Career big part of local nurse's life

Joan (Dempsey) Lemky was born and raised in Hythe Kent, England in 1929. When she turned 15, she volunteered at her church social functions for the young men of the allied forces waiting to be deployed for D-Day in 1944. This is where she met her future husband Pete Lemky who was 20 years old and heading off to war.

Second World War veteran Pete Lemky was born in Edenbridge, Sask. Pete had three sisters who were also in Europe with the Canadian armed forces. Joan became a pen pal with his sister Sue for the next 15 years. She would not actually really get to know Pete until 1958.

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Life went on and Joan took her nurses training in Eastbourne, England, and her midwifery in Edinburgh, Scotland. She worked as a nurse until she got itchy feet and wanted to travel and in particular, she wanted to explore the United States. From 1954-58, she nursed at Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Tampa General in Tampa, Florida, St Joseph Hospital in Denver, Colorado and the Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, New York.

Pete came from Nipawin, Sask. to Prince George in 1954. His early years were spent as a welder, heavy duty mechanic and equipment operator. He worked in Prince George during the winter and went back to Saskatchewan to work on the farm during the summer.

Joan and Pete met up again in Sarnia, Ont. in 1958. Pete returned to Prince George in October of 1958 and Joan followed in December; they were married in February of 1959.

Pete sold the farm in Saskatchewan in 1961. He worked for the John Deere dealership and then taught welding at the Prince George Vocational School (now CNC) until he started P&W Logging. He retired at the age of 60 and went gold mining. He always loved the wildness and the quiet of the bush. Sadly, he passed away in 2011 at the age of 88 and after 54 years of marriage.

When the babies started to arrive, Joan became a stay-at-home mom. They had five children - Janis, Patricia, Lyn, Peter and Barbara - who in turn gave them 10 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

Joan said, "In 1962, I worked Friday and Saturday nights in the operating and emergency rooms to stay current in my profession. The children didn't even know I was gone.

"When the children were all in school, I worked week nights and spent the weekends at home. There was no TV until 1974 so we did many things together as a family."

Joan said, "Memorable events in my career are as follows: Dr. Edwin Henry a progressive internist started the first coronary care unit. We started out with three beds and I started learning all over again. We progressed and added another three beds in 1964 and became a coronary and intensive care unit. Those of us that worked in the unit went through a steep and stimulating learning curve.

"In 1972 we moved to a 10-bed unit in the new west-wing of the Prince George Regional Hospital. This created the need for a program for registered nurses wanting to work in the intensive care unit and the coronary care unit. I researched most of it, put the training modules together and then I was invited to teach the program. I loved teaching and it turned out to be an excellent choice for me.

"The volunteers at the hospital auxiliary funded some of the new equipment and the courses I attended to try to keep up with all that was evolving in coronary and critical care at the time. I am grateful to the auxiliary ladies for those invaluable learning opportunities.

"In 1973, Dr. Steve Lowe initiated the start of the cardiac lab and asked for my assistance. This began a string of firsts for the P.G.R.H. Modern equipment enabled us to do automated cardiac stress testing. Once this was up and running, we commenced doing 24-hour remote cardiac monitoring using the Holter device, which was actually a heavy reel to reel tape recorder worn around the waist.

"Next we opened the pacemaker clinic to regularly assess the patient and the device for any problems including approaching end of battery life. The first pacemakers were large and heavy and the zinc-mercury batteries lasted about two years.

"Today, all of these devices have been upgraded and improved due to modern technology. It was an exciting challenge to be at the beginning of all of this.

"Dr. Donald MacRitchie established the cardiac rehabilitation program at the YMCA gymnasium in 1975 with the approval of the YMCA CEO Colin Reid. The program was run by volunteers with Dr. MacRitchie providing medical guidance and advice and I monitored the patients. Trish Ouilette was our fitness leader and she ran the program three days a week from 7 to 8:30 a.m. The program ended in 2014.

"In 1982 I became the full-time critical care instructor at the hospital until I retired in 1992.

"In 1987 I seconded to the Justice Institute to lead the first group of Prince George paramedics through their practicum and later upgraded them to advanced cardiac life support."

Joan volunteered for the Canadian Red Cross and the Heart and Stroke Foundation until the age of 70 and then retired.

She served on the board of the Registered Nursing Association of B.C. from 1992-1996.

She has been a member of the Sons of Norway since 1959 and says that she is an honorary Viking.

She continued to volunteer as team leader for the cardiac rehabilitation program exercising with the patients three times a week. She provided support and counsel to the group from 1994 to 2014.

When Joan needed heart surgery, at the age of 85, she knew it was time to retire.

Joan concluded and said, "I have proud and satisfying memories of my nursing career in Prince George and all the exceptional people that I worked with over the years.

"I am enjoying my retirement. I am almost 90 and I can still get down on my knees to give thanks for all that I have, my good health, my energy, my good friends and a remarkable family. What else is there?"

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