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Erica Caserta, a registered nurse, immediately recognized the Marine Corps tattoo on the arm of her patient who was under comfort care. An Air Force veteran herself, she asked the patient’s wife if her husband served. She responded, “Yes. Vietnam.”
Erica is not only a veteran, but she’s also married to one. Her husband is a retired Air Force member who had multiple deployments. She remembered the countless hours she’d spent worrying about her own husband.
And it was clear what she needed to do next.
“I called my husband and asked if he would go to Walmart to get an American flag and drop it off to me at work,” she explained. “I told him I would really like to do something kind to help them during this difficult time.”
Erica’s husband, Antonio, brought the flag to Erica at the Coronary Care Unit (CCU) at Kettering Health Main Campus. When the patient’s wife stepped out of the room, Erica laid the flag over him. After he passed, Erica folded the flag and sent it with him to the morgue.
This wasn’t the first time Erica had honored a veteran patient in this way. “Another patient I had; his sisters were bedside. When they stepped away, I put the flag over him, and they gasped when they saw it.”
A veteran becomes a nurse
“It’s not uncommon to forget that time you spent serving, or even forget that you’re a veteran,” shared Erica. “I feel like it’s super important that other people recognize the time that veterans spent putting other people above themselves. They put themselves in danger, and I just feel like that is something that should be recognized throughout their lives. It’s a great honor.”
Erica served for four years at Barksdale Air Force Base in Louisiana as a weapons loader for the B-52. “We physically put the bombs on the plane.
She met Antonio at Barksdale and then traveled with him across seven states as he continued to serve. They later landed in Ohio, where he was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
The Caserta’s home happened to be just down the street from Kettering College, where Erica later started the next chapter of her life in its nursing program.
“I quickly found out after I had my son that I like to be a caretaker,” she said. “And I think I just kind of took that, and serving a purpose altogether, and that led me to nursing.”
Erica explained that the nursing program was difficult, as all nursing programs are, but she had an added stressor. “My husband actually deployed the last year of my program,” she explained. “I felt very supported by my professors and cohorts. I don’t think I would have made it if I was at a different college.”
With her passion and desire to make a difference, she persisted.
After graduating, Erica began as a nurse at KH Main Campus on 5 Northwest, a step-down unit. She was eager to continue to make an impact, now through this new career. “I wanted to do something that would serve a purpose like it did when I was in the Air Force,” she said.
And it’s a purpose she has fulfilled proudly since her first day to today, now working on the CCU.
A new tradition
The day she honored her patient by covering him with the flag wasn’t the first time her passion for veterans shone through her care as a nurse–and it won’t be the last.
KH Main Campus leaders took notice of Erica’s compassionate action and saw an opportunity to create a program that provides flags to the families of veterans who pass away while at the medical center.
“I’m very proud to be a nurse at Kettering Health, knowing that they took what I did and built on it to make sure we can honor all of our patients who are veterans that are passing.”
Erica feels grateful to work for an organization that supports employees who pursue their passions, especially when it adds new depth to how they provide patient care. “Working in the CCU, I do see a lot of pretty bad situations–patients and their family members’ worst days,” Erica said. “I feel like working at Kettering Health allows me to use my own past experiences and spirituality to provide compassion and help patients and family members through hard times.”