The Journey of a Janeway Pediatric Nurse: My Place of Hope, Healing and Happiness

For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a nurse who cared for children.

I believe this desire was highly influenced by my parents. My mother and father were very loving, caring people. They were kind and patient not only to their own children, but to all children. Since I grew up with nine siblings, it too was natural for me to have a great love for the little ones.

My name is Mary (Roche) O’Brien, and I’ve worked at the Janeway for 41 years in various nursing positions. I want to tell you my nursing story to help mark the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre’s 50th anniversary this year.

My story starts when I was just 17 years old – I was accepted into the St. Clare’s School of Nursing, graduating in 1974. At that time, jobs were scarce and, like a lot of my classmates, I left the province in pursuit of a nursing job.

Mary (Roche) O’Brien as a new nursing graduate (1974)

Mary (Roche) O’Brien as a new nursing graduate (1974)

My first job was at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, Ontario. I worked on the adult hematology and oncology ward, and although I was happy to have a job, I often felt like something was missing. Longing to fulfill my dreams of being a pediatric nurse, I was drawn back to the old Janeway Children’s Hospital in Newfoundland and Labrador.

My Great Beginning

When I returned to Newfoundland and Labrador in 1975, I started my new job at the Janeway in the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Unlike today, back then the PICU, neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), the recovery room and the cardiac recovery patients were all on the same 21-bed unit of the hospital. The unit felt like a beehive of activity on most days, and I loved it!

I worked alongside my classmates and many other nurses who taught me the lifelong lessons of patience, kindness and critical thinking. I finally felt that I was working in a place where I belonged!

Our head nurse at the time was Ramona Strong – she was an extraordinary teacher who willingly shared her knowledge with us. Taking us under her wing, she taught and cared for us young nurses as her own children.

Aside from the wonderful nursing staff, we also worked with some of the most hardworking and dedicated physicians. Dr. Kennedy and Dr. Hanna our pediatric surgeons; Dr. Cooper and Dr. Hobeika our pediatricians; Dr. Bridger and Dr. Heighnahan, the pediatric radiologists; Dr. Cornell, the cardiac surgeon; and Dr. Maroun, the neuro surgeon – they were all excellent physicians and wonderful teachers!

This was a time when computerized tomography (CT) scans were not available yet, and doctors relied heavily on nursing assessments and careful monitoring of vital signs, which alerted us to changes in our patient’s condition.

As I am pondering back on my early nursing years, some of the common injuries and illnesses I saw were head injuries, burn victims and diseases that did not have protective vaccinations.

Head Injuries

I recall that in the 1970s, wearing helmets were starting to become more the norm to help prevent head injuries. Many patients I saw suffered from severe head injuries due to the lack of safety equipment and public awareness around protective equipment at that time. I treated so many injuries resulting from bike, ATV and car-pedestrian accidents.

My peers and I had to keep a surgical drilling tool, also known as a burr drill, charged at all times at the nurses’ desk for emergency situations when the physicians had to perform burr holes in the PICU.

Burn Victims

I also remember that home smoke detectors were just becoming available in the 1970s. Since a lot of homes were still without smoke detectors at that time, I recall us providing care for many children healing from severe burns. Through the years, I still remember the faces and names of the children I cared for and I have always kept them in my heart and prayers.


In the early days of the Janeway, routine immunizations were available but diseases such as haemophilus influenza and meningococcal meningitis still didn’t have protective vaccinations. I saw many patients come to our unit very ill from those terrible diseases, and they required intensive nursing care and monitoring.

Thanks to life-saving vaccines we have today, diseases like meningitis have almost become extinct. After seeing the damage and death that those dreadful diseases have caused, personally, I feel very strongly about children receiving vaccinations to protect themselves and other children from these illnesses.

On the Float

In 1979, I gave birth to my first child. At this time, I decided to take a short break from the PICU and instead, took a position with the Janeway float team. This was an extremely good fit for me and one of the most amazing experiences of my life as a nurse! I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to work on every floor and in every department at the Janeway, giving me great insight and understanding of how other areas functioned. After a few months on the float , I went back to PICU, where two years later, I had my second child. Then following the birth of my third child in 1984, I transferred to the Janeway’s emergency department (ED) – another wonderful journey in my nursing career.

