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Karla O'Malley

Karla's life was taken from her after she was struck by a drunk driver. Her family chose to reflect on the fond memories of her final days in the ICU.

February 14, 2023
Karla O'Malley and her family smile while standing together at a Kansas City baseball game.

“Our family entered Research Medical Center not knowing the journey that lie ahead and the impact the facility and the people in it would have on our lives.” — Megan Hillen

Not too often do you hear stories of excellent patient care when the patient passes away unexpectedly after a traumatic accident. But Megan Hillen chooses to honor her late mother’s legacy by recalling the wonderful treatment she had in her final days at Research Medical Center’s (RMC) Intensive Care Unit (ICU) and how hospital staff provided moments of compassion that will resonate with their family forever.

A wooden cutting board with a handwritten message from Megan's mom, Karla.

On Oct. 30, 2022, as Megan’s mother, Karla Joy O’Malley, was driving home from her daughter’s house, she was struck by an impaired driver, a tragic accident that inflicted brain damage and significant injuries to organs from which Karla would never recover.

Karla was rushed to the Emergency Room at Overland Park Regional Medical Center (OPRMC), which had been the closest hospital to the scene of the crash. While at OPRMC, Karla would be under the care of Dr. Aaron Doonan, MD, Interventional Cardiologist with Midwest Heart & Vascular Specialists — Kansas City, before he recommended the transfer to RMC’s ICU where there would be experts in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a form of life support for people with life-threatening illness or injury, on staff.

“Dr. Doonan reassured us that he would ride with her in the ambulance and look after her. I’ve never felt so much comfort from someone I had just met. I knew my mom was in good hands.”

For one month, Karla’s family would spend every hour of allowable visiting hours by her side while in RMC’s ICU. From the time they entered the hospital to the point when Karla was moved to hospice where she would pass away on Dec. 8 at the age of 62, the employees of RMC became like family.

“The baristas at RMC’s Coffee Shop knew our coffee orders by the time we left,” Megan says. “In those early, painful days that were full of confusion, shock and fear, Jenny [Gallardo], our mother’s nurse, was an angel. She wanted to hear stories about mom. She laughed at my dad’s jokes, even if it was a courtesy laugh. She ensured my mom was cleaned and cared for. She even requested a shift change so that she could spend more time with us.”

Karla smiles while cooking with her grandchild.

Jenny would not be the only nurse to leave a lasting impression. Tiffany Young, RN, who Megan said became temporary family while in the ICU, would bestow the family a gift unlike Megan had ever received after Karla passed away; a set of wooden cutting boards and key rings engraved with a message written in Karla’s handwriting for each family member.

“I knew Megan’s birthday was coming up so I asked her dad and brothers if they had an old birthday card that Karla had written,” Tiffany says. “They went home to go through totes of sentimental things Karla had been keeping for each of the kids and brought numerous cards and stories to share with me. I had gifts personalized with her handwriting for each of them. It was the least I could do for them.”

“I was blown away at the thoughtfulness of the gift,” Megan says. “I had no idea how she managed to do that — I hadn’t even seen or remembered seeing that note from mom, but Tiffany found a way to track it down and translate it into something I will treasure forever.”

Megan described the level of thoughtfulness that Tiffany showed as something she’d only seen from one other person in her life — her mom.

“The fact that these came from one of her ICU nurses gutted me in the best kind of way. Losing my mom is a hurt I will never really be able to cure, but knowing there are kind souls like her out there, like Tiffany, gives me a sense of peace and gratitude that I can’t even put into words.”

Despite losing her mother, who is said to have loved nothing more than spending time with her children and grandchildren, Megan only remembers the good from every one of her mother’s care team members; from the physicians, to the nurses, to the hospital staff.

“Thank you all for showing us that you aren’t just here for a job. Thank you for being on the frontlines with us, for listening to us, crying with us, and grabbing tissues for us after receiving the many blows of bad news. Thank you for sharing in this horrendous experience with us, and showing us ways to laugh and feel human again despite losing my mom. You all will stay with us forever.”

Karla O'Malley smile while standing with her family in a restaurant.
Megan O'Malley smiles while wearing navy blue nursing scrubs at the hospital.
Tiffany Young, RN.
February 14, 2023
Research Medical Center, Overland Park Regional Medical Center

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