Jennifer Russel, RN

Jennifer Russel, RN - Emergency Department Clinical Coordinator, Bayfront Seven Rivers Hospital

Readers Choice

One morning about two months ago, Jen Russel was working in her office in the Emergency Department at Bayfront Seven Rivers Hospital when she saw the charge nurse and an EMT run by, holding an infant who was in obvious distress. Russel, who has a background in pediatric nursing, dropped what she was doing and ran after them.

“The baby was barely alive,” she said. “The doctor started an IV, but before he could get a breathing tube in, the baby lost his pulse.”

Russel immediately started infant CPR, chest compressions that keep blood moving to the brain and organs of the baby’s body. She and the charge nurse took turns doing those chest compressions for 35 minutes until the infant started breathing on his own.

“We got him back,” she said. “When infants lose their pulse, you hardly ever get them back.”

The child was stabilized and transported to Shands Children’s Hospital, where he was diagnosed with a heart condition. After four weeks in Gainesville, which included two more similar episodes, the baby went home to his family. He will have surgery to correct the condition when he is older and stronger.

Two days after the event, Russel got a call from the baby’s doctor at Shands Children’s Hospital.

“He said, ‘I don’t know how you guys did it, but that high-quality CPR saved this child’s life,’” Russel recalled, adding that infant CPR is difficult because the exact type of pressure must be applied during the compressions – too much and the baby can be hurt; too little and not enough oxygen is getting to the brain. “We just did what we needed to do. I didn’t even think. Training just kicked in.”

It also is notable that Russel did her share of the 35 minutes of compression with a broken index finger.

“I never felt a thing – until after,” she said.  

For this achievement, and her work as Bayfront Seven Rivers’ ED Clinical Coordinator, Russel was voted the Readers’ Choice Healthcare Heroes winner.

Born in Tampa and raised on a game preserve on the border of Citrus and Hernando counties, Russel is a local girl with deep roots in the area. She started her nursing career as an LPN at Bayfront Health Spring Hill Hospital, earned her RN in 2007 and worked at the Spring Hill location for 19 years. She transferred to Bayfront Seven Rivers in 2017.

Russel was inspired to become a nurse when her father developed health issues when he was only 39. She and her four siblings were just children, at Christmas time, when he had a heart attack.

“Dad had a heart attack at age 39. He passed in 2014 at age 57. That’s why I became a nurse,” she said. “He was in intensive care for a week over Christmas. I remember the way the nurses were with us. Kids weren’t allowed in ICU, but they snuck us in the back door to see him.

“I thought I might be able to do that,” she added. “I picked pediatrics because I’ve always loved kids, and between my big family and all the babysitting I did, I figured I could handle it. Kids are a puzzle. When they are sick, they can’t tell you what’s wrong. You have to find it and fix it. I like a challenge.”

At Bayfront Spring Hill, Russel worked in obstetrics, pediatrics, and the emergency department, and was promoted to nursing supervisor. She joined Seven Rivers as clinical coordinator, which, she said, “is like being assistant manager with extra stuff.”

“Jen has been instrumental in building the stroke and sepsis programs at Bayfront Health Seven

Rivers as well as ensuing our pediatric equipment and training are up to the appropriate standards of care,” said her nomination. “Severely ill pediatric patients are rare, but you must be proactive in ensuring the proper preparation with staff and processes to have successful resuscitation. Jen has excelled at this, in addition to promoting a climate of professionalism, accountability and quality.”

Russel and her husband, Gary, a Hernando County sheriff’s deputy, have four children, ages 13-20. They also have a hedgehog, ferret, two dogs, and chickens on their Spring Hill property. The family is part of the Dixie Youth Softball league – Gary runs the league, Jen runs the concession stand. When they can, the Russel’s love to attend Tampa Bay Rays games.

Russel keeps in touch with the baby’s family. They send her photos and call with updates on his condition.

“To know what he looked like when he came in, and then see pictures of this beautiful baby – I don’t have words to describe it,” she said. “The parents were in the room the entire time.

“It’s my job, my calling,” she added. “My instincts focused on saving that child.

“Next morning, I cried like a baby.”

Healthcare Heroes 2019