by Traci Chapman – Writer/Photographer
For Oklahoma City Indian Clinic’s Dawn Kimmes, nursing is all about family, particularly for the most vulnerable of patients – those starting and nurturing a family and the smallest of those, who have just made their way into the world.
“It’s just my calling, I guess you could say, it’s something that touches every part of who I am,” Kimmes said. “It is everything I’ve ever wanted to do.”
That feeling of fulfillment is part of what Kimmes loves most about her position as an OKCIC public health nurse. A major part of that job is Family Spirit, a John Hopkins Center for American Indians health program developed to meet the cultural, physical and personal needs of each entire family enrolled in it.
“It’s the only one geared toward Native American families and goes from a positive pregnancy test, through labor and delivery and up to the child’s third year,” Kimmes said.
Family Spirit focuses not only on parenting itself – things like maternal information, pregnancy health for the mother and baby, coping with post-partum depression and associated issues – but also helping to relieve parents’ stress, treating with substance abuse and other parental educational focuses, like learning to ensure there is adequate safety and home stability.
“Once the child is born, we then also work with behavioral problems when they have those and work to make sure any cycle of substance abuse or behavior issues are addressed so the child can be free of those throughout their life,” Kimmes said.
Family Spirit is, in ways, unique, Kimmes said, because practitioners don’t just see patients at the clinic or just in a structured environment. The program encompasses between 52 and 63 lessons, depending on individual circumstances, teaching everything from breastfeeding, health and nutrition to creating an effective resume and job searches; it also gives practitioners the chance to observe first-hand any possible issues and help families make the right choices to avoid them.
“It’s really focused on the whole person, the whole family,” she said.
OKCIC currently has about 100 families participating in Family Spirit and more are applying as word spreads about the program’s effectiveness, Kimmes said.
“It just changes lives – it helps everyone in the family, from the oldest to the very smallest, it’s making lives better and that is just so amazing,” she said. “We see these children born, we are a part of their first steps into life, so to speak.”
Being a part of those first steps has always been one of Kimmes’ great loves, she said. Working for 24 years in “traditional” obstetrics, Kimmes said her role at OKCIC is far beyond what she has ever experienced, and while those years obviously gave her a lot of experience and knowledge, it was much more limited than she realized at first.
“It only gave us a little glimpse into this new life, into what the mother, the father, just the family would experience, how they would integrate, things like that,” Kimmes said. “It’s so fun to see new parents – you can really help them out – but they were there and then they were gone in two or three days.”
While Kimmes wasn’t first sure if nursing was the way she wanted to go as she started college, she did know she wanted to work with people, she said.
“I started with life sciences and engineering was boring, so I figured out pretty quickly which way I was headed,” Kimmes said.
Right after nursing school, she went into obstetrics and was also, for five years, a member of Northern Oklahoma College’s nursing faculty. Kimmes taught at the school’s Stillwater campus, she said.
Oklahoma City Indian Clinic is not her first experience working with an American Indian facility. For just under two years, Kimmes worked for the Buffalo School System, associated with the Iowa Tribe of Oklahoma. From there, she worked in labor and delivery in facilities in Enid, Tulsa, Edmond, Cushing and Stillwater, Kimmes said.
“Then it changed, when I found my place here at Oklahoma City Indian in April, and it was like something clicked in a way it never had,” she said.
That was because her new position encompassed everything she is passionate about – nursing, teaching and an opportunity to be a part of patients’ lives in a way she had never experienced before, Kimmes said.
“There’s also the variety, not just in the work itself but in our patients and their families,” Kimmes said. “Because we get to know them so well, we can truly reach out to them and find what’s right for them – it might be that a mom just doesn’t want to, or just can’t, breastfeed, so we help them with formula, things like that.”
“This job – it’s about being the best person you can be, and what’s wonderful and unique about that is that I’m helping these families to be the best people and the best parents they can be,” Kimmes said. “It gives you a really warm feeling, something that would be hard to replace.”