UW Nursing graduate defies the odds

John Sharify reports

I had to ask the question. It was an obvious question to ask. "You think you're going to be a good nurse?" Eric Seitz responded instantly. "Yeah" he responded with a smile. And then he paused for a moment and added: "I'll do my best."

That's all any of us can do. Our best. No question Eric Seitz has the right attitude. I met him a few weeks before his graduation from the University of Washington School of Nursing. I'd heard he had quite a story to tell, and I wanted to share it with our KING 5 viewers.

It's a story of survival and decisions. It's also a story with a happy ending. The middle part was rough. You'll see what I mean. The happy part is this: The 30 year old class president of the UW School of Nursing has just graduated. And so begins his next chapter of life. It's a lot better than some of the previous chapters.

"He's done it all himself," his father David told us. "He did this. With grants, scholarships, hard work. He just committed himself to a completely different path."

Wait until you hear the path he was on. It began 12 years ago. He was just 18 years old, and living on the streets.

"I was sleeping in a lot on church stoops. Anything that would cover me from the rain," he said.

Another question. "Were you feeding your habit every day?"

Answer: "Every day. Yeah."

His drug of choice was heroin. He chose shoplifting to feed his habit.

"I very clearly remember the feeling of waking up at two in the morning under a church stoop in the rain, shivering and withdrawing from opiates. Your bones hurt and your muscles hurt."

One day it hurt so much, he was rushed to Harborview Medical Center. Eric Seitz was just 24 years old and dying.

Necrotizing Fasciitis, otherwise known as 'flesh eating' bacteria, was consuming him. It was the bacteria from the injections.

"It was right on my hip and it spread down my entire thigh."

It's called 'flesh eating' for good reason.

"It will double itself every eight minutes and you can almost watch the infection spread," said Eric's surgeon at Harborview Medical Center, Dr. Hugh Foy.

Without treatment? "There's a zero chance of living," Eric told us.

So the question for his surgeon; here's how Dr. Foy put it: "How far can we snatch somebody from the jaws of death?"

The question for the patient, after the medical team at Harborview saved his life, and saved his leg was this. What do I do now? What do I do with my life?

"So when he told us he wanted to be a nurse, I was just blown away," his brother Brian Seitz told us. His mother Lee applauded that decision. "Once he made the decision to do something different, he just went for it. I'm just so proud of him."

He saw the great care the nurses at Harborview provided for him and it got him thinking. He decided that's what he wanted to do for others.

"His heart is with people who are struggling with different kinds of adversities," Josephine Ensign told us.

Ensign is an Associate Professor in the University of Washington School of Nursing. Professor Ensign's focus is on Community Health. It will be Eric Seitz' focus too. In fact we watched him in action at a Seattle clinic run by Neighborcare Health. It's a medical clinic serving low income families. Eric assisted at the clinic as part of his course work. We watched him provide medical care for the patient's feet.

"Which is weird that you'd want to file somebody's toenails."

Here's the thing - Eric Seitz has been in their shoes.

He made a decision to be a nurse. He made a decision to get off drugs and turn his life around.

And the kind of nursing he wants to pursue? That decision was easy. Community nursing. He wants to work with the homeless.

"Somebody asked me, why do I want to do this?" Eric said. "It's because I want to show them they have community."

Shanna Sierra is a proud graduate of the University of Washington Nursing School too. She predicts great things for her former patient.

"He's going to love it, because it's a wonderful, wonderful job. And you get total job satisfaction that a lot of people don't get to have in life these days. And that's something he's going to experience."

Getting back to that question: "You think you're going to be a good nurse?" Eric was being modest when he responded "I'll do my best."

Everyone who knows him knows he will do great things in this profession.

"I'm just so proud of him. He's gone through a lot," his mother said. " So have we."


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