Nurse of the Year fights back after stroke [The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.]By Mara Knaub, The Sun, Yuma, Ariz.McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
Aug. 12--A local nurse and a retired Marine who has cared for thousands of Yumans is now in need of help.
Ray Kronenbitter, a cardiovascular nurse at Yuma Regional Medical Center, suffered a stroke June 26.
Just days after returning from the American Nurses Association National Conference in Washington, D.C., his wife Scarlette found him slumped over his desk. Kronenbitter, 54, was flown to the Barrows Neurological Center in Phoenix, where he has undergone four brain surgeries and one heart surgery. Doctors have determined that a blood clot originating near his heart traveled to his brain.
"It breaks my heart he's facing this," Kindra Gonzales said. "He has touched a lot of lives. He is just an amazing person."
A close family friend and fellow nurse, Gonzales set up a bank account for those who may wish to help the family. She said community members have been asking how they can help. The Wells Fargo account is 500000377.
"He is a retired Marine. He gave to his country and now to his community as a nurse. We as a community should give back," Gonzales noted.
With mounting medical bills, his insurance will run out in less than two months.
"Although he'll still have his pension from the Marines, it's minimal," she said.
Kronenbitter has been the sole breadwinner since Scarlette, also a nurse, went into a catatonic state and required brain surgery in 2009.
"He took care of me then, now I get to take care of him," Scarlette said from her husband's bedside.
She has not left his side for seven weeks, relying on generous friends, family and fellow nurses to bring her food, clothes and whatever else she may need. Neighbors have been taking care of their home and bills in Yuma.
"Without the Arizona Nursing Association and friends and family (including their four children), I don't know if I could have done it," she said.
Robin Schaeffer, AZNA executive director, praised Scarlette for her devotion. "Everyone should have an advocate and she's his advocate."
Nurses around the state consider Kronenbitter to be like family, Schaeffer added
Mary Faken, AZNA program coordinator, has been more than willing to lend a hand.
"One of the toughest things for Scarlette and Ray is that they're here in Phoenix, all their family is in Yuma, their house is in Yuma. They're relying on friends to help them get through it," Faken said.
"We're taking care of Scarlette while she takes care of Ray," she added.
Faken said he looked "real good" when she visited him Wednesday. "Somewhere along the way he had his mustache shaved off. It was like taking off Superman's cape. But now it's back."
Scarlette is optimistic about his prognosis. "We have come a long way since June 26th. He's struggling to come around and be more aware. They told me that with time and a lot of hard work and therapy, probably in three to six months, he will be back to pretty much where he was, with a little left-sided weakness."
Those who know him have no doubt he will recover.
"He has huge amounts of strength and determination, a lot of determination, and with Scarlette's dedication, with her there to push him and encourage him, he's going to be OK," Schaeffer said.
Debby Wood, AZNA program coordinator, believes that his "stubborness" will serve him well during recovery.
"With therapy, he will do very well," Wood said.
In the meantime, Kronenbitter still worries about his fellow nurses and students. On his bed, he asked for his laptop so he could work.
"Although with slurred speech and his health critical, he wanted to finish his (mentoring) assignment," Scarlette said.
After being named the 2010 Yuma County Nurse of the Year and the March of Dimes Arizona Chapter 2010 Nurse of the Year, Kronenbitter told the Yuma Sun that he believes strongly in making positive changes for the nursing community.
"I have always felt that I needed to participate directly in shaping the environment where I worked," he said.
As director of Governmental Affairs for the Arizona Nurses Association, Kronenbitter advocates on behalf of nurses and lobbies for or against legislation that affects the profession.
He mentors nursing students, mostly graduate and post graduate. "He's the guy who was mentor to everyone," Gonzales noted.
Kronenbitter first came to Yuma with the U.S. Marine Corps. After 20 years as an active-duty Marine, he decided to stay in Yuma. He has worked at YRMC since 1998 and practices at various health clinics in western Arizona.
"I love nursing because I get a great deal of satisfaction helping patients and families achieve and maintain wellness," Kronenbitter said.
"I imagine it is very similar in all professions. Folks you help have a place in your heart and you in theirs. After a while the dozens of thanks become a hundred and the hundreds a thousand and so on."
He serves as an instructor and mentor in the YRMC nursing programs. He is chairman of the Board of Directors for Regional Center for Border Health and volunteers on numerous other councils and committees. He is an active member of the Professional Nurses Association and Sigma Theta Tau International, the Honor Society of nursing.
"Ray has always been a nurse and an advocate for people in the community and nursing, and he will be again," Scarlette said.
"We've had a few dark moments, but we continue to be positive. We have a long ways to get there, but we'll get there."
Scarlette believes there's a lesson to be learned from her husband's sudden illness. In his case, the stroke was a shock. "He was not a candidate to even have a stroke," she noted.
Which is exactly her point: No one knows when tragedy will strike.
"Pay attention to your life and affairs. Do you have everything in order?"
She and her husband had talked about end-of-life issues but not about routine things like what bills need to be paid and account and computer passwords.
"People don't want to talk about 'what if?' But you don't want to wait until it's too late to figure it out. If there's anything anyone can get out of this, it's this," she said.
Mara Knaub can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (928) 539-6856. Find her on Facebook at Facebook.com/YSMaraKnaub or on Twitter at @YSMaraKnaub.
Ray Kronenbitter takes a photo of himself days before suffering a stroke. The Yuma nurse and retired Marine had been attending the American Nurses Association National Conference in Washington, D.C.
Ray and Scarlette Kronenbitter enjoy a meal together before he suffered a stroke June 26. Scarlette has been by her husband's side in a Phoenix hospital since that day.
MUG of Ray Kronenbitter
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