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Elaine Tilka Miller, DNS RN CRRN FAHA FAAN Editor

What characterizes heroes? Is it something spectacular that they have done, a special gift or ability they possess, or perhaps a desire or passion that is highly admired? Is it an incredible accomplishment or achievement, or is it deeper—a commitment, consistency, or an admirable record? Although we all have different ideas of what constitutes a hero, each of us can think of at least several heroes in our lives.

Why Heroes Are Important to Us

Heroes provide us with standards or levels of achievement that we all want to reach. Heroes may be defined in terms of bravery, courage, commitment, physical or intellectual ability, compassion, tenderness, love, or some other highly regarded quality. A hero is the “gold standard” in our lives. A hero shows us what excellence is. We lift them above others and have a distinct reverence for them. We place them in a special category and elevate their status. Heroes are important because they give us hope and show us what we can be even when the odds are against us. They demonstrate all that is great in the human spirit and inspire us to be better.

How We Identify Heroes

Since we all define heroes differently, we may have conflicting ways of identifying our heroes. Some heroes are parents, coaches, teachers, or colleagues who are cherished or tremendously respected. Heroes may also be our patients and their families. Perhaps it is a patient who shows particular courage when dealing with a life-changing event or a patient’s family member who fully demonstrates love and commitment. We constantly identify and qualify heroes in our minds. We quietly confer hero status on the select few who touch our hearts with their special talents and character. We hold them up. We elevate them.

Are You a Hero?

Few people think of themselves as heroes. Good examples are war heroes or pioneers in various fields. Likewise, parents never call themselves heroes, but we often think of them that way. Hero status is always assigned by someone else. When interviewed, heroes frequently comment that they did not seek this designation, but circumstances triggered their actions that subsequently left a permanent mark on the lives of others. Heroism cannot be self-proclaimed or promoted. Are you a hero in the eyes of someone?

Heroes in Rehabilitation Nursing

As I reflect upon my life and rehabilitation nursing practice, several people immediately come to mind as my heroes. One was my father, an excellent listener and strong supporter with a tremendous work ethic. Another was a patient named Dixie, who was born with spina bifida and had many physical limitations. She lived life to the fullest, had a tremendous sense of humor, and never allowed her physical limitations to curb her spirit or limit her goals. I remember her with admiration leading a parade in her wheelchair to celebrate a special city event. My last hero is an educator, Katherine Bordicks, who taught in my undergraduate nursing program. She stimulated my creative thinking and tenacity to pursue new learning. Who has touched your life and has made a difference in shaping your future and success?

Within rehabilitation nursing, there are individuals who give their time and special talents to help us transcend various professional and life challenges. In many instances, these individuals, whether colleagues, patients, or family members, do not consider themselves heroes, but their actions suggest otherwise. Heroes come in many sizes and put forth efforts, great and small, that make a difference in the lives of those who receive rehabilitation nursing care. The collective acts of service, integrity, courage, tolerance, kindness, comfort, creativity, and generosity of individuals from all ages, races, genders and skills unite for the good of patients with diverse chronic illnesses and rehabilitation needs.

Take a few minutes and reflect on your personal heroes. By supporting one another and honoring our heroes, professional and personal, we rise to higher standards and advance our practice as well as enrich our lives and the lives of others.