The ED

In the ED, I had the privilege of meeting and learning from another fabulous nurse, Sheila Porter, who greatly influenced by career. I quickly fell in pace with the hustle and bustle in the ED. I never knew what situation was going to come through the doors. I also very quickly learned that teamwork and working at an extremely fast pace were key to working in the ED. After a while of working together, our team very quickly could anticipate each other’s next move when working on a trauma or medical emergency.

Out with the old, in with the new

I vividly recall that May 24, 2001 was a day of great change for the Janeway. We closed our doors at the “old” Janeway hospital in Pleasantville, St. John’s, and moved to our new home at the Health Sciences Complex. We were all very sad to leave the “old” facility, but we certainly were hopeful that we would continue on as the Janeway family. The “old’ Janeway hospital was a special place, donated to the children of Newfoundland and Labrador from the American Base in Fort Pepperell.

Looking back 50 years since its establishment and now known as the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, the hospital is still considered a place of hope, healing and happiness for many children, family and staff all around the province.

The former Charles A. Janeway Child Health Centre

The former Charles A. Janeway Child Health Centre

The current Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre

The current Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre

Current day

As for me now, I am still working in the ED as a care facilitator. To this day, I continue to enjoy my job at the Janeway. I am truly able to appreciate the changes and advances that have taken place over the many years that has gone by. From CT scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the wide range of safety equipment and immunizations available to protect children against deadly diseases. I hope the awareness and importance of wearing safety equipment and immunizing children will be carried through generations to come.

Care facilitator at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, Mary (Roche) O’Brien (2016)

Care facilitator at the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre, Mary (Roche) O’Brien (2016)

The Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre’s doors are always open to anyone who seeks care. All of the physicians, nurses and staff try to do their absolute best for each and every patient by providing safe and quality care – during some of the scariest times of a young patient and their family’s lives. At the Janeway, each child we care for has become like our own. As health-care providers, we care immensely for our patients, wishing nothing but the best outcome possible for them.

As the Janeway reaches its big 50th anniversary this year, I feel truly thankful for the extraordinary career it has given me and the patients I’ve had the absolute pleasure of treating. Happy birthday Janeway, and cheers to another wonderful 50 years!

To learn more about the history and fun facts about the Janeway, please visit ■

This story was written by Mary O’Brien, a nurse and care facilitator with the Janeway Children’s Health and Rehabilitation Centre for 41 years.

20 responses to “The Journey of a Janeway Pediatric Nurse: My Place of Hope, Healing and Happiness

  1. What a beautifully well written story . The love of pediatric nursing is quite evident . I’m sure you have benifited just as much from the care you have given as they have received . Happy 50 th. Anniversary to you & all the Janeway staff who have given so much .

  2. Mary, you mention how some physicians taught you, and I just want to say thanks for all you taught us! Your compassion, kindness, dedication, and wisdom are second to none. Wishing you well, Spencer

  3. Such a wonderful and lovely lady and nurse and an excellent teacher as well! The Janeway has been so lucky to have such a fantastic nurse for so many years!

  4. So beautifully written Mary. You are such a role model…your love of nursing is so evident and your passion and dedication to children is so obvious!

  5. Hey Mary, loved your story. Having been a nurse there for 30 years myself I can relate to your love of the Janeway, both the old and the new. I loved working with the children also.It’s a great place to work. Met lots of wonderful staff and learned lots from everyone who worked there. It was a very rewarding job for sure.

  6. I worked at the Janeway as a nursing assistant back in its first year .I still remember sitting in the nursery at night with Dr.C. Joy ,who would help feed the babies .I still wonder about some of the patients that were there at that time .Especially the identical twin boys that were only a little over a pound each They were transported in from a small outport.Their proud dad called everyday to ask “how are those boys ,you got in there ?” I enjoyed every minute of my time at the Janeway .

