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Passion and Purpose

Grieving yet Grateful Family Creates Fund to Support Annual Critical Care Conference

By Michelle G. McRuiz

Posted June 16, 2016

Michael Hansen—husband, father and CEO—rose early on February 11, 2013. He ran on the treadmill, made coffee and started running a shower. His wife, Nancy, was lying awake in bed when she heard a loud thump. She ran into the bathroom to find Michael dying. She would learn later that he had suffered a massive brain aneurysm. He was 58.

Members of the UNM Center for Surgical Critical Care along with donors Nancy Hansen and her daughters, Sarah and Elise, contribute to the Critical Care Students Organization (CCSO). Left to right: Dr. Isaac Tawil, Dr. Jonathan Marinaro, Dr. Todd Dettmer, three student leaders in the CCSO (Kimberly Kreitinger, Steven Salcido and Eric Quintana), Nancy Hansen, Elise Hansen and Sarah Hansen. Photo: Paul Akmajian

Members of the UNM Center for Surgical Critical Care along with donors Nancy Hansen and her daughters, Sarah and Elise, contribute to the Critical Care Students Organization (CCSO). Left to right: Dr. Isaac Tawil, Dr. Jonathan Marinaro, Dr. Todd Dettmer, three student leaders in the CCSO (Kimberly Kreitinger, Steven Salcido and Eric Quintana), Nancy Hansen, Elise Hansen and Sarah Hansen. Photo: Paul Akmajian

Michael was taken to UNM Hospital’s Neurosciences Intensive Care Unit and put on life support. Although his heart was beating, he was unresponsive. By the following day, the doctors told Nancy and the couple’s college-age daughters, Sarah and Elise, they had done everything they could for Michael. Nancy told Dr. Jonathan Marinaro, director of the UNM Center for Surgical Critical Care, that she and her daughters could not bear losing Michael on Valentine’s Day. Dr. Marinaro, who had already finished his shift and was at home with his family, returned to UNMH on the evening of February 13 to ensure that Michael was taken off of life support.

“I was blown away that he took the time to do that,” explained Nancy. “I will always have a soft place in my heart for Dr. Marinaro because it was so gracious of him to take care of Mike so we could start the grieving process.”

The Right Gesture

After Michael’s memorial service, Nancy didn’t know what to do with the thousands of dollars in donations that had poured in. The family discussed ideas, but nothing felt right.

Dr. Marinaro had a new idea. He had wanted to start a conference on critical care medicine, but because the Center for Surgical Critical Care was only a few years old, it lacked the necessary funds. A conference would bring nationally recognized experts to lecture, teach, and train health care professionals and students in new techniques. The money the Hansen family had collected could be used to help pay for travel, lodging and speaking expenses. And, Dr. Marinaro added, Nancy could name the conference after Michael.

The idea clicked. Michael’s love of education, combined with Nancy’s admiration for the critical care team, made the decision an easy one.

Healing by Helping Others

The first Michael W. Hansen Annual Critical Care Conference took place in December 2013. In addition to the expert speakers, Nancy told her story of how the conference got its name. “It was awesome to do something that in the end would help people,” she said.

“The first Hansen Conference brought to UNM an educational course that would have immediate and lasting impact, the Cardiac Surgery Advanced Life Support Course,” explained Dr. Marinaro. “Cardiac surgery patients require a different method of acute resuscitation during a life-threatening emergency after heart surgery. With the help of the Hansen conference, UNMH brought to the Southwest a more focused method of caring for post-cardiac surgery patients. This course trained nurses and physicians to use specific resuscitation techniques, and literally, within a month, we used them to save a life.”

Ultimately, those techniques resulted in a change to the unit’s protocol. “This is the type of thing that changes medicine,” one of the doctors in attendance told Nancy.

In May 2015, the UNM Center for Surgical Critical Care held the second conference. This year’s conference brought in the Emergency Neurologic Life Support Course. The Hansen Conference is open to all health care professionals as well as students. Seeing how the conference fostered the spread of technology and knowledge helped Nancy begin to heal from her immense grief. As a conference speaker, she reminds attendees that this isn’t just about technology—there are critically ill people and desperate families at the other end.

Support to Build a Legacy

Nancy has established a fund through the UNM Foundation to help ensure the conference’s survival. But so far, most of the fund raising has been through word of mouth, and Nancy is concerned that won’t be enough.

“There needs to be a way to keep it going,” she said. “Part of Mike’s legacy is wrapped up in this conference.”

The Hansens’ lives have changed significantly in the past two years. Sarah and Elise graduated from UNM and began careers—Sarah as a teacher, Elise as a nurse. Nancy started running, lost 35 pounds, learned how to handle all of the things her husband always had taken care of, and entered college for the first time.

“Mike would be blown away,” she said. “He would say to me, ‘You can do whatever you want.’ And my daughters love that I am focused on something that makes me feel passionate and purposeful.”

Naturally, Nancy still grieves, but she draws comfort from her faith, her family and her fund-raising efforts as well as from promoting the “thread of humanity” she says is present in the critical care team.

“Every little thing they did for us was so poignant,” she recalled, “like they knew just what we needed.”

If you would like to help support this ongoing work, you may make a contribution to the UNM Center for Surgical Critical Care Education Fund. Please contribute online at unmfund.org.

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