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For nurse, healing was family affair

By Dannye Romine Powell
Published Jan. 5, 1999
Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romine Powell writes on life in Charlotte and the Carolinas for the Local section of The Charlotte Observer.

A Sunday afternoon in 1976. I was grocery shopping. My son, Patrick, then 8, was riding his bike. A car hit him, arced him high into the April air and onto the car's hood. I found him sprawled on his back on the street, left arm broken, right knee shattered, front teeth missing.

Patrick healed. But these 23 years later, say the name Emma Gupton to me and I see a red-headed nurse striding toward me, arms outstretched, a smile swaddling me in comfort.

We couldn't have survived without her.

Emma was director of pediatric nursing at Presbyterian for 26 years - from 1960 to 1986. I knew she'd retired, but I didn't know until her friend Bonnie Johnson e-mailed me that Emma has moved to Plantation Estates, a Matthews retirement center.


Emma Gupton in her prime

I grabbed a picture of 30-year-old Patrick and headed out to see her. Silver now fringes Emma's glorious red hair, but her smile is as bright. She hugs me and kisses Patrick's picture.

Our conversation sprawls - her 1977 diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, when she was told she'd never walk again but went on to work nine more years without missing a day.

Husband Bill's death in 1991. Breast cancer in 1992. Hip and knee replacements. Her mother's death last August. What would've been her 50th wedding anniversary in September. Ankle surgery this Thursday.

Yet I see the Emma Gupton in her prime, the Emma Gupton who lives on in the 71-year-old body that sometimes aches and loses its balance. I know the woman who, in the early days of pediatric nursing, found a young mother weeping in the waiting room and asked what was wrong.

"They say I can't see my baby until 2 p.m., " the mother cried.

Emma grabbed her coat and her umbrella and marched out.

"Where are you going?" the nursing director asked.

"I refuse to work in a place that won't allow mothers and fathers to be with their sick babies, " she said.


Nursing is in my blood'

Things changed. Emma won't take the credit, but believe me, she helped revolutionize Presbyterian's pediatric unit, creating a place where parents and siblings and even family pets - at any hour - were allowed to help the young patient heal.

I'm never satisfied until I find out why a person is the way they are. What made Emma Gupton, native of Alexander County, second of four children, such a comfort to so many?

When she was 17, a friend who was to be her college roommate was killed in an accident. Not long after, her first high school love was killed at war.

That's when Emma decided on a nursing career.

So did she spend her life giving the comfort she herself needed as a young woman? I question that simple equation.

Emma's not philosophizing. She'll say this: "Nursing is in my blood. I knew I was where God really wanted me to be."

I can still hear her: "Patrick, you are the best 8-year-old boy on this floor." Never mind he was the only 8-year-old boy.

Emma Gupton healed.

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