ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Jessica Prothe, BSN, RN 4677

ANA Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation® - #healthynurse Spotlight Series - Jessica Prothe, BSN, RN

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Nurse Turns Her Medical Crisis Into Her Cause

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Occasionally, life can throw you a curveball. Nurses see it daily, caring for patients who experience an unexpected and life-changing health crisis. But it’s what you do with that curveball that matters.

For #healthynurse Jessica Prothe, BSN, RN, the curveball came in the form of health complications from breast implant surgery. It took 12 years and 12 doctors to understand that Jessica’s breast implants were making her sick. Even after regaining her health, Jessica’s life has never been the same. But the altered life path she walks today leaves her feeling more inspired and empowered than she ever imagined.

Finding New Footing After a Health Crisis
Jessica’s breast implant illness left her unable to do the work she loved: nursing on the frontline. She decided to pursue a graduate nursing degree while she regained her strength.

In her graduate program, Jessica started writing about her health experience and realized that if someone had asked about her implants, she might’ve had a diagnosis sooner. But her providers didn’t know to ask, and Jessica didn’t realize the importance of sharing that information at the time.

“Once we knew what we were working with, things changed,” Jessica says. “But providers are being blindsided because they don’t all know and understand the issues implantable devices can cause.”

In 2021, the FDA administered a “black box” warning for breast implants, alerting health care professionals and patients about an associated increased risk of systemic illnesses, including:
  • Breast implant illness (BII)
  • Breast implant-associated anaplastic large cell lymphoma (BIA-ALCL)

Jessica and some of her nursing classmates realized that there was a disconnect and knowledge gap. Not all providers are aware of the risks and health complications associated with implants. But a screening tool could prompt health care providers to ask patients if they have an implantable device, raising awareness for everyone.

Answering a Call to Advocacy
The more Jessica researched and learned, the more she felt compelled to do something. Her traumatic experience and her years of nursing put her in the perfect position to make a difference.

“I think it’s the nurse in me because when there is a safety concern, I feel like I have to act, and I can’t let it go,” Jessica says. “If we can raise awareness and spread information about the dangers of implantable devices, people can get their implants taken out soon and get better more quickly. No one would have to suffer like I did.”

She connected with other nurses to develop an assessment tool for patients with any type of implant in their body. The goal is to have the “Universal Screening of Implantable Devices” tool included in the electronic health record.

“I truly believe in this assessment tool,” Jessica says. “Whether you have breast, knee, hip, or dental implants, all these devices could become problematic. Screening for implantable devices can lead to appropriate and timely care before it’s too late.”

Jessica’s advocacy efforts have also included:
  • Extensive research and writing, joining other nurses to author two journal articles for Plastic and Aesthetic Nursing. The International Society of Plastic and Aesthetic Nurses (ISPAN) selected Jessica and her team for the 2023 Plastic and Aesthetic Nurses (PAN) Abstract to Manuscript Award.
  • Networking and speaking engagements through professional organizations, including ANA
  • Working with social media support groups to raise awareness and help people with implantable devices advocate for themselves

“You never know who you’re going to help or who this will influence,” Jessica says. “At the end of the day, advocacy is our ethical duty as nurses.”

Seeing the Big Picture
Jessica celebrates the small victories as they come. It’s a triumph each time breast implant illness gets detected and managed early. Every time insurance covers the removal of implants, it’s a win.

But Jessica’s ultimate goals include:
  • Widespread awareness: Making it well-known that implantable devices can cause systemic illness and cancer
  • Earlier education: Teaching the health complications of breast implant surgery to all nursing and medical students
  • Quicker diagnosis: Having implant-associated illnesses treated as recognizable conditions instead of diagnoses of exclusion

“We are seeing a drastic increase in the incidence rate of systemic illness associated with breast implants,” Jessica says, adding that she is turning a lot of her focus to breast cancer survivors. “I’m not a breast cancer survivor myself, but a lot of the patients I work with are, and they are getting sick from breast implants. There’s a lot of work to do.”


Taking It One Step at a Time
The road from frontline nurse to patient to advocate and educator has been challenging for Jessica. But when she was first toying with the idea of changing careers to become a nurse, her mother encouraged her to start with one class — one step forward. Jessica has kept that mindset ever since.

“When I began my advocacy endeavors, I told myself that if I just helped one person, it would all be worth it,” Jessica says. “I think it is those tiny steps and small wins that lead to impactful change.”

Jessica Prothe, BSN, RN, is a graduate nursing student studying at Northern Illinois University to become a nurse educator. She has co-authored two journal articles: “Breast Implant Surgery: An Overview of the Risks and Health Complications” and “Increasing the Safety of Patients Undergoing Breast Implant Surgery Using an Electronic Health Record Enhancement.”

Are you a #healthynurse? Share your stories with us in our discussion below.

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Blog #healthynurse Spotlight 02/28/2024 10:50am CST

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#healthynurse Spotlight
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The #healthynurse Spotlight is a shout out to nurses who are making changes in their lives to improve their health and wellness. You can too! Read their stories for inspiration here.

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