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A change of heart


August 9, 2008

Steven Klotzbuecher was a mechanic for nearly 30 years before a horrific car accident led him down a new career path ó nursing.

At a stable near Milwaukee, thereís a horse named "My Happy Ending."

How he got his name is a story with more convolutions than a dressage event at a national horse show.

Certainly there are easier ways for a daughter to get a pony and a dad to change careers late in life.

For about three years, Milwaukeean Steven Klotzbuecher, R.N., has been a nurse in a surgical wing at Froedtert Hospital. The primary focus of his unit is surgical telemetry; he and the other nurses monitor the hearts of patients after thoracic and abdominal surgery. The patients he cares for are very sick, so families and friends can be frightened by all the medical apparatus surrounding their loved one. He keeps one eye on the patient and the other on the family because, as he says, "I know what itís like."

Until a spring day in 1999, Klotzbuecher worked for 27 years as an ace mechanic at David Hobbs Honda.

"I have always been curious," he says. "What makes a lawn mower work? At the time of the accident, I was happy with my job; I enjoyed putting in a new oil pump. I was a team leader and had four good guys reporting to me."

The accident he refers to came within a hairís breadth of taking the life of his only child, a daughter, Heidi.

The car she was riding in was hit in an intersection by a truck; in photos of the wreck, the car looks like a convertible. It was not.

Heidi was taken in a Flight for Life helicopter to Childrenís Hospital of Wisconsin, where she spent 30 days in the pediatric intensive care unit. Her father never ó not once ó left her side.

"That was my first experience with intensive care," he says. "I was there so long, I started helping out if the nurses were busy."

Medical staff urged the family to give Heidi a reason to struggle against her massive injuries, and it didnít take them long to figure one out.

Heidi had ridden horses since she was 8, but never owned a horse. Guess what they whispered in her ear?

When it became apparent that against all odds she would recover and the day came for her to leave the ICU, a nurse said to Klotzbuecher, "Youíre good at this. You should be a nurse."

After taking prerequisites, learning how to burn the midnight oil for exams and sweating buckets through the nursing board exams, Klotzbuecher graduated from Milwaukee Area Technical College and was licensed in 2005. Of the 144 students who began in his class, only 25 graduated. Klotzbuecher, a rare male nurse, likes to joke that he works around so many women heís "beginning to crave chocolate."

Klotzbuecher is delighted to report that 23-year-old Heidi, ignoring her lingering aches and pains, is riding in national competitions and attending college.

"You have to have motivation to make such a switch in mid-life," he says. "It starts with thinking, ĎIf I donít try, Iíll regret it from my rocking chair.í To be a nurse you have to have a passion for caring for others and be totally dedicated to serving them."

Heís become more philosophical: "I think there is a Higher Power, although I donít know exactly what the hereafter is. I do believe we have a purpose in life."


This story ran in the June 2008 issue of: