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Power of social media reconnects nurse, patient after 54 years

'To know that someone cared for me that much while I was there (at SickKids), to see that in a picture, really made me miss my mother,' says Kirkland Lake woman
Diane (Greer) Bowe, a nurse at SickKids Hospital, holding baby Tara Greer in 1969. The two have reconnected through social media for the first time in 54 years.

What started out as a simple post on Facebook to mark National Nurses Week has led to a renewed connection 54 years in the making.

Innisfil resident Diane Bowe graduated and started her nursing career in 1968, retiring only two years ago.

For about 10 years, she had been working with PSW (personal support workers) students at Georgian College's Barrie campus, which she said was obviously not as hands-on as direct care, but still very rewarding. 

With this being National Nurses Week and a time to honour the career she loved so much, Bowe posted a picture to her Facebook page of her in 1969 holding a six-month-old baby girl at SickKids hospital in Toronto, where she was working.

“My maiden name was Greer, this baby’s name was Tara Greer, but we weren’t related. I got a picture holding her and I would be the nurse taking care of her," Bowe told BarrieToday. "I was full-time at the hospital and they usually had nurses take care of the same kids. There weren’t families walking around back then and there was no Ronald McDonald House, so sometimes kids were more or less without family on a daily basis.”

Young Tara Greer was in hospital for a tracheotomy. She and her family were originally from Kirkland Lake, close to seven hours away in northern Ontario.

Bowe said she had posted the picture in the past, but never really mentioned much about the little girl. This time, however, she mentioned that she wondered whatever happened to Tara Greer, because she had bonded with baby girl during her time in hospital.

“I added her name (on the Facebook post), that she was from up north and what she had been in hospital for, and just that I always wondered what happened to her," Bowe said. "I never thought to ever look her up, because I figured she would have changed her name or something like that."

Bowe said it was a friend of hers that she called “super-sleuth,” who decided to take a chance on looking.

After posting the 1968 picture to her Facebook on Monday, and through a series of connections, Greer messaged Bowe on Tuesday.

“The next morning I got a friend request from Tara Greer," Bowe said. "Immediately, I thought maybe it was a scam. I mean that was pretty fast, but of course it wasn't and we were able to chat." 

Greer and Bowe have since communicated through email, where Bowe helped Greer know more about her time at SickKids more than a half-century ago.

“I found out that both her parents have since passed away and she knew very little about her time in hospital, except that it had something to do with her breathing and that she was getting pneumonia all the time,” Bowe said. “She was living in Kirkland Lake and they had only done two tracheotomies back in 1968.”

Greer, meanwhile, was only a few months old when she was at SickKids for a condition she didn’t know much about.

“I still have a trach scar, but I always got different answers as to why I was in the hospital,” Greer told BarrieToday. “Both my parents have passed on and all my aunts and uncles who raised me are also gone. I know the pic of me on Diane’s knee is from 1969, but I don’t know when I went in or what the original diagnosis was. I may ask for the records.”

Greer said she's still overwhelmed at making the connection with Bowe, saying she had never seen those pictures and there are very few, if any, of her at the Toronto hospital.

“My parents were from Kirkland Lake, my dad was going to school and my mom had my siblings to watch. I was alone there a lot, besides the nurses, of course,” Greer said.

Now 54 years old, Greer said when the picture on Bowe’s Facebook page was pointed out to her, along with the caption, she couldn’t contain her emotions.

“I bawled. I mean, there I was in a picture with a woman who coincidentally shared my last name and where I seemed so happy,” Greer said. “The pics Diane has are the earliest pictures taken of me and I only have three others after the hospital. It's just unbelievable.

"To know that someone cared for me that much while I was there, to see that in a picture, really made me miss my mother," she added. 

Greer said she has liked being able to communicate with Bowe via Facebook Messenger, but hopes to meet her in person, not just to say thank you but also to maybe jog her memory.

“I’d like to hear her voice, maybe it triggers something. I have always had a memory of being in that hospital and being bounced on someone's knee, just as my mom had walked in through the door,” Greer said. “That one picture that was posted, I am on Diane’s knee and crying and laughing hysterically and I am looking towards a door, I think. I truly wonder if that picture is the memory I have always had.”

Greer said the significance of this week is not lost on her, with it being National Nurses Week and this past Wednesday being McHappy Day, a day where funds are raised to support Ronald McDonald House. The facility allows families to stay there and be close to their kids who are in a nearby hospital.

“When my son was seven months old, he got meningitis and it closed off his throat. He was flown to London and I stayed at Ronald McDonald House,” Greer said. “Can you believe that? I’m so glad that was available to me, but I think how hard it must have been for my family to not have that option.

"There really is a reason for everything and this new connection on Facebook just shows that.”