Leaving tracks: Doula continues work despite medical troubles
BY CARY ASPINWALL World Staff Writer
Monday, November 26, 2012
11/26/12 at 12:07 PM
There are markers in our lives, the monumental days where you remember every minute, sight and sound: the flashbulb moments, Cheri Grant calls them.
At age 12, Grant donned a candy striper uniform at Craig General Hospital in Vinita and witnessed her first live birth:
Angela, a baby girl - 8 pounds, 2 ounces.
"I remember holding this poor lady's hand and telling her, 'I will stay here the whole time with you - I won't leave you,' " Grant said. She knew right then: She wanted to deliver babies.
At 14 1/2, she got a certified nurse's aide license and a pager, so they could summon her from a middle school classroom to the hospital to help with babies about to wiggle their fingers and toes into the world.
Since then, there have been 2,786 babies born with Grant coaching, holding hands, helping everyone remember to breathe.
"That is a day in a person's life that they will remember the rest of their life," she said. "To me, it's an empowerment experience - once a woman knows she can go through birth, she can make it through anything."
Grant has a mantra she likes to share: In life, find your passion - let it lead you down a path where you leave footprints on this earth.
An essential role
Doula, derived from ancient Greek, means "woman who serves."
Grant founded Doulas of Northeast Oklahoma in 1993, and for 40 years has worked as a nurse, doula, breast feeding educator, teacher to newborn parents - and the person in the room for the most important day of so many lives.
She has nearly 1,000 Christmas cards at home, many from families whose babies she remembers by name and weight.
"I keep track of all my babies - all their names and dates," she said. "Now, of course, I've done a couple that I've helped with their kids' kids."
She remembers vividly the nurses who helped deliver her two children - ages 26 and 29 now. And the days when dads weren't even allowed in the delivery room (but a 12-year-old candy striper, sure).
The first time she witnessed a man being allowed to watch his wife give birth, she remembers the hospital staff making him scrub his chest hair.
"They were so afraid," she laughed. "I am thrilled that we have figured out that we need dads to be there."
Now, it's more of a family unit in the hospital delivery wing, with dads and grandparents getting to be involved.
"And that's the way it really should be," she said.
At St. John Owasso, where Grant teaches classes, young candy stripers help her now. One of her candy stripers has gone on to medical school, training to be an obstetrician/gynecologist.
Make a difference in somebody's life, she tells the candy stripers and nurses she teaches - and anyone who listens.
"That's all you leave here," she said.
Living through the pain
In 1997, Grant worked at another local hospital's labor and delivery unit.
One day, she was holding a stretcher, getting ready to push the elevator button to head to a different floor.
Someone asked her a question, and she turned her head to answer.
Her hand instinctively reached for where the button always was - but on this day, her hand touched a bare live wire instead, sending a 220-volt shock through her body.
It fried her central nervous system, leaving her wheelchair-bound with reflex sympathetic dystrophy - meaning she suffers severe, burning pain throughout her entire body.
"It feels like someone threw gasoline on you and set you on fire," she said. "Just constant, horrible, awful pain."
She had to stop working for several years, which was the worst part. She wrote books, but her job was her calling.
For those with 100 percent total body reflex sympathy dystrophy, the suicide rate is 80 percent, Grant said.
Doctors told her she might live five years, if that.
"I just know when I get to heaven I won't feel that (pain) anymore," she said. "I always said it was a blessing because it was me and not someone else."
Because she would prove them wrong.
"God allows me to get up out of bed," she said.
She kept going. And one day, in 2006, she got a job offer from St. John Medical Center to go back to doing what she loved.
"I really believe that this has given me back the gift of life," she said.
She can't technically leave footprints anymore, but she can leave tracks.
"I get around a little bit different - and faster," she said. "But it's nice because when I get in the woman's room and hold her hand and help her breathe, I already have a chair."
Grant tells people she's lived 10 years past her "expiration date."
"It's God's grace and God gives me the strength to keep going," she said.
Within the past year, however, her health has started to go downhill.
She's suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure - meaning her heart cannot pump enough blood for her body and simply breathing has become difficult.
Grant works only about 10-12 hours each month now, and she has an assistant to help her teach. It's hard for her to ask for help, she admitted.
But there are still babies to be born, parents to help, flashbulbs to go off - footprints to leave.
"There's a reason I'm still here," she said.
Original Print Headline: Leaving tracks
Cary Aspinwall 918-581-8477
Cheri Grant (right) teaches a class for expectant mothers with help from volunteer Kimberly Mejia at St. John Owasso. Grant, who witnessed her first live birth as a candy striper at age 12, now leads the child-rearing program. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World
Cheri Grant (right) teaches a class for expectant mothers with help from volunteer Kimberly Mejia at St. John Owasso. MATT BARNARD/Tulsa World