  7. Hi Mary,
    Being a registration clerk at the Janeway was such an inspiring experience for me.I worked there for approximately 25 years and learned more about pediatric health care by watching professional staff
    like youself than most people ever see in a lifetime.I also saw humanity at its best from kind caring staff at the Janeway Er.You treated the support staff the same as you treated everyone else,with respect and kindness.I will forever be gratefull for my years working along side the very best staff.Thank-you for the many wonderful memories and support you gave to me.
    Karen.Button Janeway Surgical Day Care

  8. Heh Mary I remember you as being a very kind and gentle person and such a wonderful nurse .Miss the Janeway and all the nurses and staff both security , doctors , housekeepers etc
    Will be in Florida 22 years 11/24/16.
    Always remember those days but especially the people .Sending a big hug girl .

  9. Lovely story. Mary’s caring doesn’t stop at the Janeway. During Dragon Boat Races for Team Broken Earth on Octagon Pond in August 2013, she took care of me, an adult. I don’t remember much about it all, but I knew a friendly face when I needed the help. Thanks for everything, Mary.

  10. Mary you talk about Ramona being so kind and caring to the young nurses, you certainly took all of us under your wing and taught us so much in such a gentle manner. You certainly had the same attitude with all the children you cared for, putting them and their parents at ease at very stressful times with your caring and competence. You are so right with your comments on health promotion, I always say that with all the new immunizations, staff at the children’s emergency are going to be sitting around like the maytag repairman. Children are healthier than ever before as a result of all the things you mentioned. Thanks Mary for all your years of hard work and dedication.

  11. Hi Mary,

    I loved reading your nursing journey, many points ring home to me and make me miss the Janeway staff and children even more. I have been nursing for 26 years, 17 years at the Janeway. I remember and enjoyed working with you and all the staff in the ER department. Your story makes me miss PICU even more. I truly cherished my time at the Janeway.

    Janeway staff from the Physicians, RNs, LPNs, lab., housekeeping, OT, physio… etc… are wonderful and compassionate people. When you are working at the Janeway you don’t see how the staff work in different areas doing their own thing, but it’s all for the same goal which is to help children. When you step away and reflect back on where you have worked in your career, you are able to appreciate the work that you have taken part in, the people who have been there and worked beside you during your career.

    Thank you for sharing your story and Happy 50th Anniversary to the Janeway and staff.

    Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.

  12. Hi Mary,
    The mention of your name brings a smile to anyone who has had the privilege to know and work with you! You are a fabulous nurse and role model to all… and who knew you were such a great writer?! Your ‘story’ is beautifully written and reflects your love of nursing and genuine caring nature. I’ll always remember the day 33 years ago when I first started working at the Janeway,and we met in the elevator and you grabbed my name tag and said, “Mary Roche! …that was MY name!” I still feel honoured to share that with someone like you.
    Congratulations on the story, and on your exemplary career. The Janeway is better for having had you.
    Cheers to your 41 years and the Janeway’s 50th!

    Mary (Roche) Skinner.R.N.


  13. Hi Mary,

    great story! You have not changed one bit since I first worked with you in the early 90s. You were one of my role models and to many others throughout those 41 years. It’s obvious that you found your true calling in life!


  14. Thank you , Mary, for your remembrances of the Janeway !
    As a Resident at the Janeway in the 1980’s, I remember many of the doctors you mentioned. As a young doctor working in the ER, it was nurses like you who “showed us the ropes”, and helped us become better healers . Congratulations to the Janeway on the 50th Anniversary !! Dr. Donna ( Scott ) McCann

  15. Dear Sister Mary, We are so proud of you and all the love and care that you have given to the little children at the Janeway over the years.
    Our Children never tired of your stories, whenever you came for a visit and they begged for more stories of your work. Love Geri and Family

  16. Mary , in 1974 at the age of 23 i hitchhiked from BC and after running out of money in St John’s went to work at the Janeway in the Paediatric ICU with you and Ramona Strong as my head nurse ( do you know if she is still alive ? ) . I was there until late April 1975 . One of our patients at the time was a wee boy of 18 months and he became a favourite . I lost contact with the parents after i left and heard nothing until 2019 when his sister contacted me through social media . I have been here for the last month – my reunion with the whole family has been deep and life changing . I leave tomorrow for Labrador but would love to connect by email should you so wish . I stopped in at the CRNNL office yesterday to see if i was still in the books and indeed i was ! Registration valid September 25 1974 ! Hope to hear from you théa nation

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