Pediatric Nurses Week is a time to celebrate and reflect on the contributions nurses make to the pediatric community and their families.

Gerri James, RN, BSN, CCTC, manager of the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, is often the first person parents hear from when their children are referred for a transplant. She helps families line up all the support they need, making sure the whole child is cared for from dietitians to therapists, plays a key role in educating families about what to expect on their transplant journey, and is always there to answer questions/provide encouragement when families may be worried while waiting for an organ.

This Pediatric Nurses Week, James discusses how she started working in pediatric transplant and the importance of meeting families where they are.

How did you get started working with pediatric patients who needed transplants?

James: I started my nursing career on a surgical floor at an academic medical center on the East Coast. We cared for patients waiting for or receiving liver and kidney transplants. Once I cared for these patients, I knew this was the patient population I wanted to help.

Transplantation is a fascinating and rewarding field. Witnessing our young patients receive a second chance at life was, and still is, amazing. Now 35 years later, I’m still helping these patients and their families at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health. My first love is patient care, and I wouldn’t ever want to give it up.

What do you do in your role with the Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health?

James: We’re so proud that our Pediatric Kidney Transplant Program is an identified Center of Excellence that has performed more pediatric kidney transplants than anywhere else in the country, and our one-year and three-year survival rates are also the best in the country.

No one ever wants to hear that their child or loved one needs a transplant. When patients are referred to our Kidney Transplant Program, we reach out to the family to introduce ourselves and explain what to expect. This often is a vulnerable and terrifying time of their lives. I feel blessed to be able to guide them through the process and take some of the stress away. I often tell families, “Let me worry about that part. You have enough on your plate.”

We meet the family where they are in the process and a big part of the conversation is educating them in what to expect throughout the entire transplant journey and being honest that there will be some bumps in the road. Ultimately, I try to meet the family where they are at in the process as that is key to building a successful and trusting relationship.

My team also collaborates with many other disciplines to assist with travel and lodging, consults to other services, etc.  – all in hopes of making the experience as easy as possible. As the Transplant Manager, I wear many different hats. My role is somewhat unique as I have a full patient assignment (both recipients and potential living kidney donors) in addition to my manager responsibilities.

What is the most rewarding to you about your role?

The most incredible thing for me is to watch a child, who was not expected to walk, survive, or thrive, running toward me in the clinic to give me a hug. Getting a graduation announcement, hearing how the family is going on vacation, dialysis-free, or any other big announcement makes me feel so proud of these brave children and their many accomplishments!

I like that every day is different and there is always something to learn. I have the honor of helping parents and guardians navigate a world that they are unfamiliar with during a scary and stressful time. Often when they hear that their child needs a kidney transplant, they are devastated. I try to make this new journey a little less terrifying. Providing them education and letting them know that they are never alone is a big part of what I do.

What is something that you would want people to know about your job?

Transplantation is a miracle and life changing for those who are fortunate enough to receive an organ as not everyone gets this opportunity due to the shortage of organs. Transplantation is a fascinating and rewarding field and one that gives the opportunity to make a significant positive impact on a patients’ and their families’ lives. I would also encourage everyone to sign up to be an organ donor. It’s the greatest gift that you’ll ever give.