Palmdale Regional Nurses Give Families a Lasting Gift

March 28, 2024

tickNurses are caretakers who are there in our greatest times of need. The loss of any patient is devastating to both their caretakers and loved ones. Two extraordinary nurses at Southwest Healthcare Palmdale Regional Medical Center make a special gift to both honor their patients who passed away and offer comfort to their families.

Noemi Borja (left in photo), RN, and Erin Shay, RN, are nurses working in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Palmdale Regional Medical Center. They care for some of the sickest patients in the hospital. They also have a front-row seat to the anguish felt by the families of those who don’t survive.

Borja, a Palmdale Regional nurse for two years, and Shay, a 10-year member of the hospital’s nursing team, wanted to create a keepsake for their patients’ grieving families. “We are able to connect with families on a deeper level and show them that they are not alone, and that the people we care for are more than just patients to us,” Borja says. 

Borja and Shay saw ideas on social media that inspired them to create compassionate gifts. Soon, they were busy making their own “Heartbeats in a Jar.”

Crafting memories

The Heartbeats in a Jar are small, glass keepsakes that hold a unique EKG strip that depicts the patient’s actual heartbeat. The initial gifts were made using things already on-hand in the ICU, such as medication vials and strings from face masks. “The first batch we made was spur of the moment,” Borja explains. “We cleaned out used medication vials and figured out that we can print out a small EKG strip that fits nicely inside the vial.”

These days, the two nurses have a supply box with small glass bottles, colorful ribbons and cork stoppers to keep the EKG strips in place. “We ask the families what the patient’s favorite color was when we choose the ribbon,” Shay says.

Borja and Shay use their own funds to purchase supplies and the box is kept in the ICU so they can make them any time. So far, they’ve gifted about 20 jars to families.

A lasting tribute for families

When they created the jars, Borja and Shay simply hoped to provide families with a keepsake of their loved ones when they pass. The nurses managed to do that and more. “We’ve been told that the jars were the greatest gift the families have been given, and it means so much to them,” Shay says.

“The Heartbeat in a Jar is able to preserve the paper EKG strip so the family can keep the memento for a long time,” says Borja.

Often, the nurses are asked to make a jar for each family member, something they’re more than happy to do. “These jars reflect our love to our community,” Borja says. “They’re a small way to show our gratitude for the trust people provide us when they are most vulnerable.”