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Ottawa County nurse honored as 'TB Warrior'

By Mitchell Boatman/The Holland Sentinel • Jul 24, 2019 at 9:00 AM

Nurse Patty Feenstra has been battling diseases and viruses for more than four decades. A recent case of drug-resistant tuberculosis gave Feenstra one of her biggest challenges yet.

The case was so complex that the Ottawa County nurse was recognized as the 2019 Michigan Department of Health and Human Services’ “TB Warrior” for her work.

“I’ve been here for eight years doing the active and latent cases (of TB),” Feenstra said. “This was by far the most difficult case I’ve ever dealt with. It was a big learning curve. I did a lot of things I had never done before.”

Feenstra was nominated by supervisors Tamara Drake and Paul Heidel.

“Patty had a particular case of TB that was challenging,” Drake said. “It was drug resistant and required medication we had never used before, and a lot more coordination with outside providers.”

Working with other nurses, state resources and federal departments were keys to providing quality patient care, Feenstra said.

“It was a lot of coordination with other people to try to get this patient the best care we could,” she said. “The award was given to me, but I didn’t do that all on my own.”

Feenstra has been a nurse for 43 years, including eight years in her current role as a TB nurse for the Ottawa County Department of Public Health. Receiving the award was an honor, albeit a surprising one for Feenstra.

“It was a very nice honor,” she said. “I just did not expect it. I was shocked but pleased to be recognized for the hard work that went into that case and continues to be done.”

The award was presented at the state health agency’s World TB Day, where Feenstra was asked to present the difficult case she worked on.

“It was nerve wracking, but I’m glad I shared,” she said. “Because of all I learned, I thought there were probably other nurses and providers that maybe have never experienced this, and if I could help somebody I would.”

Tuberculosis doesn’t have a high prevalence in the United States, but drug-resistant strains can be very difficult, expensive and time consuming to treat.

Drake said she has never seen a year with double-digit TB cases in the county.

“It varies every year,” she said. “Last year, we had seven, and that was a lot. I’ve been here for 13 years, and the most I’ve seen is eight. We have some years with zero.”

While TB isn’t widely contracted here, it is a worldwide issue. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 million people worldwide became sick with TB in 2017, but just 9,103 of those cases were in the U.S.

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