2021 Nightingale Award Winner - Vicki Freedenberg, PhD, RN, CCDS
A Perfect Rhythm
Vicki Freedenberg - PhD, RN, CCDS
Vicki Freedenberg has been working with pediatric heart patients for 29 years. She came to the specialty when her son was born with a severe heart defect.
Rhythm matters. And not just in music. One of the most fundamental—and beautiful—rhythms in life is the heartbeat. Vicki Freedenberg, PhD, RN, CCDS, an electrophysiology nurse scientist at Children’s National Hospital, helps young patients who have heart rhythm disorders find their perfect rhythm. For 29 years, Vicki has been working with pediatric patients who have arrhythmias, pacemakers, and defibrillators.
Vicki’s specialty found her when her son was born with a severe heart defect. “I was a nurse working with adults when my son was born. I experienced firsthand the incredible care he received here at Children’s,” she recalled. “That was nearly 30 years ago. I found my dream job and became a pediatric nurse.”
Having experienced pediatric heart problems as both a caregiver and a nurse made Vicki uniquely qualified for her next step. Vicki implemented a mindfulness-based stress reduction program for the hospital’s pediatric heart patients that incorporates concrete techniques like meditation, breathing exercises, and yoga. The results were immediate—and impressive. Patients reported less anxiety and more ability to manage stress.
Now several years into the program, Vicki is still astonished by how eagerly many of the patients take to mindfulness. “You don’t think of teenage boys laying still and meditating or doing yoga, but they love it. They ask for it,” she said.
Vicki notes that the mindfulness groups help pediatric heart patients reduce fear, stress, and feelings of isolation. This is particularly important for patients with heart rhythm disorders who want to avoid having their heart racing and who often cannot take pharmaceuticals that reduce anxiety because of potential negative side effects. These groups also help young patients connect with peers and avoid feeling alone.
When hospital leadership asked Vicki if she would like to try expanding the program to help more patients and staff members, she eagerly took on the challenge. She established Mindful Mentors, a train-the-trainers program that provides staff with mindfulness techniques they can then share with their employees and patients. The Mindful Mentors program has quickly grown to include representatives from almost every department at Children’s Hospital.
“It has been so rewarding to see how much mindfulness has helped so many of our patients,” Vicki concluded. “It is also extremely gratifying that the program has grown to become a hospital-wide effort.”
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