“Thank you for your service” is a phrase shared with U.S. service members. But Mass General’s Shannon Stuart, RN, a commissioned officer with the Air National Guard, says she is the one who feels the need to share her appreciation.

Stuart recently returned to MGH’s Ellison 9 Cardiac ICU, after a six-month deployment to an area of Jordan bordering both Syria and Iraq. While overseas, she was a member of a ground surgical team operating on other service members, while also providing care to villagers. “We might see head trauma or cardiac arrest, but we could also be performing C-sections for local women. We took care of a lot of newborns,” says Stuart.

Stuart describes her deployment as “a lot of work on the fly,” applying both figuratively and literally to parts of her mission. During medical evacuation or “medevac” runs, Blackhawk helicopters carrying Stuart and her team would touch down in places like Syria to quickly stand up an operating room for “a damage control surgery” or to transport patients back to Jordan.

It was on one of those medevac flights that Stuart was called upon for her special expertise in cardiac care.

“A para-rescue group in Syria was helping a U.S. civilian who had suffered a heart attack and needed to be taken to a more advanced medical facility in Kuwait,” says Stuart. “But the transport team wasn’t trained in working with patients on an intravenous heparin (anti-clotting) drip and heard through the grapevine that I had the experience from my job at home.” Stuart joined the group and monitored the patient from Syria to Iraq – and then finally on to Kuwait. Still, she is matter of fact as she recounts the mission. “It was a neat trip,” she says. “We took a helicopter back to our small base.”

The flag is a thank you not only to the unit for being so supportive of me, but it’s a thank you to any active-duty military member or veteran at MGH.

Shannon Stuart, RN
Ellison 9 Cardiac ICU Nurse

Now back at the MGH, Stuart says she’s had to get used to a different tempo, although things were “ramping up again” when she first returned, due to COVID-19.

“There are different things we’re fighting here. COVID was hardly an issue in our village of 200 in Jordan because we were so secluded,” she says. “I’m extremely grateful for all the resources we have here. I can easily call the lab and get a result. I definitely noticed when I came back that I didn’t sweat the small stuff.”

Shortly after her return, Stuart presented an American flag to Rodilyn Glushchenko, RN, nurse director on Ellison 9. It was flown on medevac missions during her time overseas and dedicated to the MGH Heart Center’s ICU.

“The flag is a thank you not only to the unit for being so supportive of me, but it’s a thank you to any active-duty military member or veteran at MGH,” says Stuart. “It represents everyone here who has served.”