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A retired nurse’s devotion to Children’s Hospital
Kathleen McAdam was a surgical nurse at Children’s Hospital Oakland for almost 15 years. Even though she retired more than 10 years ago, her commitment to the hospital remains strong.
Nursing was Kathleen’s third career. She’d wanted to be a nurse ever since she was a little girl in 1940s Ireland, but her mother had other ideas.
“My mother said, oh no, I wasn’t going to be a nurse,” Kathleen said in her faint Irish brogue, “that was a terrible job of scrubbing floors and cooking meals. I can still feel her hands between my shoulder blades marching me up to the new vocational college where I got my general commercial certificate. Then I went to work as a shorthand typist and bookkeeper.”
Kathleen left Ireland, and after traveling through Canada, she moved to San Francisco. There she met her late husband, Walter, through their mutual participation in a local Scottish dancing group. She stopped bookkeeping to raise three children; but she never stopped working. She ran a day care center out of their home and continued her volunteer work—for the local youth hostel organization, at an organization to prevent child abuse and at their church.
Realizing a dream
“After 20 years of what I call my mothering career, I realized I wanted to go back to school,” said Kathleen. “I told a friend who was a nurse that I’d always wanted to be a nurse too, but I thought I was too old. So she got a piece of paper and asked me, ‘How old are you? How old is your husband? What level of education do you have?’ After some quick math, she said, ‘We’ll get 12 to 15 good years out of you—you’re worth training.’”
In 1980, at the age of 50, Kathleen graduated from Los Medanos College’s Vocational Nursing program. Two years later, she completed the college’s RN program and fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse.
“I was bound and determined to work at Children’s Hospital,” said Kathleen. “I knew pediatrics was for me. I was the oldest of seven, and had been brought up taking care of little ones. Children have always been very comfortable around me and open up to me easily.”
During the night shifts that she preferred, Kathleen sang Gaelic lullabies to the patients.
“I remember 9-year-old Danny,” recalled Kathleen. “He was a quadriplegic and on a respirator. And he loved to sing. We had our little routine. He’d hold the respirator, and we’d have a sing-along. Then he’d talk to me about how much he loved airplanes. One day I asked him, ‘Would you like to meet a World War II pilot?’ His eyes were like saucers.
“So I brought in my husband Walter, who was a squadron leader in the air force, and he sat with Danny and told him all about his flight training in Canada and how he did an illegal belly landing in an alfalfa field in North Dakota.
“Eventually, Danny moved back to Sacramento, and I lost track of him, which is OK. I’d say this to all the nurses—we do everything we can while they’re here, and then you say a prayer and let them go. That’s what I did for Danny while he was at Children’s.”
A strong devotion to Children’s
Kathleen retired from Children’s in 1995, 18 months after her husband passed away. But she continued her tradition of making an annual gift to Children’s.
“Each year I make a donation in memory of Eilish James,” said Kathleen. “Eilish’s grandmother is my best friend. Eilish was born with trisomy 13, similar to Down’s syndrome, but more severe. Right after she was born, I got a call to meet the family at Children’s. Eilish ended up living until she was 5 years old, which was considered an unusually long time for someone with her disorder. I would say Eilish lived for so long because of the care that she got, first at Children’s and then from her entire family.”
As a retiree, Kathleen is on a fixed income now, but she still gives to Children’s every year in Eilish’s name.
“My motto about giving is this: If you see a need and you feel passionate about it, give,” shared Kathleen. “That’s how I feel about Children’s. It wasn’t just a job for me. I believe in the hospital’s philosophy of serving all children. And then the people at Children’s became like family to me.”
Giving to Children’s through her will was a natural decision for Kathleen. A bequest to Children’s allows her to extend her philanthropic legacy.
“My children aren’t going to quibble over the fact that I’ve made a bequest to one of the many organizations that I gave a hunk of my life to,” Kathleen said. “I chose to work at Children’s Hospital Oakland because I believe in having a hospital just for children. They develop differently. I wouldn’t want to see a little child at an adult hospital.”
Thank you, Kathleen, for your many years of devotion to Children’s Hospital, as a dedicated nurse and as a thoughtful donor. We are honored that you wish to include Children’s Hospital Oakland as part of your legacy.