“I’m proud to be a nurse”

A Milwaukee woman and double leg amputee who received life-saving care from doctors and nurses now works as a nurse herself. Her experience alongside her caregivers inspired her to become a healthcare professional.

“If you would have asked five years ago if I wanted to be a nurse, I would have been like um, no,” Nicole Grehn said with a laugh. “It’s really everything that happened to me that put on this path to being a nurse and living this amazing life as a nurse because I can’t really imagine my life any other way now,”

In June of 2015, Grehn was on vacation, standing in a convenience store in central Wisconsin when her heart suddenly stopped. Grehn didn’t know it at the time, but she had a rare genetic heart condition that caused this episode.

“I actually ended up coding 78 times. So, going into cardiac arrest 78 times,” said Grehn.

Doctors struggled to keep her heat pumping. They knew they needed to act fast. Doctors realized they would have to amputate both of her legs above the knee.

“I wasn’t getting blood flow to my legs and as a result, they had to be amputated to save my life and it did,” said Grehn.

The former cheerleader at UW-Whitewater says in the days, weeks, and months after her amputation, she felt useless and hopeless. But her nurses didn’t let her give up.

“Not only am I in this confusion of ‘why did this happened to me, my life is over’ and really my nurses kept me sane. They kept me sane in the most vulnerable time of my life,” said Grehn. “They were not just nurses, they were like superheroes to me,”

Grehn re-learned how to walk on prosthetic legs. Once she had that down, she applied to Marquette University’s nursing school and was accepted. She moved into an apartment by herself in Milwaukee and walked to her classes on her new legs.

“I had so many fears that people would reject me or think I wasn’t capable or treat me differently and that is one thing I can tell you about Marquette, no one ever treated me like I had a disability,” said Grehn. “If I didn’t go to nursing school, I do not think I would be as far along as I am now as far as my independence,”

Grehn graduated in 2017 and went to work at Froedtert hospital in Wauwatosa alongside the very doctors and nurses who saved her life.

“I got the jackpot with the people I work with; they are all incredible,” she said. “When I do take those moments to sit back and think and reflect about the past five years, I mean damn I am proud of myself!”

She now works in the orthopedic surgery unit taking care of recent amputees who are in the same position that she once was. Grehn likes to walk into a patient’s room and surprise them by pulling up her pant leg to show them her prosthetic legs.

“Being able to do that and show someone that there is life after amputation, it’s not the end of the world, no matter what you want to do, that’s the best part of my job I swear it,” said Grehn.

Grehn says being in a hospital helping others is the only place she wants to be.