Sandra Horgan
Einstein Untold: Unsung Heroes and Unknown Stories

After Troubled Childhood, She Focuses on Acts of Caring

By on 05/16/2022
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One in an ongoing series

Sandra Horgan has a tagline on her email messages that says: “Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”

The quote is a motto from pop author Leo. F. Buscaglia that she lives by. And, as someone who grew up in a troubled household, Horgan knows what it means to “turn a life around.”

At the age of 20, Horgan had two children and an associate’s degree from a community college. Last year, at the age of 51, after 30 years of nursing, she got her master’s degree.

Horgan, Clinical Nurse Manager at MossRehab’s Drucker Brain Injury Center, was one of the winners of this year’s Keeper of the Dream Award honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Sandy is the caring and compassionate caretaker who brings in items from home to help a patient feel more comfortable – from cozy sweaters to a new shampoo to chocolate covered strawberries. And sometimes just a shoulder to cry on,” Einstein President and CEO Ken Levitan said when he presented her the award.

Horgan laundered her own sweaters and brought them in for a patient who “was always cold.” She and a colleague bought groceries for a vegetarian patient who was struggling with hospital food. One of her daughters loves to bake, so they made chocolate covered strawberries for the patients. They also made masks for the hospital in early days of COVID-19, when personal protective equipment was in short supply.

Difficult Early Life

“I try to do what I can to help,” Horgan says. The mission was born when she was a child, growing up with an alcoholic mother.

Horgan grew up in a trailer park and had “very little money and we struggled,” she says.

“I can remember one time when I was 14, my mother waking me up, saying something was wrong and falling on my bed. I thought she was dead.

“She was in and out of hospitals, and I think seeing the things she went through and having no understanding and not being able to help drew me to nursing,” she says.

Given the struggles of her childhood, it’s curious that Horgan didn’t seek a more serene way to spend her professional life. She’s been an ICU nurse and a trauma nurse and now works with patients with traumatic brain injuries.

“There’s so many times I’ve thought about that,” she says about her career choices. “Nursing is not an easy job. It’s a difficult job. But I think it’s a calling.”

“The brain injury population can be very difficult, confused and combative,” she adds. “But it’s very rewarding when we see patients get better. You get to see people go home in a much better state than when they came in.”

Teaching Kids Empathy

Horgan’s background also inspired her to provide her four children a better life, and one that reflects her ethos.

“I wanted them to have empathy and wanted them to learn that there are people you can help and you’re going to feel better and they’re going to be better. I wanted them to learn kindness,” Horgan says.

She did service projects with each of them, at the SPCA and in a nursing home, to “instill certain values” in them. Another one of the values she stressed was education.

One of her three daughters has a PhD in education, another a master’s degree in finance, and the third a bachelor’s degree in psychology. Her teenage son is still in high school.

“From the time my kids were little, if they brought home a B, I’d say, ‘This is unacceptable. You’re not studying. No more Bs. You’re too smart.’”

They turned it back on her when she was in her late 40s. “They pushed me to go back to school,” Horgan says. “They said, ‘You pushed us, but now it’s time for you to finish your education.’”

Horgan attended an online college for her bachelor’s degree, and last year, at the age of 51, she got her master’s degree.

“I’m very fortunate to have become a nurse and able to provide my children a life I never had,” she says. “I’m blessed in so many different ways.”

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