Even as a child, Heather Horn knew she wanted to be a nurse. She had an obsession with caring for animals, from bunnies to birds to cats and kittens.
“I remember going to get a dress for homecoming in high school when I found a mallard duck in the middle of the road,” Horn recalls. “I put it in my trunk, because I didn’t have a box, and took it home.”
When she opened her trunk, the bird flew away.
“I guess I gave her the time she needed to recoup and recover,” she says.
Horn graduated high school with honors in 1997 and was accepted into a two-year nursing program at a local hospital. But after two semesters, while dealing with personal issues, her grades suffered and she left the program.
“I decided to come back when I had things in a better focus,” she says.
Horn had no idea that it would take 20 years for her to find that focus.
Navigating life's twists and turns
It wasn’t what she planned, but Horn spent the next two decades building a career in business management and sales, while raising her four children. From the outside Horn seemed content. But on the inside, she was far from it.
“I still felt an ache in my heart to pursue my dream,” she said.
In June 2017, at age 40, Horn found herself sitting at an advisor’s desk in the Health and Wellness Sciences academic division at Lorain County Community College.
“I chose LCCC’s nursing program because of the positive reviews I had read,” Horn says. “My fiancé had family members complete the program and they encouraged me to start there.”
After two decades, Horn was finally working toward her dream. But while completing pre-requisite courses before applying to the program, an unthinkable loss almost brought her education to a screeching halt. During her first semester, Horn’s second eldest daughter was fatally injured in a car accident.
“I crumbled. I was broken and lost,” Horn says. “But somehow through the devastation, grief, and sadness, I continued.”
Finding a confidence boost on campus
Horn entered the nursing program in spring 2019 with a new perspective.
“I learned a lot about myself during that time,” she says. “I learned my support system was incredible, from my professors to the college resources, and my family. Everyone wanted me to be successful.”
Horn found encouragement and support throughout her time in the nursing program, learning from people who not only inspired her, but once were her.
“The great thing about the instructors in the nursing program is they were in our shoes, some of them in the very same program,” Horn says. “They know how we are feeling as students.”
Then, in March 2020, as Horn was completing her clinicals, an unprecedented challenge crashed in – one that no one, not even the experienced instructors, had navigated before.
“When COVID-19 came into play, a new normal was introduced to us,” Horn says.
Clinicals were placed on hold until the fall, after the local hospitals found a way for students to attend safely.
“I have had to put extra precautions in place to stay healthy and protect my patients and my family,” Horn says. “It’s just the way we must conduct ourselves during this time in our profession and in life.”
Between the health concerns of COVID-19 and the strenuous nature of the program, Horn felt she might not make it to the finish line. But she always found the confidence boost she needed in her instructors.
“It was as if they knew what wheels were turning in our minds,” Horn says. “They took the time to talk about it and ease our fears, to prepare us for exams.”
Confirming a calling to care
Horn was more than prepared for all her exams. She graduated from the nursing program in December 2020 and received LCCC’s Florence Nightingale Student Nurse Award for Nursing Excellence.
“I did not expect to receive this award. I was in the clinical area providing patients with the care I would want my mother, father, sister or daughter to receive,” Horn says. “But being thought of so highly for this confirms that this is where I should have been all along.”
Today, Horn is a registered nurse in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit at University Hospitals in Elyria. And after more than 20 years, Horn finally feels focused.
“I start each shift with a plan, ready to execute and with the focus to do so,” Horn says. “I exist for my patients and they are relying on me to provide them with the best care possible and I need to deliver on that expectation.”