The Lutheran Nurses Association of Australia (LNAA) recently announced joint winners of the 2022 Lutheran Nurse of the Year award – Fred Miegel of Alice Springs and Gillian Mibus of Adelaide.
The Lutheran Nurse of the Year award was launched in 2020 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, the pioneer of modern nursing. It recognises faithful and outstanding service rendered by a Registered or Enrolled Nurse who is an active member of a congregation of the Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand.
‘A leap of faith’ is how Fred Miegel describes his decision to move from Adelaide to Darwin in 1995, where he was tasked with establishing the Central Australian Palliative Care Service at Alice Springs Hospital. Little did he know when he began the service that he would still be a part of it some 26 years later.
A leading member of the Alice Springs Lutheran congregation where he served as its chairperson for seven years, Fred has dedicated his career to palliative care, receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2018 for his years of work in the field. Under his charge the Alice Springs palliative care service has grown from a one-nurse operation, to a team of nurses and doctors who cover an area ‘bigger than Texas’, as well as an inpatient facility for the southern NT region.
“I have been fortunate during my time in this role to have had many opportunities to be a manager, a clinician, an educator, and a witness,” says Fred.
“My challenge is accepting the things I cannot change, working to win the little battles like helping with pain or nausea and accepting that when we take on people in our service, they are facing death.
“I explain we will walk the path alongside them and help where we can with advice, medication, and some equipment, while supporting their family and the community.”
A tight-knit community and a rural setting means Fred and his team often care for friends, colleagues and even family – a rarity in metropolitan areas. The varied cultures in Alice Springs, including First Nations people, has also offered a unique opportunity to work with and learn from their rich spiritual connections.
“I have been blessed to work with some of the most passionate, professional, caring and wise people,” says Fred. “I have been blessed with my health and a realisation of how vulnerable we all are, and blessed by being part of a community.”
Photo above left: Fred (right) is congratulated on his award by Bruce Lindner.
From a very young age Gillian Mibus knew she wanted to be a nurse, and a love of babies led to a career that now sees her as a Neonatal Nurse Practitioner at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in Adelaide.
A member of the Australian College of Neonatal Nurses (ACNN), Gill has made ten week-long visits to Papua New Guinea (PNG) with a team of neonatal nurse since 2014 as a volunteer, as part of the American Academy of Paediatrics program, Helping Babies Breathe. The program for low-resource countries focuses on supporting local PNG midwives and birthing assistants by providing basic resuscitation training for situations where babies are not breathing at birth.
“Being part of this group has been one of the most wonderful experiences of my nursing career,” says Gill. “We have been teaching the village birth attendants something very simple, that can have such a profound effect.”
With many PNG birth attendants being untrained and with very high maternal and infant mortality rates in the country, the knowledge being passed on from the group of visiting volunteers has been invaluable.
“We have heard stories from these workers on follow-up visits that they have been able to get a baby to breathe and survive, and this is the most incredible feeling, to make a difference from something so simple,” says Gill.
“The PNG people are beautiful, so very happy and grateful for any help that is given. They work in the most challenging situations and we are constantly amazed with them.”
A member at St Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Adelaide, Gill’s role at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital sees her care for our state’s sickest and most vulnerable babies, which she acknowledges can be challenging and at times stressful. But the upside is seeing the difference the care has made to so many families.
“Seeing babies recover and go home is the most rewarding thing, and makes our job worthwhile,” she says.
“I still have contact with some families we have cared for more than 30 years ago.”
Photo above right: Gill (centre) at a training session with local birth attendants in Papua New Guinea.