There was always a nurse. Sheri Henriksen remembers this clearly from one of the most trying times in her family’s life.
In 1998, her five-year-old son suffered septic shock, a body-wide infection that can cause organ failure and dangerously low blood pressure. At the time, only a small percentage of adults survived the condition that her son had, which triggered the septic shock, and no research had been conducted on survivability of this condition in children. He fought through the first month at a children’s hospital, breathing through a respirator in a drug-induced coma.
“I saw that the nurses not only carried out the doctors’ instructions, but they spent almost all of their time with the children,” Sheri says. As her child struggled to survive, nurses kept vigil over him day and night; some requested to stay with him their entire shift rather than rotating to another patient. The nurses’ compassion went beyond providing medical care; they helped the entire family function through the crisis and balance spending time with him while caring for his three-year-old brother.
“We had some incredible nurses,” she says, noting that when her son finally recovered enough to leave the intensive care unit, they kept him in good spirits by helping the family wheel him to the playground.
“One nurse would build a tent with sheets when he was in the hospital bed, and we would all get to play—even while he was hooked up to so many machines,” Sheri says. “When he finally came home three and a half months later, I vowed that one day I would do something for nurses.”
Two years later, Leslie Bowlin, former Chair of PARTNERS and a current member, told Sheri about the organization, which supports students and faculty at Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth. Sheri quickly became a dedicated PARTNERS volunteer, serving as chair from 2009 to 2010 and contributing to its development as an effective advocacy and fundraising organization. She personally supported PARTNERS financially and made lifelong friends.
“I have really treasured the camaraderie in PARTNERS of so many wonderful women involved in the community, many of whom had careers as nurses,” Sheri says. “Once a nurse, always a nurse.”
In 2019, she decided to create a legacy to reflect her love for nurses and commitment to education by making a gift through her estate to support the future of Cizik School of Nursing.
“Because of what I saw nurses do for my son, the gift that defines my legacy will be to Cizik School of Nursing,” she says. “I want to give back to those who gave my family the gift of life.”
The gift will create the Sheri Clark Henriksen Distinguished University Chair, establish the Sheri Clark Henriksen Scholarship Endowment, and enhance the PARTNERS Scholarship Endowment Fund. Together, these will help carry out Sheri’s vision to educate nursing students, recruit exceptional faculty and help them develop professionally, and support PARTNERS—all key components of ensuring well-trained nurses for years to come.
“Nursing is a calling. And we have a dire need for nurses across the country,” Sheri says. “I feel like if I can jump in and help a little, that’s a rewarding thing to do.”
Diane M. Santa Maria, DrPh, RN, Interim Dean of Cizik School of Nursing, believes Sheri’s gift will prove especially effective at helping train new nurses because it includes both scholarships for more students and support for the professors who will teach them.
“I am beyond grateful for Ms. Henriksen’s extraordinary generosity,” says Santa Maria. “She has devoted herself to our students and faculty for many years, and we will be honored to carry these endowments in her name.”
Sheri reflects back to 2014, when PARTNERS honored her at its annual Spring Luncheon. She appreciates the opportunity she had to share with the guests about the roots of her commitment to nursing, roots that grew from a hospital room more than 20 years ago.
“What I really wanted to share at the luncheon was the impact these caring nurses had on our lives—from my son being so sick as a child to him growing up and graduating from Rice University.
This is what nurses do!” she says.