This nurse is a rock star

Nurse Kasey Smotherman is known around the bone marrow transplant unit for her unique rocks and encouraging messages she gives to patients.

Enter the room of a bone marrow transplant (BMT) patient at IU Health University Hospital and chances are there will be a picture on the white board with a whimsical message: “Cell-abrate,” “Take a Cellfie,” “Tired of your current cell provider? Try BMT.”

One patient who recently received CAR-T cell therapy found this message: “Cells of mass destruction.”

CART-T gene therapy uses custom-made cells to attack a patient’s own specific cancer. CAR-T cell therapy allows doctors to isolate T-lymphocyte cells – the body’s cells that fight infections and are active in immune response. The T cells are then engineered to express a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that targets a protein on a patient’s cancer cells, attaches to them and eventually kills them. Indiana University Health is the only site in Indiana to administer the treatment.

Who is responsible for those uplifting messages during what could be a patient’s darkest days? Nurse Kasey Smotherman, 35.

“When I started here I worked night shift. You don’t see a lot of transfusions because they do it during the day, so after midnight I’d sneak in and do a drawing on their board,” said Smotherman, who became a nurse after her husband’s sudden death at the age of 34. She worked as a pharmacy tech before that.

“My mom had been sick and I took care of her and people would say, ‘you’d make a great nurse.’ Then when my husband passed I figured life is short so went to nursing school.” Said Smotherman, the mother of three children ages 16, 14, and eight. IU Health was her first job out of nursing school. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees last year and is now working on her MBA.

Not only does she leave her patients cute messages; Smotherman also gives them brightly painted rocks – an idea generated by one of her former patients.

“We had a patient in her 20s that I was close to. She ended up passing and I went to her funeral. They talked about how she and her children painted inspirational sayings on rocks and left them around town,” said Smotherman. “At the end of the funeral everyone got a rock to paint and give away and I thought I can do that for my patients. She was such a positive person even when she was sick so I wanted to carry that on in her memory.”

Smotherman recently visited a patient Jenise Bohbrink with a shiny silver rock with the message: “Jenise, each day around the clock, always remember that you rock.” Bohbrink was diagnosed August 31 with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. She is married to Brent Bohbrink and they have two children Averi, 6 and Owen, 4. Her brother Travis Platt is her bone marrow donor.

“Some days it’s really hard and it’s the little things that brighten your day,” said Bohbrink, 38. With a nursing staff of about 20, Smotherman said it’s easy to get maintain the continuity of care and it’s also easy to get attached to patients.

“I don’t want a lot of credit. I just do what I think needs to be done to brighten their day,” said Smothernman. Once a patient receives a bone marrow transplant, they celebrate new life – a birthday. With Smotherman’s help the Bone Marrow Transplant unit recently learned that Be The Match, operated by the National Bone Marrow Transplant Program, will provide party supplies for the birthday celebration.

“I accidentally applied to work in bone marrow transplant. I knew nothing about it but I did the interview and then a job shadow and fell in love with it,” said Smotherman. “I feel like our patient population is so appreciative and grateful to our nursing staff and we all love what we do.”

More about Smotherman:

  • She has played classical piano since the age of 13 and also played clarinet in high school.
  • Her motto: “Life is short.”
  • She said her mom; Joann Birtchman has been her greatest supporter through nursing school.
  • She also has a twin sister, Carla Huff, who lives in Greencastle.

— By T.J. Banes, Journalist, IU Health.
Reach Banes via email