scottish Rite — the same unit where she was treated as a child. Her experience as a patient gives her a different perspective at work, she said.

“When kids are first diagnosed, a lot of their world is shaken,” Sandy said. “It’s day to day for me and my co-workers, but it’s not for them.”

With the right families — where the child has the same diagnosis Sandy did and same outcome expectation — Sandy shares her story as a way to give them hope.

“I think that whenever I do tell the families — especially ones who are diagnosed with the same ALL (acute lymphocytic leukemia) I had — that it is super cool to see how receptive they are, and they have so much hope.”

Sandy has been with the Aflac Cancer and Blood Disorders Center for five years now.

“Taking care of kids is my passion, and I love sharing a deeper connection with our patients and families and being able to really relate to what they’re going through,” she added. “It’s not easy, but it definitely lets you feel that you’re contributing to the world in some way.”