Methodist Hospital Nurse ‘Gave His Whole Heart’ Caring for Family During Unexpected LossPublished: April 8, 2022
Ask Freida “Freddy” Haas about Thomas Gruis, BSN, RN, and she’s quick with an impassioned reply.
“He was the guardian angel who walked my Erica to heaven,” she said of the Methodist Hospital nurse.
Freddy was introduced to Gruis amid the most difficult of circumstances – the sudden, unexpected loss of her daughter Erica Eichhorst. But during Erica’s two days at the hospital, her family formed a deep connection with Gruis and experienced several unforgettable moments. They were so moved by his care that they resolved to thank him any way they could.
“I Needed That Hug”
Freddy took Erica to the Methodist Hospital Emergency Department (ED) in late January after finding her unresponsive. Erica was admitted by Gruis – who floats between the ED, Critical Care Unit, Cardiac Unit and Progressive Care Unit – but staff soon relayed the terrible news. She had a brain bleed and no brain activity.
“When they told me they couldn’t do anything, Thomas looked at me, and I must have looked like I didn’t believe it,” Freddy said. “And he came over and he held me in his arms. He didn’t have to do that, but in his heart of hearts and soul of souls, he knew I needed that hug. That hug was so warm. For him to come over and do that for a complete stranger – he could see the pain and the anguish. I knew he didn’t want me to suffer.”
She added: “He gave me a lot of hugs when we were there, but that one was extremely special.”
Gruis won’t forget the moment either.
“No one wants to go through that,” he said. “Simply offering a hand, offering a tissue, offering a hug. It’s hard to describe because it’s in my nature to do that. If I were in that same situation, I would want that same type of treatment. I try to treat family members and patients with all the dignity they can get and try to be there in their time of need.”
As Erica’s family members prepared to say goodbye, they received more news: She was an organ donor. She was moved to the Critical Care Unit, where planning began for the surgical recovery of her kidneys.
Erica’s sister Erin Eichhorst called the waiting a “grueling process.” But the family had support from Gruis, who transitioned to the unit to continue his care and help them navigate their new reality.
“He was just incredibly generous with his time, but he knew when to step away when we were having struggles,” Erin said. “He was so compassionate. I think mostly what struck me was the way he took care of my sister. He took care of her as if she was still there, even though she was on life support.”
As preparations for Erica’s surgery stretched into the next day, the family only grew closer to Gruis.
“That whole day was so excruciating,” Freddy said. “But he got us through it. He even went to the cafeteria and got us food. And he would sit on the couch and talk with me. He talked about his kids. He talked about Erica. Talked about my kids. He just made it peaceful.”
Erica’s surgery was scheduled for that evening, hours after Gruis’ shift was to end. But going home never crossed his mind. He knew exactly where he needed to be.
“Since I had been with the patient and family, I felt like it was my role and my position to see things out and continue with their care until everything was finished,” he said. “For me, it’s just a sign of respect. It helps to have that same person there that you’ve built the relationship with. I just felt like I needed to see things through.”
Gruis accompanied Erica’s family as she was taken to the operating room, then encouraged Freddy to say goodbye.
“After they took the breathing tube out, he looked at me as if to say, ‘It’s going to be OK,’” she said. “He was so understanding. He knew I was beyond. How does God make someone like that? Someone so special?”
Honored for His Care
In the days that followed, as Erica’s family processed losing her, they couldn’t forget the impact Gruis had made.
“I kept saying, ‘We have to do something to thank him,’” Freddy said.
That’s when her granddaughter Brianna Eberhardt, who’s also a nurse, suggested The DAISY Award. Brianna, Erin and Freddy each submitted nominations recommending Gruis for the award, which honors nurses for their extraordinary care.
“I have never encountered a nurse like Thomas,” Brianna wrote. “He gave his whole heart with his care. He was the angel my Nana needed, and I swear that Erica handpicked him herself to care for not only herself, but my nana, as well. … Thomas deserves so much more than a DAISY Award, but it is a good place to start.”
Gruis was surprised with the award last month but quickly deflected the praise.
“Honestly, doing what I did is part of my job, and I would do it again,” he said. “It’s not something that I need an award for, but I was greatly appreciative of that family for thinking of doing that.”
It was the least they could do, Erin said. Gruis’ compassionate care is something they’ll never forget.
“If I could honor him 100 times, I would,” she said. “Sometimes, people like that, heroes among us, are everyday people who never get acknowledged. What he did for our family was just incredible.”