Student Profile: Nursing Student and Denlinger Scholar Finds Renewed Purpose

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Graduating from The University of Iowa in 2002 with a degree in psychology, Laura Vander Ploeg married her college sweetheart and started a family.

When Laura became pregnant with her second child in 2009, the family was eager to see the baby’s 20-week ultrasound.

“That’s when they discovered the heart defects. The doctors knew he had a hole between the bottom chambers of the heart. They knew there was something wrong with his aorta,” said Vander Ploeg.

On Aug. 31, 2009, Griffin Vander Ploeg was born at The University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics where the family spent the next six weeks.

“The nurses who took care of Griffin, also took care of us,” recalled Vander Ploeg.

Griffin’s health was a roller coaster, but he made it through two open heart surgeries.

Just as his Griffin’s parents became hopeful he’d make a full recovery, his heart crashed. After 40 days of fighting, Griffin Joseph Vander Ploeg was gone.

“Missy was one of Griffin’s overnight nurses. She had that night off. One of the other nurses called her, and she came in to help us,” said Vander Ploeg. “Missy didn’t have to come in, but she was there.”

Vander Ploeg said she immediately started looking for meaning behind Griffin’s death. Vander Ploeg said she found her answer at Northeast Iowa Community College. She’s now taking classes to earn her nursing degree. She received the Norma Denlinger/DRA Community Scholarship to support her education.

“If I can have a small fraction of the effect that Griffin’s nurses had on us, then that’s the purpose,” said Vander Ploeg.

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