Alumni Spotlight: Robyn Horstmann

There are some people in the world who really make a significant impact on others. Clarkson College alumna Robyn Horstmann is truly one of those individuals.

Two major life events drove Robyn to pursue a future in nursing. As a small child, she accidentally pulled some industrial cleaning products off of a countertop, and was instantly covered in their deadly chemicals. She was transported via life-flight to an Omaha hospital. Due to her injuries, the medical staff expected Robyn to suffer from vision damage. Overtime, however, she fully regained her eyesight and accredits her remarkable recovery to the outstanding care she received while hospitalized.

Years following the chemical spill accident, Robyn’s grandmother passed away due to a missed diagnosis. Her loss, which may have been prevented if caught and treated, was the final motivation behind Robyn’s decision to pursue a nursing degree.

After investigating several nursing schools, Robyn chose to attend Clarkson College. She felt the institution offered a clear path to obtaining her BSN degree, and she was confident her education would lead to a strong starting point in her nursing career.

Now, nearly seven years since graduation, Robyn works as a pediatric RN for Craig Homecare and Ambassador Pediatrics in Omaha. She cares for a ventilator dependent patient with spina bifida in his home full-time. She enjoys her time with him, especially when they watch movies. “Shrek” is one of his favorites. They have fun giggling while they quote the lines from the movie.

Robyn's adoption of Detroit was final on Oct. 29, 2012.

Robyn’s nursing career is only part of what makes her so compassionate. In 2012, she adopted a little boy, Detroit, with CHARGE Syndrome, a rare genetic disorder involving a series of congenital anomalies that can occur together. Her son has congenital heart defects, developmental delays and is tube-fed but is high functioning for his diagnosis.

Robyn’s initial contact with Detroit was when he was 3 years old. He had been hospitalized for long term care in the Ambassador because of a trach and ostomy. Robyn was his pediatric nurse. Unfortunately, his mother was ill-equipped to care for him and was referred to Child Protective Services. Recalling how well cared for her son was in the hospital, Detroit’s mother asked Robyn if she would take in her son in, who at that time was 5 years old. Robyn relays, “I felt sad that this woman who obviously wanted the best for her son knew she couldn’t be that, but I felt honored that she could tell how much I loved him and knew I’d take good care of him.”

Detroit moved into his new home with Robyn and remained there as the adoption paperwork was processed. On Oct. 29, 2012, 6-year-old Detroit legally became Robyn’s son. More than three years have passed since that life-altering day, and Robyn describes the joy she’s felt in watching Detroit grow.  “He’s a sweet and engaging little boy,” Robyn says. “His giggle lights up my days.” They enjoy their trips to Target and Hy-Vee and swimming in the summertime. Disney movies are Detroit’s favorite, and he is a fanatic about all things train related, especially “Thomas the Train.” Detroit’s bedtime is a special time for them. They have fun playing, and he giggles with the tickles and kisses she gives him.

Robyn shares her experiences with other moms who have adopted special needs children. “If I could start over again, I would certainly take the same path,” she says. “When I was younger, I did not want to foster or adopt, nor want to work with pediatric patients. I kind of fell into the job with pediatric patients at the Ambassador, and now I can’t imagine anything else.”

Robyn and Detroit spend much of their free time reading, particularly books from his "Thomas the Train" collection.

Robyn added how deeply affected she was every time Detroit would go home from the hospital with his biological mother and she wouldn’t be able to see him every day. She had a hard time envisioning him not in her life and is extremely grateful she was given the opportunity to adopt him.

Adopting a special needs child is not the only way Robyn is making a difference. While she was in school at Clarkson College, she also worked in the third floor transplant AICU unit at Nebraska Medicine as a patient care tech. For years, Robyn had donated blood and platelets but wanted desperately to help those patients who were not fortunate enough to ever receive a transplant. A higher level of donation seemed like a logical next step for her.

To achieve this, she registered to become a bone marrow donor. When she was called upon to donate to a patient in Chicago, she readily accepted. She donated bone marrow through a bone marrow donor center called Delete Blood Cancer DKMS. She credits her employer, Craig Homecare, for giving her great assistance in this endeavor. They paid for her time off and assisted in modifying her work hours to accommodate her travel and recovery schedules.

Prior to her actual donation, she underwent a series of tests to make certain she was as good of a match as they hoped and that she was healthy enough to donate. She also underwent counseling and was told that if she backed out within a week of donation, the recipient would already have received a round of radiation to wipe out his immune system and bone marrow, making his chances of living very, very low without Robyn’s cells.

Robyn was given a general anesthetic for the actual donation procedure. The bone marrow was harvested from her pelvic bones. Following the procedure, she was given a transfusion of her own blood. All of the health care professionals she encountered after the procedure thanked her many times. She fondly recalls a nurse practitioner who told her, “you saved a life today,” and then shook her hand. “That was the coolest thing,” Robyn remembers.

Recovery was much quicker than Robyn expected. She had four or five small incisions on each side of the backs of her hips, making walking and rolling over in bed extremely painful for the first three days or so. She was given adequate pain medication, slept a lot for the next week and had very little energy. “Going to lunch after sleeping 12 hours exhausted me enough that I slept another three,” she says.

Robyn’s bone marrow was given to a 22-year-old male with lymphoma who resided in Europe. She has not received further information on him except that one year after her donation to him he went into early relapse, and she was called upon to help him by donating t-cells. She did not hesitate. She underwent a donation via an apheresis-type procedure and was hooked up to the machine for eight hours as they drew blood from one arm, spun off the necessary amount of cells and returned the rest of the blood through an IV in her other arm.

It was hard for Robyn to sit still through the procedure. She asked for Ativan to relax, and she was able to spend a lot of the time sleeping. For about six weeks following the t-cell donation, Robyn’s pulse would sometimes rise above 100 beats per minute, causing her to feel dizzy. She was registered to run in the fall 2014 Omaha Half Marathon but had to scale back on her training to ensure she didn’t pass out while on a run. 

Despite some of the nuances with her recovery, Robyn would not hesitate to donate again. “It is an understatement to say that it was an intensely rewarding experience.” She goes on to say, “I have always felt the need to help others; the focus Clarkson College has on service provided guidance and direction for that and encouraged me to explore the areas in which I can best serve.”