A Bayonne pediatric nurse was featured on an NBC Today Show segment that told the story of Stacey Joniak, a Bergen Point resident, who took a cancer patient, Mariah Martinez, to her senior prom when she needed 24-hour medical assistance.This was in 2010, and Martinez has since recovered. The two could attend the prom at a Newark high school only for a half hour,but they still dressed up, Joniak in a black sparkly dress and Martinez in an orange outfit.
The experience shows the value of nursing to both the nurse and the patient. During the segment, Joniak was awardeda trip to Hawaii, and Martinez received $500 in concert tickets.“Guess what? We’re sending you somewhere fabulous,” said co-host Jenna Bush.
“Hug a nurse today,” said Kathy Lee Gifford at the end of the segment.
The segment was for National Nurse’s Week, celebrated from May 6 to May 14. Newark Beth Israel hosted its usual celebrations – a lunch, small gifts from management, and letters of recognition. When the Today Show reached out for submissions, nurses at the hospital remembered Joniak’s service in 2010.
“We had a reunion prior to the actual show, so I knew Mariah was going to be there,” said Joniak. “But I had no idea that they were going to be so generous and give me a trip to Hawaii.”
“It’s nice to know you made a difference in her life. Every patient that you come across becomes a part of you.” – Stacey Joniak
Through challenging times
Martinez, now 26, was diagnosed with leukemia as a teen. During one ten-day chemotherapy treatment, Martinezcouldn’t speak, she needed 24-hour morphine, so Joniak accompanied her. According to Martinez, Joniak’s care went beyond meeting medical needs.
“She cared that I was happy and that I had a smile on my face,” Martinez said on the Today Show.“She was like my best friend. For nurses and nurse Stacey to be there for meat my worst and seeing me at my worst and still loving me.”
During that ten-day span, Martinez’s appearance was changing due to side effects such as hair loss, pale skin, and weight loss. The prom, she said, “meant everything. It made me feel wanted and beautiful.”
Joniak reflected on the experience of being recognized for her years of caring for others and of the effect nursing had on Martinez.
“It’s nice to know you made a difference in her life,” she said.“Every patient that you come across becomes a part of you.” Joniak, who started her career in 2007, had been a nurse for only three years at the time.
“It made me realize how much they need us. When they’re in a state of complete vulnerability, you are the person that is there for them, takes care of them, makes them feel like they’re going to be OK and continue to push them to do better, feel better, and have a positive outlook.”
Nursing in her blood
Joniak graduated from Bayonne High School in 1997 and went to college for accounting. “That wasn’t my calling, obviously,” she said.
Her sister, also a nurse, inspired Joniak, mother to a young child at the time, to enroll at Christ Hospital School of Nursing in Jersey City, where she graduated in 2005. At her accounting job, Joniak said, “there was no growth for me, and I had a child to worry about.”
“What she did was a selfless act and it’s not out of the ordinary for her,” said Frank Joniak, Stacey’s father who also lives in Bergen Point. “This is the kind of person she is. She’s a giving person with a big heart. When you work in pediatric nursing, you see things that are tougher than you might think.”
“At first, I said I don’t know, I don’t want to deal with people’s poop and vomit, because that’s what I thought about a nurse,” Joniak said.“Then I realized there is so much more to it. It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Rory Pasquariello can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.