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‘The kids are most important’

Parents, colleagues laud local nurse’s ability, compassion


“She’s able to build relationships with people on a level that is so sophisticated and compassionate, it made her job seem fluid.”

Joe Petrone, Moffat County School District superintendent about former school district nurse Terri Jourgensen

Terri Jourgensen is heading out of the Moffat County High School nursing office — she's got an appointment in about 10 minutes — when a student walks in the room.

The girl immediately hugs Jourgensen, and in an instant, the laundry list of things to get done becomes the least of concerns for the nurse on this busy day.

"How's my girl?" Jourgensen says, wrapping her arms around the student, who is beaming under the glow of the nurse's warm attention.

Jourgensen is no longer the Moffat County School District nurse, but the legacy of her career with the district remains vibrant, the example above a fairly typical episode in her 10 years in education.

Her time with the district lives in an album full of student photos, a parting gift from school administrators, that she keeps at her new office at the Northwest Colorado Community Health Center in Craig, where she began working as a triage nurse and clinical specialist in early January. The health center is a program offered by the Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association.

School district colleagues and administrators rave about Jourgensen and her skills.

"She is one of the finest," superintendent Joe Petrone said. "She's able to build relationships with people on a level that is so sophisticated and compassionate, it made her job seem fluid."

"I cannot say enough good things about her," said Katrina Willey, MCHS health technician, who worked under Jourgensen.

"The word 'liaison' — I can't find a better word for it," MCHS Principal Thom Schnellinger said of Jourgensen's role at the school.

That word in particular seems apt.

As school district nurse, Jourgensen straddled two worlds, she said, acting for both the school and parents, some of whom were sometimes searching for answers about a seriously ill child.

Jourgensen, 45, came to the district with a solid foundation in medicine.

The 1984 MCHS graduate's resume includes a bachelor's degree in nursing from the University of Wyoming and stints at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, and Hilltop Rehab Hospital in Grand Junction.

Yet knowing the mechanics of the human body, she said, is only half the equation.

"I think you can be a nurse for 30 years in a clinic or a hospital setting and not have any idea what a school nurse is all about," she said. "It's really a very unique position."

She had to consider how a condition would affect her young patients in the classroom, she said, as well as take into account an array of other factors, such as parents, teachers and other students.

Underlying all this working knowledge was a guiding philosophy Jourgensen said she, district administrators and nurse technicians working under her shared: "The kids are most important."

These weren't just words to Jourgensen.

She was willing to do tasks outside her job description, Willey said, whether it was making needed medical appointments for students, or hand-delivering paperwork to parents on her own time.

Whatever help she could give, "if she could do it, she would," Willey said.

Todd and Kathy Hildebrandt attest to the commitment Jourgensen brought to the job.

"Terri has helped us a tremendous amount with Katelynn," Todd said.

Katelynn, the Craig couple's 15-year-old daughter, has an undiagnosed medical condition that rendered her legally deaf and blind, Kathy said.

She cannot walk or speak — although she often laughs — and must be fed by tube.

Time after time, they said, Jourgensen went out of her way to ensure Katelynn's needs were met.

When Katelynn outgrew infant diapers, Jourgensen found a company that sold diapers in Katelynn's size.

When Katelynn's spine had to be fused a few years ago, Jourgensen came to the couple's home to check on the incision, which ran the length of the girl's back.

She trained Katelynn's one-on-one aids and was a calming presence when they met with school officials to discuss whether Katelynn's needs were being met in school.

These events "can be some potentially high-stress meetings," Todd said.

But, "Terri always stays positive and just has a good perspective on things," he added.

The couple came to depend on her, and somewhere along the way, they cultivated a rapport that a change in job title isn't likely to erase.

"She's always just a phone call away," Kathy said. "You can always just call her for any question."

"In fact, we could probably still call her if we need to," Todd added. "I know we could, even though she's not with the school district anymore."

Jourgensen may have entered a new chapter in her life and career, but the legacy she leaves behind still stands, particularly in the minds of people like the Hildebrandts.

"She has a passion for people," Kathy said. "She has a gift."

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