Winning Moments: From Homeless to Registered Nurse
When Katie Langan walked into the family home after another late night out, certainly not her first, she no longer had a bed or a bedroom.
“I had made choices that weren’t very positive. My parents were showing me tough love,’’ she explained. “My dad said, ‘if you can’t make right decisions, I can’t sit here and let you ruin your life.’’’
The insecurity of not having a bed every night was a feeling Katie Langan would become painfully familiar with over the next two years.
“After that night, I kind was kind of bouncing around. I was in an abusive relationship. I got pregnant and had a son. I wasn’t using serious drugs but I was hanging out with the drug dealers,’’ she explained.
The story only begins with a misguided teen who became essentially homeless. It doesn’t end in a lost life.
The story continues in patient rooms in the Surgical Specialty Unit of Genesis Medical Center, East Rusholme Street, Davenport. In those rooms, some patients may be headed on the same path Katie Langan, RN, was once on.
“I seem to gravitate to the patients with the gunshot wound, or stab wound, or the homeless, or the people with mental health issues,’’ Langan explained. “I sit down and talk with them and tell them, ‘this cannot be your life.’’’
It could have been Langan’s life.
Genesis recently unveiled a display called “Winning Moments.’’ Patients, staff, family members of patients, anyone really, is encouraged to share a message about their victories, whatever the victories may be. It may be a story of cancer survival, the homecoming of a baby from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, a note of gratitude for the care a family member received from Genesis, or maybe a winning soccer goal or a youth baseball home run.
Langan’s note posted to the board was startling:
“Went from homeless to Registered Nurse #winningmoment”
That is not a phrase you read often.
With her own initiative and the assistance and support of social service agencies and many others, 31-year-old Katie Langan is a RN. She is planning to advance her nursing education by enrolling in an MSN program.
As far back as elementary school assignments -- the kind with the theme of “What Do You Want to Do? -- Katie Langan would write that she wanted to help people. She wanted to be a nurse.
“It’s what I always wanted to do. I wanted to help people. I always knew that in me somewhere was nursing or something like it,’’ she said. “I had the smarts to do it. I just didn’t have the support system.’’
For nearly two years after the night when she left her parents’ home, Langan was homeless. She would sleep on the couches of friends. If she couldn’t find anywhere else to spend the night, she slept in her car.
“That would happen about every three months,’’ she said of the overnight stays in the car. “I did a lot of ‘couch surfing’ but then I wouldn’t have a couch.’’
When her son Keltin was born in 2011, she sought help from Humility of Mary Housing Inc., which provided an apartment.
Staff of Humility of Mary Housing, Inc. also provided direction. Langan was encouraged to get training as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). With a CNA certificate, she would be able to find a job.
She got a job at Country Manor Memory Care in Davenport. Again, others positively influenced her progress. Nurse Kim Anderson, who now also works at Genesis but previously was at Country Manor, encouraged Langan to go further. So did Nichole Will, director at Country Manor at the time Langan worked there.
“I loved that job. I was told I would make a great nurse and I should look at nursing school,’’ Langan explained.
Lauren Gustafson, services coordinator of Humility of Mary Housing, Inc., had a contact with an admissions counselor at Scott Community College who could help Langan through the process of enrolling in nursing school.
“I knew nothing about a FAFSA, student loans, grants, any of that. I found out that I needed a lot of prerequisites to be enrolled in the nursing program. It took me three years to get through them and another two years of the nursing program,’’ she said. “I was a single mom and a part-time student but I had a lot of people helping me.’’
On May 15, 2017, she went through the nurse pinning ceremony, the traditional ceremony marking the graduation of nurses. Keltin pinned his mother.
Langan passed her state boards on Aug. 4, 2017 and has been at Genesis for 18 months.
“Katie is doing a wonderful job,’’ said Krystle Jorgenson, RN, MSN, MHA, nurse manager of the Surgical Specialty Unit at Genesis. “She works especially well with some of our troubled, younger patients.
“She tries to show people you can change your life for the better, even when the odds are stacked against you. When I personally found out about Katie’s past, it made me proud to have such a wonderful nurse on this unit.’’
Langan said she is where she should be after a few difficult years.
“I can’t imagine doing anything else,’’ she said. “I’m doing what I should be doing. Helping people is what I’ve always wanted to do.
“Sometimes I look back and think ‘how did I do that?’ I had to take one day at a time and it took a long time.’’
Her own life experiences give her a different perspective than most bedside nurses.
“I needed to provide for my son so he didn’t have to experience what I have,’’ Langan said. “I think about that when I sit down and talk to patients. I try not to judge whatever problems they may be having in addition to the reason they are in the hospital. I probably had those problems myself.
“I share my story with patients. I tell them, ‘I ran the streets and got out of it. I could be dead right now but I’m here taking care of you. You have a life and this is not it.’’’
Langan eventually wants to teach nursing. With experience and an MSN, it is another lofty but attainable goal.
Langan said she is closer to her family now that she has taken her life in a different direction.
“I think they are proud of me. I hope they are,’’ Langan said.
Genesis Health System celebrates all Genesis nurses during National Nurses Week and all other weeks.
--By Craig Cooper