Heartbeats in a bottle: ICU nurse creates keepsakes for families who’ve lost loved ones

Coronavirus Local Impact

Maria Hermanson holds “Heartbeats in a Bottle,” the keepsakes she creates for family members of decreased ICU patients.
(Photo: Mercy Medical Center)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – An ICU nurse at Mercy Medical Center creates keepsakes for family members who have lost a loved one in the ICU.

Patients can sometimes have long stays in the ICU and due to COVID-19, they can’t have any visitors so ICU team members often form strong bonds with them and their family members. Hermanson’s bonds with patients are especially heartfelt so she started creating keepsakes for families when a patient passes away.

According to Mercy Medical Center spokesperson Mary Orr, Maria Hermanson, an RN who works the overnight shift in the ICU and has been a nurse for more than 20 years, makes copies of the deceased patient’s heart rhythm strip that is printed from their heart monitor, cuts the paper down, and places the strips in tiny, sealed glass bottles that she gives to the patient’s close family members.

“Maria embodies our core values and stands as a living example of our mission to serve as a transforming, healing presence. Through her generous actions, she makes a tremendous difference in the lives of her patient and their families,” Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer Darlene Cunha at Mercy Medical Center said.

(Photo: Mercy Medical Center)

“This small token allows them to keep their loved one’s heartbeat with them during the difficult days ahead. Our patients are very sick and it’s an honor to care for them,” Hermanson said.

Hermanson named her creation “Heartbeats in a Bottle” and started making the keepsakes several years ago when she worked at a hospital in eastern Massachusetts. Each bottle comes with a small card that Hermanson signs on behalf of the ICU team. She says it makes her cry every time she writes out a card.

Hermanson said the exchange is very emotional on both ends.

“We talk with family members every day, providing updates on their loved one’s condition. It’s a stressful situation. This is one way we can say, ‘we cared about your family member and we care about you.’ The family members who receive the bottles are really moved by the gesture,” Hermanson said.

Hermanson’s connection to Mercy Medical Center began when her husband was admitted as a patient in the ICU. She was impressed by how well the nurses cared for him and knew she wanted to work there.

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