Healing After Heartbreak: A nurse who lost her grandmother as a result of a medical oversight made it her mission to keep patients safe. 

When Baylee McGrath was 12, her grandmother died as a result of a medical error — and it affected her profoundly.

“It changed the trajectory of my life,” she says. “From that point on, I knew I wanted to go into nursing. I didn’t want anyone else’s family to go through what my family went through.”

McGrath, now 25, comes from a long line of medical professionals, including pharmacists, physical therapists and nurses. In fact, her mother had just gotten into nursing school when McGrath’s grandmother, Patricia Kurth, died. For McGrath, who had considered becoming a doctor, the loss convinced her that nursing was the right path.

“I was her first grandkid. She and I did literally everything together,” she says. “She was the sweetest, most wonderful lady. Before she passed, she was working in an adoption clinic, and the women who were giving their kids up for adoption loved her — she made a hard time so much more comfortable for them. She had a life-changing effect on the people she came in contact with.”

McGrath wanted to change lives for the better, too — and prevent the kind of oversight that took the life of her grandmother, who was only 59 when she died. Kurth had been admitted to a hospital outside Houston with cardiovascular disease when a preventable error occurred that ultimately proved fatal.

“It’s something that’s so easy to prevent, which is why it was so hard,” McGrath recalls. “It wasn’t intentional; it was something that can happen to anyone. You get busy and forget. But when you’re caring for patients in the hospital, it can have serious consequences.”

McGrath, who earned her associate degree in nursing in 2021 and completed her bachelor’s degree in nursing this year, is now a registered nurse working with brain injury and stroke patients at TIRR Memorial Hermann. These patients have physical limitations that make them particularly vulnerable, so the stakes are especially high for their caregivers. McGrath is diligent about being attentive to their needs and providing the best possible care, even when the tasks are arduous and unglamorous.

“I’m here to help, 100% of the time, no matter what,” she says.

She knows that even small gestures can make a huge difference when it comes to making a patient comfortable at a difficult time.

“Working with these patients is so rewarding because I can see the impact the most,” she says. “These are total-care patients who, when they come to TIRR, typically aren’t able to do most of the activities of daily living on their own. They’re dependent on people to brush their teeth, comb their hair, etc. But they get better over time, and when they start being able to do those things themselves, it’s amazing. It’s fantastic to see people turn a corner like that.”

While Baylee has never shared her own story with her patients or their families, her kindness and compassion makes it clear to them how much she cares.

“I get very attached to the patients, and that helps them know they can come to me. Their families know I’ll do everything I can to take care of them,” she says. “My personal experience makes everything a little bit bigger for me, because I know what it was like to watch somebody I love not get what they needed and not be able to do anything about it. I can do something here.”

The challenge, of course, is that growing attached to every patient can take an emotional toll.

“I get very emotionally involved, and it can be a lot, because I can only do so much,” McGrath acknowledges. “I take steps to decompress when I get home. I want this to be my lifelong career, but I also want to do everything I’m able to do. I’m careful to do what I can to protect myself from burning out, and my managers and coworkers are great about that, too. The camaraderie here is amazing, so even on the challenging days you don’t feel alone. That’s TIRR as a hospital: everybody here is so supportive and so willing to help you.”

McGrath’s mother, a former Memorial Hermann trauma nurse, now retired, also helps keep her grounded.

“She worked with patients who had gunshot wounds or injuries from car crashes. She’s seen some stuff,” McGrath says. “I think I had a leg up there: she gave me a great understanding of what I was walking into. She was very honest with me about everything you could face. She knows I wear my heart on my sleeve, and she was worried about that. But she prepared me for the risks.”

McGrath wasn’t deterred by the risks, and she wasn’t daunted when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out during her first year of nursing school.

“It didn’t scare me off. If anything, it strengthened my desire to be a nurse because the need was so great,” she says. “It made me want to push forward and go and help.”

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Ali Vise