Meet Windy – Mom and Nurse
For Mother’s Day, Windy Smith, a mother and nurse at UW Health's American Family Children’s Hospital, shares her poignant and heartfelt story. Windy’s daughter, Brielle “Ellie,” has Langerhans’s Cell Histiocytosis, a rare cancer disorder. Windy cares for her daughter during her treatment.
For the past 12 years, I have been a Nurse at UW Health's American Family Children’s Hospital. My career began in the Float Pool, then I transitioned into a Care Team Leader and eventually become a Nurse Manager of a 24-bed medical/surgical unit. I love what I do.
In July 2019, my 8-year-old daughter, Brielle “Ellie,” developed an extreme thirst which caused her to urinate excessively. She was diagnosed with Diabetes Insipidus – a rare condition that causes an imbalance of bodily fluids. Since this disorder had come on suddenly, our endocrinologist recommended an MRI, which revealed Langerhans’s Cell Histiocytosis—an uncommon cancer that causes lesions in tissue. A lesion was found on Ellie’s pituitary stalk, and we learned she would have to undergo chemotherapy and take high doses of steroids, antibiotics, antacids, stool softeners, and depression medications.
This experience has turned our world upside down. As a family, we have had to pull together and be there for each other in ways we never thought possible. As a nurse, I never imagined I would have to provide care to my child. But knowing Ellie wanted me to comfort and care for her has given me the strength to do it.
In my role as nurse and mother, I have the heartbreaking honor/privilege of accessing Ellie’s chemotherapy port. First weekly for labs and chemo, but now just once every three weeks. While I know the treatment is essential, it breaks my heart every time I access her port.
We incorporate humor when we can, which is a tremendous coping mechanism for us both. We have had to deal with emotional challenges—side effects that come with the chemo and steroids. Ellie has shared thoughts of not wanting to be alive and not wanting to wake up in the morning. No mother should ever have to hear her child say those words. But hearing them means that Ellie trusts me, and we navigate the negative feelings together.
Today, Ellie is doing well and is counting down her remaining treatments—only five left! A passionate Lego enthusiast, she and her sister will build for hours. Ellie loves her dogs and her cat, and she can’t wait until the quarantine lifts for our family to take our Make-A-Wish trip to Disney and Universal Studios.
Ellie’s diagnosis has impacted our entire family. It’s all-consuming—it’s all we do and think about. We worry if she will get sick or stop responding to chemo. It’s easy to go down a path of fear. But for this Mother’s Day, our family is choosing to go down a path of gratitude. I’m so grateful that Ellie had a singular lesion isolated to her pituitary stalk, that she is responding to chemo, and that she is on a positive trajectory to be finished with her course of treatment in September or October.
I’m also thankful for Ellie’s treatment team. Her doctors and surgeons went above and beyond. The hospital staff treated her as if she were their own daughter. I couldn’t be prouder to work for such an amazing children’s hospital and to work with such phenomenal people. I’m thankful we have so many wonderful friends and family members in our lives that helped support us through this journey. And I’m thankful for Ellie and her tremendous wisdom, strength, and resiliency.