Soldier, dad, changing his life’s course as nursing student

Within the past month or so, you may have received a package in the mail from Brock’s Annual Fund which included a letter from Dru Bernardo, a mature nursing student at Brock. Dru is one of Brock University’s “Both Sides of the Brain” profile images. Dru has agreed to share with Surgit-E! readers the deeper reasons why he decided to attend Brock to become a nurse. Below, Dru shares his “other side of the brain” story.

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Dru Bernardo

My name is Dru Bernardo. For eight months each year, I’m a Brock University nursing student. In the summers, I attend basic military officer qualification courses as an Officer Cadet with the Canadian Forces. But all 12 months of the year I am a proud father to my beautiful baby daughter Lydia.

I chose to attend Brock to become a nurse as a result of my experiences aboard a Canadian Forces naval warship and as an administrator in the Canadian Forces hospital in Kabul, Afghanistan. My experiences taught me about war, disease and death — forever changing my outlook on life.

In 2003 I was aboard a Navy ship that was patrolling the Persian Gulf in support of Canada’s troops in Afghanistan. As we were getting closer to the Asian islands of the South Pacific, the news was reporting on a new respiratory illness that was infecting and killing people. It was called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). My ship travelled through two of the three most-infected areas in the world, Singapore and Hong Kong. We were informed that the location with the highest incidents of SARS infections was Toronto, the city where my family has lived for the past 50 years. I was worried.

By the time the ship arrived at its area of patrol in the Persian Gulf, people with SARS were starting to die. My thoughts were with my family back home, but onboard, the disease took a back seat when the U.S. invaded Iraq.

Despite the turmoil going on all around me, the news I learned next was the worst a sailor could ever hear while on deployment — my 53-year old father had lost his courageous battle with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The last time I saw him alive was two months earlier when the disease had worn down my father — a strong and energetic Navy man at 200 pounds — to a weak 120 pounds.

Upon arriving in Mississauga to deliver my father’s eulogy, SARS was at its absolute worst. Numerous people were dying and media reported that many people contracted SARS at a funeral home in Scarborough. People were scared to go out in public. Despite this, 300 people still made it out to my father’s service — a great testament to his character and personality.

Upon returning from my bereavement leave I found a card on my bunk. It was from home, from my father. His handwriting was weak and difficult to read. I could only make out some words like love, proud, safe, caring and heaven. I filled in the rest on my own.

In the matter of only a few months, I experienced war, the outbreak of SARS and the death of my father to a deadly disease. These transformative events got me thinking about my future. I saw what war and disease can do the human body, and experienced what it feels like to lose someone you love. I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to be part of an industry that would find a cure for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or develop a treatment for the next outbreak like SARS. I wanted to aid people in need.

Due to the extreme operational tempo of the Canadian Forces, I was redeployed to Kabul, Afghanistan from July 2004 to February 2005 to work as the Health Services (hospital) company clerk. I was so impressed by the medical personnel who cared for wounded soldiers and civilians that I decided to study nursing upon my return to Canada. I was attracted by the Brock University-Loyalist College collaborative nursing program, where students are involved in patient care right from the start.

My studies are going well. I’ve been taught by some absolutely wonderful faculty and clinical instructors, all of whom bring personal and professional experience to the classroom and clinical setting. Dr. Joyce Engel, an associate professor in the Nursing department, uses her amazing and passionate teaching style to inspire critical thinking and to dig deep into ourselves to be better nurses. Dr. Heather Lee Kilty, another associate professor in the Brock Nursing department, brings her incredible and remarkable experiences to the classroom every week. Her Friday morning classes are always full.

As part of the nursing program, classroom time is only half the battle. Our time at the clinical setting allows us to get the extremely valuable practical experience that student nurses look forward to every week. On the front lines of our learning are our clinical instructors. Jennifer Dunham, an emergency room nurse out of the St. Catharines site and Lindsey Herd, an emergency nurse from Hamilton General are just two of the amazing young nursing leaders that are guiding me and my fellow students into a positive direction as future nurses.

Of course, I truly believe that the success of an organization comes from all members of the team such as the nursing department at Brock University. An intricate part of the nursing department at Brock is the administration team that supports each student on and individual basis. Isobelle Blake and Elizabeth Horsley are the co-ordinators at the Learning Resource Centre where students can practise their clinical skills in almost real-life situations. Then there is Sally Lewis, the administrative co-ordinator who ensures that students and faculty are where they need to be. Lastly, Sandra Micsinszki nursing program co-ordinator, a registered nurse and possibly one of the nicest human beings ever, always makes time for future and current students.

Finally, I think if there were more of these talented and committed people in the world, I don’t think I would have to go to war any more. I feel so blessed and honoured to be part of a nursing program that allows me and my peers to flourish as young students and nurses.

Posted on November 30, 2010

2 Comments

  1. Grace Le says:

    Dru, you couldn’t have said it better for the students. Wonderful article. I am privileged to learn more about your soldier side. Thank you!

  2. Dru, what a small world. I got my BAdmin (Hon) degree from Brock back in 1980. Since then, have always worked in marketing and communications positions at various federal institutions… the last of which was the one that offers support programs to the Canadian Forces members and their families. I left my office job to run my speaking and training biz fulltime, and will never forget the CF support projects I worked on — like spearheading some of the communications around getting Tim Hortons kiosk into KAF (Kandahar Airfield). Small world indeed. Sounds like our respective Brock educations are being put to good use.

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