Any nurse can tell you that there’s always one or two patients who stay in their hearts and minds long after they leave the clinic. For one Milwaukee nurse, that was true for almost three decades—until one regular visit to the doctor’s, she found she didn’t have to wonder about them any longer.
For the past 44 years, Lynn Bartos had dedicated herself tirelessly and wholeheartedly to nurturing her patients at Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. After a long and tough career, she wound up in the patient’s chair herself when she got rheumatoid arthritis.
Bartos, now 67, had a lot of thoughts running through her head as she was coming to the end of her lifelong career as a nurse, but there was one daunting question she just couldn’t shake.
“I invested a lot of myself into being a really good nurse. And did it really make a difference?”
Her question was answered in the most unexpected and wonderful way when she came in for regular treatment at the same hospital she still works two days out of the week in.
During a visit in the summer of 2015, Bartos noticed something about a new nurse assigned to her that day—something oddly familiar that she just couldn’t put her finger on.
“Just something on her face and her eyes, I thought, I knew who she was,” Bartos said. It gives her goosebumps just thinking about it.
Her nurse, then 30-year-old Nicole Krahn, had the same feeling about her patient.
“I don’t know, she seemed familiar,” Krahn said.
As the two nurses began to chat, they discovered they had a lot of things in common—then it hit them.
“I looked at her and I said, Nini?” Bartos recalled.
As they talked about their career and past, they realized they had met 28 years earlier, at the Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in the 1980s when Bartos treated Krahn as a baby and toddler.
“I said, ‘Nicole, I took care of you for years when you were an infant and toddler.’ We both were just stunned that our roles were reversed. There I sat as her patient.”
Krahn was also bit startled and tried to take it all in. She said she couldn’t explain how she felt.
“I was a bit flustered.”
They also learned they were on the cover of Children’s Nurse Magazine, a Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin publication for a 1988 article that featured Krahn’s case and her special relationship with Bartos.
The article included photos of Bartos, whom Krahn called “sweet Lynny,” Krahn who was nicknamed “Nini” or “Nicki” in baby talk, and Krahn’s mother, Rosemary.
“She was a very lovable little girl” Bartos recalled.
Krahn was born in 1985 with volvulus, a life-threatening intestinal condition that prevented the baby from absorbing enough nutrients to survive. She came into the gastrointestinal clinic for treatment, follow-up care, and nutritional monitoring three times a week for three years. Bartos was the dedicated nurse who helped her recover.
“I remember Nicole and her family because they were so willing to do anything to help Nicole. And well, Nicole was the cutest thing ever,” she said.
When they parted ways in the 1990s, Bartos held on to a copy of their Children’s Nurse Magazine throughout the years and always wondered what became of the little girl.
Krahn said she only remembered “bits and pieces” of those days at the clinic with Bartos but one thing she did remember, for as long as she could remember, was that she always wanted to be a nurse.
Almost 30 years later nurse and patient reunited with roles reversed.
In those days, children usually didn’t survive the intestinal condition but Krahn did, and Bartos was touched to see that not only had she made it, but went on to become a nurse herself.
“I don’t know if I really just liked nurses, I just knew I always wanted to be one,” she told CBS.
Their reunion couldn’t have come at a better time for Bartos, who as she approached retirement wondered if she had made any significant impact as a nurse. She was happy to see that she did and was shown that in the most rewarding of ways.
“Nicole was this little girl that I took care of, and now she’s taking such good care of me,” said Bartos. She considers it far too miraculous for it to be considered a coincidence.
“This is just what I needed. It is definitely a gift, because now I know for 44 years, I made a difference in people’s lives.”
Krahn shared similar feelings.
“I don’t know if it’s a small world, or it was meant for me to take care of her after all these years,” Krahn said.