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Determination Crystal Clear-Drive to Help People Pushes Calgary Caregiver to Triumph Over Own Disability

Editor's Note: The following article is reprinted from the Calgary Sun, October 1, 2006.

When Shirley Chandler first considered nursing, she had all the qualities--passion, personality and perseverance--to make her one of the country's top caregivers.

Twenty years later, the Calgary nurse is still viewed among the best in her field, with her love for helping others remaining her spark, even though she's developed a degenerative visual condition.

Chandler, who's almost legally blind in both eyes, refuses to let the early onset of macular degeneration to her central vision come between her and the love of healing fellow Calgarians.

"I try not to let this slow me down--some people would let it get to them and stop them cold, but I won't let it," said Chandler, a 43-year-old native of Vanderhoof, B.C., who can't drive, can't read without adaptive devices and has trouble watching TV and recognizing signs and faces.

"For the most part, you learn to cope with it."

Her diligence and zealousness make her the Calgary Sun's and Calgary Health Region's Nurse of the Month for August.

Add to that confidence and a sparkling joie de vivre, and as a nurse with Telehealth--the program using technology such as phones, computers and televisions to deliver health services over distance--Chandler is a key cog in the CHR's commitment to health and welfare.

She coordinates vital telehealth projects such as chronic disease management and discharge planning, which makes seamless the transition of patients from a city hospital to a rural setting.

The CHR's goal is to increase access to specialists for rural clients and patients in other health regions.

And the registered nurse commits to her coordination unconditionally, said colleagues Linda Wright and Kaly Shoker.

"Shirley always has a smile and is generous of her time and energies to her friends, co-workers and clients," Wright said.

"She is a joy to work with," Shoker added.

She excelled at being a nurse, with experience in medical surgery, in the intensive care unit and in the emergency room. Her time in the field even included three years working in Hawaii before the vision problems hit.

"I was very emotional," said Chandler of a condition that forced her to make serious career decisions in 2001.

"The thought of not being able to continue being a nurse was almost as distressing to me as the actual loss of vision.

"And because bit by bit by bit I was losing my vision and didn't know when it was going to level off, it was a very stressful time."

With the help of her strong faith, support from friends and family and her own positive outlook, she made the best of a difficult situation, which eventually led to a position as a triage nurse with the grassroots HealthLink program, the CHR's dial-up medical information service.

"Working at HealthLink using adaptive software with the computers was a real cool way to continue with nursing and using the exact same skills and training that I had," said Chandler, who trained at Lethbridge Community College and then graduated with a bachelor of nursing degree from the B.C. Institute of Technology.

"It turned out to be a fabulous career move for me, and it's not something you can do just as a novice.

"That's the beauty of nursing--there are just so many avenues in the career path that still use the critical thinking, the analyzing, the assessment, the monitoring and the art and science of nursing."

Her attitude also opened up doors for other innovative jobs, including the one she works at now with Telehealth.

The CHR has helped her in every way with the posting, outfitting Chandler's workspace with a 21-inch monitor, adaptive software, a screen reader and a magnifying device that enlarges the print on her computer.

And Chandler sees herself as more than simply a caregiver and a coordinator. She's making certain of that by sitting on the council for the College and Association of the Registered Nurses of Alberta and working her way to a master's degree by taking courses through the University of Athabasca.

"Nursing is more than just tasks--it's the whole picture," Chandler said. "It's seeing the patient not in the diseased condition but in the spiritual and psycho-social, and in the context of their own lives.

"Helping people in crisis make better choices was always something that appealed to me."