Duluth woman thankful for classmates' timely blood pressure readingRikki Piskoty, who was in her 30th week of pregnancy, said she felt perfectly normal when she went to her nursing assistant class at Lake Superior College on Jan. 25. It was the day when the 18 students in Melanie Kucera’s class learned about checking vital signs.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Rikki Piskoty, who was in her 30th week of pregnancy, said she felt perfectly normal when she went to her nursing assistant class at Lake Superior College on Jan. 25.
It was the day when the 18 students in Melanie Kucera’s class learned about checking vital signs. And when her classmates took Piskoty’s blood pressure, it was a vital sign that told an alarming story. Because her classmates took the numbers seriously, Piskoty sought medical attention the same day. And before the day was over, she had delivered Gavin Swartz by Caesarean section.
Almost three weeks later, he’s still tiny but doing well, Piskoty said.
Classmate Jenni Carlson was the first student to get a surprising reading that morning.
“I thought I must not know what I’m doing because this is really high,” Carlson said later. “I got 220, and I think it was over 110. But I just assumed I was wrong.”
She couldn’t be blamed for doubting the numbers, since a normal blood pressure reading is 120/80.
After a couple of more checks, Carlson and fellow students in the nursing assistant program called Kucera’s attention to the dramatically high reading. Kucera confirmed the reading and checked Piskoty’s ankles, which were swollen. Her student, she said later, was “a little bit beyond preeclampsia,” the condition of high blood pressure and protein in the urine that can afflict women beyond the 20th week of pregnancy.
Discovering the high blood pressure reading might have averted a medical emergency, Kucera said.
“She could have had a seizure, blood loss, uterine rupture,” said Kucera, a registered nurse. “There’s all kinds of awful things that could have happened.”
Kucera advised Piskoty to see her doctor that day. She said she thought Piskoty might be put on bed rest. So she wasn’t entirely surprised that her student wasn’t in class the next day. She was surprised when another student checked Facebook and learned the baby had been born.
No one was more surprised than Piskoty.
“I felt perfectly normal,” she said about that morning. The Central Hillside resident had been fighting high blood pressure and was expecting a high reading in the vital signs lab — but nothing like 220/110.
She wasn’t scheduled for her regular checkup until the following week, she said, but she took Kucera’s advice and set up an appointment that day. “And they told me I needed to go to the hospital for observation, and then it went from observation to an emergency C-section.”
So Gavin Swartz was born at 10:05 p.m. Jan. 25 at Essentia Health St. Mary’s Medical Center, weighing 3 pounds, 5 ounces, and was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit. His weight dropped initially, but by the middle of this week he was right back up to his birth weight.
“The baby’s doing great,” Piskoty said. “He’s off of everything in the NICU, and it’s just a matter of gaining weight before he can come home.”
He’ll be welcomed home by a “very excited” big brother, Haydin Swartz, 3.
Kucera said the incident encouraged her students.
“They felt really good about the fact that they helped out their classmate,” she said.
Bridget Rautio, one of the students who checked Piskoty’s blood pressure, confirmed that.
“I told everyone I work with about it,” Rautio said. “And a baby got brought into the world, which is even better.”
The nursing assistant program requires 76 hours of classroom work and 24 hours of clinical work, Kucera said. The Jan. 25 session was their first exposure to vital signs.
“They basically had one day to practice vital signs and get it,” she said.
The students are preparing for often thankless work that pays poorly — nursing assistants with no experience typically make about $10 an hour, Kucera said. But she sees it as the front lines of health care.
“I’m an RN, but if I could have gotten the pay that I get now I would have stayed a nursing assistant,” said Kucera, who works in home health care in addition to teaching. “I think it’s the most important level. … You become the eyes and ears and hands for people who can’t use them anymore, and they don’t get a lot of respect for what they do.”
Students who graduate from the program become certified nursing assistants. Most will go on to other areas of health care, Kucera said.
That’s true for Carlson, 30, of Duluth, whose goal is to be a registered nurse. Rautio, 27, of Duluth wants to be a physical training assistant, but that class was full this semester.
Piskoty, whose goal is to be a registered nurse, had planned to finish the nursing assistant program before the baby’s scheduled delivery in April. She’ll re-enter the program as soon as she’s able, she said.
She couldn’t have provided her classmates a better testimony about the importance of vital signs. “I was very thankful that I had gotten my blood pressure checked that day,” Piskoty said.