A Dedicated Dad’s Path to Nursing

When his daughter Bethany was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF) as a baby, Don Hawes was in his early thirties, working in the mailroom at Land’s End and holding down a couple odd-jobs on the side to make ends meet.

Don and his wife, Julie, learned quickly that their daughter’s treatment was complex, time-consuming and oftentimes confusing – especially for a young couple who, until then, knew next to nothing about the disease.

“I told my wife back then that she should become a nurse because she was so good with everything to do with Bethany’s CF,” Hawes recalls. “She told me, ‘Don, you’re not planning to climb any corporate ladders at Land’s End, so maybe you should go to nursing school.'”

And so he did. After enrolling in his first CNA class, Hawes took a part-time job at a nursing home in Dodgeville, in addition to his full-time job at Land’s End. His life was busy, for sure, but now he was committed to the goal and somehow found the time to take one or two classes each semester until he got into the nursing program at Southwest Tech in Fennimore.

Soon after becoming a registered nurse, Hawes learned from a colleague that UW Hospital in Madison was holding a job fair for nurses.

Hawes was hired at UW in 1997 into a nursing Medical Cluster that served four different units, caring for patients with a variety of conditions. Then, in 1999, Hawes took a permanent position on the Pulmonology Unit (D6/5), where he would work with patients living with CF.

Hawes and his colleagues quickly learned that his experience caring for his own daughter was invaluable, and over the years he helped educate countless patients and families who were new to the disease about the complexities of treatment, but also about the hard-won wisdom he’d earned from his own family’s experience.

But working on that unit was not always easy for him. Sometimes he knew too much. There were times, Hawes says, when he would come home after a particularly hard day at work – maybe a patient had died or one wasn’t taking their treatment seriously enough – and his emotions would get the better of him.

“I knew there were times when I would become way too strict of a father,” he says, referring to managing his daughter’s care at home. “But you can’t know the statistics, or see the consequences of not following the therapies as needed, and not become a little emotional.”

“The thought will occasionally cross your mind that you might outlive your child, and you can’t help but breakdown,” Hawes added. “But then you just have to realize that all you can do is move on and do your best going forward and to remind yourself that the future for CF patients looks better now than it ever has.”

After eight years on D6/5, then-cardiopulmonary transplant manager, Mary Francois, asked Hawes if he would consider becoming a lung transplant coordinator. He agreed, and continues to work there today, helping patients with CF and other diseases navigate the lung transplant waiting list and ensuring that they are well enough to receive the gift of life, should the opportunity arise.

It’s also a place he knows his daughter will likely eventually end up as well. Though she is doing pretty well right now, Hawes says she will likely be added to the lung transplant list in the next couple years, if not sooner.

And so Hawes, who felt so ill-prepared when his daughter was first diagnosed some 30 years ago, now has more than 20 years of nursing under his belt, and is as prepared as any parent could be to see his daughter through this next phase of their journey together.