Editor’s note — This story is reprinted with permission from Matt Schabert, media relations director at Morehead State University.
MOREHEAD, Ky. — From the back lines to the front lines.
Morehead State soccer alums Karen Hilt and Kristi Gomez both played together as Eagles from 2012-15 for head coach Warren Lipka, defending the back lines and even helping MSU win the 2013 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament title. Now, they are teaming up once again as registered nurses on the front lines on the trauma/surgical floor at the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital.
“I have always really loved caring for people,” said Gomez, who is originally from Katy, Texas and also played alongside her sister Kelsey at MSU. “I wasn’t quite sure I really wanted to be a nurse until my first clinical rotations at MSU where I fell in love with being at the bedside and caring for sick patients.”
Hilt said her passion came early on in life.
“Ever since I was little I knew I wanted to be in the medical field. Growing up my family always watched medical shows, and I always thought ‘wow these people can make a big difference in somebody’s life.’ Plus, I have always enjoyed caring for people and knew that I would be happiest in a career where I could give back.”
Both have seen some drastic changes to their workplace since the COVID-19 health crisis has emerged, and while they have not directly worked with stricken patients, both put their health on the line just being in the facility. But, they both praised their facility for being prepared.
“I have witnessed other amazing nurses care for some of these very sick patients in the medical ICU,” Gomez stated. “During the beginning of COVID we were running extremely low on supplies such as PPE. We were very lucky to receive so many donations. We were also running low on hand sanitizer, and one of the local distilleries was able to make some to provide to our unit. Our hospital has been one of the most prepared hospitals in the nation, and they have adapted very well and extremely fast.”
Hilt says her adaption has been able to help patients connect with their families when no one else is allowed into the medical center.
“Switching to a no visitor policy has been difficult for patients to adjust to,” she said. “People tend to lean on family and friends for support and motivation so that has been an obstacle for patients and staff to deal with. To help with this situation UK has designated people to help patients video chat with family via hospital iPads. Nurses will call designated patient family members once a day to update and of course they are welcome to call whenever. The community has been great as well, providing meals for employees daily and showing their support.”
So how have these life experiences assisted in the personal growth of both of these Eagle alums.
“I think I am just feeling so incredibly lucky to still have a job. I love my job, I love the people I work with and I am so grateful to the community in Lexington,” said Gomez. “Every single night I have worked since that start of COVID my unit has been provided dinner from some amazing local restaurants. This situation has taught me how to adapt quickly and how to just be grateful for our health and freedoms.”
Hilt says it’s been a learning experience all around.
“I think it has helped me grow in my job by learning to adapt quicker,” she said. “All employees at UK and any health care organization have had to take in a lot of education and new protocols the past few weeks. Health care is always evolving, and to be a successful nurse you must remember the learning never stops.”
Gomez and Hilt both helped Morehead State’s defense rank as one of the best in the conference. Gomez appeared in 45 career matches, seeing more than 2,000 minutes on the field and scored a goal her senior year in 2015. Hilt, who came to MSU from Lynchburg, Ohio, played more than 3,500 minutes in 72 career matches.
Both said their decision to play for and earn their degrees from MSU was one of their best. And it was the team concept that has stuck with them to this day.
“I am a big believer in teamwork, I bring that concept into work every day,” Hilt said. “This comes from the fact that I have always been a part of a team, and while at MSU my teammates reinforced the idea of teamwork to me. The girls I played alongside (and now best friends) believed in doing their absolute best, not for themselves but for the person next to them because we were a family. As a nurse I try to do my absolute best to make the shift as smooth as possible for everybody. Luckily, I work with some great people who believe in teamwork as well, including Kristi Gomez, who is my best friend.”
As a senior at Lynchburg-Clay in 2012, Hilt achieved first-team all-state honors while also earning first-team all-district accolades her final three years at Lynchburg. Following her senior season, she was named Southeastern Ohio Player of the Year.
“Being a part of the MSU soccer team has been one of the best experiences in my life,” Gomez said. “I was able to make the best friends I could ever ask for. I will also note that MSU was one of the only schools that would accommodate Karen and I to play soccer and do nursing school. I visited many schools to see what would be the best fit for me and only MSU would allow me to pursue a degree in nursing. Karen and I would take a test and rush to get to the bus that was waiting for us to head to an out of town match. We were also fortunate to be able to room together on road trips and to be able to help each other out and study while traveling.”
The hope is one never has to be in a trauma or ICU unit, but rest assured if you find yourself at UK’s Medical Center, there is a great team to take care of you. Hilt and Gomez can attest to that, and they are both perfect examples that #EaglesAlwaysSoar.