The Heroes Among Us | Samantha Erschen Thurner, DSHA '05
BY MADELINE ZUKOWSKI, DSHA '11
During this time of crisis, the community has looked to, and continues to depend on, the frontline heroes. The setting of their work may differ from person to person—they may work in hospitals, directly in the community, or in places with vulnerable populations—but they all have a passion and drive to help their neighbors, even as it presents a risk to their own well-being.
Dozens of DSHA alumnae are these heroes. They all embody what it means to be a Dasher — a confident, capable woman making an actual, tangible difference in the world for good.
They are believers. They draw on their faith that was strengthened at DSHA, and lean on this faith during this difficult time.
They are self-advocates. They assess their strength and abilities, and do their part to help whenever and however they know they are capable. With courage, they fight for what is right—for their patients and themselves —evenin the midst of risk and unknowns.
They are critical thinkers. Even though their job responsibilities and roles have evolved, they adapt quickly and intelligently, making choices of life and death each day.
They are communicators. They hear from those who are struggling; they respond and they share in those struggles. They communicate using both strategy and empathy, grace, and truth.
They are leaders. In constant collaboration with others, they proactively fight to stop the spread of COVID-19 and the effect it has on all members of the community.
While the DSHA Qualities of a Graduate were established in these frontlines alumnae during their time at DSHA or its founding schools, we are learning from them each and every day, even as they continue to discover new information themselves. They show us what it means to carry oneself with confidence, to selflessly help others, and to trust in our values and beliefs—even and especially when times are tough. We are proud to call these alumnae a part of our community.
Fred Rogers is famously quoted for saying, “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”
These alumnae are quick to point to others who are helping, the people they find in their line of work that inspire them. But they deserve the recognition as well.
They are the helpers. And for that, we are immensely grateful.
Samantha Erschen Thurner, DSHA ’05 Chaplain | Aurora West Allis Medical Center
While physicians and nurses care for the physical health of their patients, Sam Erschen Thurner, DSHA ’05, cares for their spiritual and emotional health in her role as chaplain at Aurora West Allis Medical Center.
With COVID-19 restrictions in place at health centers, many ill patients cannot be with their loved ones. Aurora has helped patients connect with their closest family and friends through Zoom calls on tablet or table computers, Thurner shares. When a patient is nearing death, Thurner provides end of life prayers and spiritual support to the patient and his or her family. In addition, she runs them through a life review process that helps alleviate depression near the end of a person’s life through reminiscence.
Thurner is also part of a spiritual care team for her fellow healthcare members, many of whom are working long hours due to the virus. She is there to provide support for them 24/7 through phone or virtual support groups.
As part of her role to care for her fellow healthcare workers, she is assisting in the construction of “Respite Rooms.” In these rooms, healthcare workers can take a break and rest in silence. The room is filled with prayers, reflections, and thank you cards, some of which were donated by DSHA students and community members.
Thurner said she sees the good during this difficult time from DSHA students who have sent cards that express appreciation. “Everyone is working very hard and the messages sent by students provide affirmation of the work people are doing on the front lines of this pandemic,” she said.
Thinking back to her DSHA days, Thurner said she developed critical thinking skills that now help her to “bend, adjust, and pivot to the varied situations,” as well as a passion for service.
“I learned to serve God through others at DSHA, and I continue to do that in my daily work as a chaplain,” Thurner said. “I feel extremely called to be doing this work.”
She is inspired by the Aurora staff’s support of one another and their passion for caring for others, despite the risk of COVID-19 and isolation from family and friends. Thurner says there are so many stories from Milwaukee area hospital systems of hope and love.
“We need to remember to take a moment to step aside from the anxiety to notice all the places that God is working in our hospitals, our communities, our country, and our world,” she said.