KENNETT, MO (KFVS) - There are several agencies in the Heartland that offer in-home patient care. Just 30 years ago, that wasn't the case. In fact, a woman from Kennett helped start the first-ever Visiting Nurse Association. Now, the "VNA Queen", as she's called, is passing the crown on to someone else. She's retiring, but not without a party fit for a queen!
Throughout southeast Missouri, it's quite common to see a car marked "VNA" on local roads, with the visiting nurse making her rounds to various homes. When Carol Degraw helped begin the program in the 1970s, she never imagined the Visiting Nurse Association would grow from six nurses to now 600.
"They called me a pioneer the other day. That makes me feel old, but when it started it had never been done in rural areas and they gave me some grant money to make it happen," she said.
Her plan took off. Carol says she's worn out five cars traveling the back roads, checking on her patients in their homes.
"You can go down this pig path and that goat trail. You can find 'em. I've been chased by goats, dogs and one big hog!" Carol said.
All the while carrying that sense of humor as she greeted her patients. After years serving as an RN, and training others, Carol took her care off-road and into the VNA office. She started helping more people via the air waves. In Kennett, many may recognize her voice above all else. She's known as the VNA Answer Nurse.
It's no wonder so many people turned out to wish the VNA Queen farewell at her retirement party....limo ride, tiara and all.
Coworker Tammy Newsom says it won't be the same without Carol in the office daily.
"Someone said the other day, when they think of VNA, they think of Carol. If they have a question or need something, they go to Carol because she's been here so long," said Tammy.
Carol trained many nurses like Lora Hynds.
"I've learned to spoil my patients because the reward is so great because I learned that from Carol," said Lora.
Carol reflects on her years traveling the roads to numerous homes.
"Probably the biggest blessing is that I was at the bedside of more than 50 people who chose for me to be there as they passed away at home. That is such a privilege to me," she said.
Her associates say there's no true log of how many miles Carol has driven or record of the lives she's touched these last three decades. VNA staff also won't let this original founder go too far after retirement. The VNA Queen is slated to work as a board member as well.
"I got paid to do what I love to do. The crown is tarnished so I guess it's time to put it away now," Carol said.
VNA serves 14 southeast Missouri counties with 600 nurses treating patients ranging in age from children to the elderly.