Maggie Behounek as a nurse

Margaret “Maggie” Behounek is a nurse in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) at University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital who connects with her patients and their families on a personal level. That’s because she was once a patient, too.

In fact, Maggie spent many days and nights throughout her childhood at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, having undergone numerous heart surgeries and other procedures.

“Families have thanked me for sharing my story, and a few of them told me that I’ve given them hope for their kids,” Maggie says.

Immediately after Maggie was born, she was transferred to UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital where doctors discovered she had Shone’s complex, a congenital heart defect resulting in the narrowing of the aorta, which carries blood and nutrients to the rest of the body. Maggie had her first surgery at 11 months old to fix her aorta. 

“I had so many great nurses that made it more bearable and easier to deal with being in the hospital,” Maggie says. “I thought it’d be kind of cool to help kids go through the same things I’ve gone through.”

Many of the doctors and nurses who cared for Maggie as a child are now her colleagues at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, including pediatric cardiologist Dianne Atkins, MD, now retired.

“It has been a gratifying experience to serve as Maggie’s pediatric cardiologist, watch her mature into an excellent nurse, and work with her as a colleague. Her compassion for the patients is very evident in her care,” says Dr. Atkins.

Maggie Behounek as a patientMaggie as a patient at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital.  

All told, Maggie underwent five major surgeries to fix her congenital heart defect, and she expects she will need another surgery in the coming years to fix her pulmonary valve, which carries oxygen-poor blood to the lungs. Currently, the valve leaks blood during the time the valve should be closed.

“For my first surgery they fixed the coarctation—narrowing —and sent me home. I had a valve replacement when I was 4 years old, and I did okay with that for a while. And then when I was 7 years old, I had to get the valve replaced again,” Maggie says.

At 16, Maggie’s heart and liver were enlarged, causing heart failure and the need for emergency surgery to replace the aortic valve again. At 21, she had a prosthetic valve put in that should last 10 to 15 years.

“I still have chronic heart failure, which is pretty well controlled with meds. The humidity over the summer makes me feel pretty yucky, but I’m able to live a fairly normal life,” Maggie explains.

At UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital, nurses like Maggie understand that caring for patients goes beyond medical care, which is why Maggie chose to join the nursing family she grew up with.

“I remember when I was here for surgery for my second valve replacement, I had a nurse that would French braid my hair, give me back rubs, and play games with me to keep me occupied,” Maggie remembers.

Maggie began her nursing career in adult cardiology, but transferred to the pediatric intensive care unit for the opportunity to work with children with severe illnesses.
“Kids are, for the most part, so thankful for your care and for all the time you put in. It’s just so rewarding to actually see you’re making a difference,” Maggie says.