Several times per week, Marquette nursing student Christina Lappas drove to the assisted living facility to see Judy. Lappas would arrive around 4:30 p.m. and stay for hours. The two ate, read and listened to music together until Judy would fall asleep around 9 p.m.
“It was beneficial to spend that one-on-one time and to see what she went through,” Lappas says.
“Judy” is Judy Mulcahy, a 1961 alumna; her longtime husband, Chas, graduated from Marquette Law School a year later. Their three daughters — Mary, Megan and Beth — are all Marquette graduates, as well.
When Judy needed care during the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease, she and Chas trusted Marquette Nurses to provide the care she needed.
Lappas since graduated from the College of Nursing in 2023. Although she may have been alone with Judy when she visited the facility, Lappas had plenty of help caring for her. Fellow students Kate Bradley, Mattie Stark, Olivia Bublitz, Sophia Trentham and Lappas combined to provide nearly 24-hour oversight for Mulcahy at Azura Assisted Living and Memory Care of Fox Point, where Mulcahy was staying.
The five now graduated Marquette Nurses even have a group name — the Soaring Eagles — courtesy of Chas.
“Marquette is so prevalent in their family’s life and obviously with all of us, so I think it was just a play on Golden Eagles,” Lappas says.
Stark and Bradley lived in the same house as Lappas in the 1900 block of State Street. Both had their own clinical placements, as all Marquette Nurses do, but figured they could use some extra money and experience with older patients and responded to Chas’ advertisement requesting home health aides. The minute they met Judy, they knew they’d come to the right place to make a difference.
“I walked into her room at Azura for the first time and she was sitting and having dinner with Chas,” Bradley recalls. “Judy was immediately very calm and pleasant to be around. Even if she didn’t know who I was, she was so welcoming.”
“We had the opportunity to develop relationships with not just Chas and Judy, but their families as well — and, of course, we got to talk a lot about Marquette,” Stark says.
Each visit was a little different depending on the time of day. An evening shift would usually start with dinner in the group dining room. Whoever was visiting Judy would accompany her back to her room, making sure she brushed her teeth, washed her face and got ready for bed.
This went on from August 2022 until Judy’s death in February 2023 — a sudden loss that shocked the students who had grown so close to her.
“It was not something I was anticipating,” Bradley says. “I knew she wasn’t feeling great, but watching how quickly things went in a bad direction was something none of us were really expecting.”
Depending on which unit they’re assigned to, nurses witness severe and even terminal illness as a part of their job. However, the students say those situations felt more emotionally weighty for them personally in a long-term care setting, a consequence of getting to know a patient for months instead of just a few days.
“In a hospital setting, you have three or four patients who you’re looking after, and you’re not able to spend that extra time sitting down and talking to them because of the time constraints you’re under,” Bradley says. “With Judy, you’d get to chat with her and ask what color pajamas she wanted to wear to bed that night and really personalize her care.”
“It was so hard seeing how it impacted the family,” Lappas adds. “I wanted Judy to be as comfortable as she could be in her last few days, but also provide that same level of support to her loved ones.”
After Judy’s passing, Chas found another way for the five nurses who cared for his wife to help again. He proposed that the group start a nonprofit, Soaring Eagles LLC, to support an education and training placement at Azura in which future Marquette students would gain elder care experience. Trentham was elected as the organization’s first chair, Lappas its president and all five students as the inaugural board of directors. Talks are ongoing between Marquette and Azura to officially launch the partnership in Spring 2024.
The students are all professional nurses now. Bradley works at Fairview Health in Minnesota, while the other four have remained in southeastern Wisconsin. While none currently work in long-term care, they remember the hours at Azura fondly and hope that other students will find their own patients like Judy to help.
“She would want to be remembered as someone who was kind and caring and loved being around other people,” Stark says.
“Judy was just the most wonderful woman,” Lappas says. “Even if she wasn’t having a great day, she made sure everyone else around her was. She was such a role model throughout her illness and was so incredibly positive all the time. That’s something we’re going to carry with us throughout our lives.”