One minute Sarah Stanley was enjoying a boat ride on a western Wisconsin lake. The next thing she knew? She was waking up in a trauma unit at Regions Hospital – and had no idea where she was.

“I looked out my window, saw I-94 and thought I was in Chicago,” said Sarah, who’s originally from there.

Sarah had been in a serious boating accident and needed the care of a trauma center. Her family dropped everything to rush to a hospital they barely knew anything about and be by her side.

As a Level I Trauma hospital, Regions sees unfortunate situations like Sarah’s unfold every day. But, since early 2017, these situations have become a bit more bearable for patients and their families thanks to one very special Regions team member: Jackie Edwards.

At 67 years old, most people are counting down the days to retirement or are already there. But Jackie’s role at the hospital has given her a start on a brand new journey.

In February 2016, Jackie made her way to Regions as a patient herself. She needed a double knee replacement. But first, her doctor advised she lose 30 pounds.

Sticking to a diet of 1,200 daily calories from fresh fruit, veggies and protein, Jackie lost those 30 pounds in time for her first surgery with Gavin Pittman, MD in June. But that was just the beginning.

“Dr. Pittman did the first knee in June 2016, and I just kept eating well. Then, in September 2016, he did the second one,” Jackie said. “Now, all in all, I’ve lost 86 pounds and feel like the Energizer bunny.”

The power of a warm welcome

Jackie’s always had innate compassion for others. And these days, thanks to her newly gained energy and health, she’s able to channel that compassion in a way that’s making a big impact on patients including Sarah Stanley. Walking nearly 4.5 miles per day, with a bright smile and cheerful spirit, Jackie goes from unit to unit at Regions to welcome each and every new patient and guest to the hospital.

“I make sure patients know how to use their TV and order a meal. And then I get things to help take their minds off what else may be going on, like puzzle books and newspapers – that sort of thing,” Jackie said. “Then, for patients’ families, my goal is to help them know how to navigate the hospital. I tell them things like where the folding tables are, how the bed folds out and where the family kitchenette is.”

These first-day visits make a huge difference in experience – yet they just scratch the surface of the full impact Jackie makes. Because while, yes, she’s there for patients on day one of their stay at Regions, she’s also there on day three, day 30 or even beyond.

“It amazes me that she can remember everything about everyone. You can see that she genuinely cares about the people she works with,” said Karen Lane, a nurse manager at Regions. “Everyone knows who Jackie is. She’s just a kind, kind person.”

For Jackie, stopping by regularly to say hello to patients she’s met and see how they’re doing is important – even on weekends and holidays.

“I think I’ve worked all but one holiday since I started, and I work many Sundays,” Jackie said. “Those are the days when people who don’t have family really need someone. Those are the long days.”

She takes no blood and gives no orders

Having made nearly 20,000 visits to patients and families in her first two years at Regions, Jackie has a knack for putting others at ease.

“What I’ve come to do almost always is this: I walk in and tell everyone that I’m Jackie, the hospital’s ambassador. Basically, I say, I’m the one who draws no blood and gives no orders – and then they laugh. It puts them at ease and then we just visit,” Jackie said. “One day, I will see as many as 120 people. But maybe the next day, in those same amount of hours, I’ll see 60 people. My work is all about the need of our patients at Regions – not the number.”

Although Jackie jokes about being the “non-medical person” in a patient’s life, she’s glad to be able to support the care teams across the hospital. And they, too, are happy to have her aboard.

“In our roles as nurses who are caring for patients, a good portion of that care is task-oriented. But going in and sitting down with the patients is an equally important piece for our teams,” Karen said. “Jackie just adds to what we already believe in. And that’s sending the consistent message that yes, you’re important, and yes, we want to talk with you.”

Jackie certainly agrees. “It’s no question that the staff care about their patients. I’m just one more who’s there to help brighten their day,” she said.

Jackie’s message to others

There’s no question that Regions has been truly touched by Jackie since she started as the hospital’s experience ambassador. And Jackie says the time she’s spent at Regions has made just as much of an impact on her. From getting new knees and losing 86 pounds to meeting and making a difference for so many people, it’s given her a new lease on life.

“I just want to let other people know, it’s never too late to make a change,” Jackie said. “If I can do it at age 65 and shift away from a lifestyle of bad habits, anyone can.”