To Super Shot nurse, immunizations are personal crusade

Super Shot nurse Michelle James delivers a shot at the Grabill Missionary Church last week. (By Blake Sebring of
Leo High School senior Taylor Schleinkpfer receives a shot from nurse Jeanne Tagmeyer last week at the Grabill Missionary Church location of Super Shot. (By Blake Sebring of

Seconds after delivering the second injection and trying to preempt the toddler’s cry of rage, Michelle Heck reaches over and rubs the baby’s leg and says, “We’re all done. I know it hurts, but it’s all over.”

The toddler still screams and stares daggers at her, squirming on his mother’s lap, but Heck still feels some accomplishment at what she’s done.

“I never lie to them,” Heck said. “The mom will say, `This isn’t going to hurt,’ and I’ll say, `It might hurt a little bit.’ You can’t lie to them and expect them to come back and behave the next time.

“I’ve said to kids before that I’m afraid of them, too. Nurses have an aversion to needles, too. When it’s my arm, I’m not happy.”

There’s really no good way to do Heck’s job. In December, she’ll celebrate her 30th year as a nurse, and for the last 18 she’s worked for Super Shot, immunizing kids all over the county. Though fulfilling, it can be a very frustrating job. She may get the joy of seeing a lot of babies, but they aren’t always happy to see her.

“I had a family come in last week and say, `I can’t imagine doing your job,’ ” Heck said. “I’m going to tell you that I love my job. That sounds really sad because I come in and make your kids cry, but I love my job. I feel like I’m making them better, I’m helping them stay healthy as opposed to playing catch-up to get them better from being sick.”

Commemorating its 25th anniversary this year, Super Shot has delivered more than vaccines to approximately 8,500 people annually at an annual cost of $2.5 million. Of those, 88 percent are living at or below 200 percent of the poverty level. Still, Indiana ranks 38th in overall public health, and Super Shot started to address the county’s critically low immunization rates. Since it began, more immunizations have been required for children to start school, and, as funding failed to keep pace, in 2010 the program started offering $10 shots per immunization.

Heck has a unique perspective on the entire program, and not just because of she of her seniority. For 10 years, the Harding High School graduate was a Pediatric Intensive Care Unit nurse where among others she helped treat a 4-year-old who died from chicken pox and a 6-week-old baby who died from whooping cough though those diseases were preventable at the tie with vaccines. She also worked with more than 20 kids who died from meningitis, which is now preventable.

In her personal life, Heck’s mother also battles polio, her husband recently survived throat cancer caused by a human papillomavirus infection (HPV) and a high school friend died from hepatitis c. Those are all treatable now.

“Though I loved that job, I was burned out on that,” Heck said. “Watching people die was no fun.”

So she took a year off from nursing and was working at Do It Best taking phone orders when she saw an ad for Super Shot. Now she can’t imagine doing anything else.

“I missed it, missed the connections with the patients,” she said. “Once I started, I knew this is what I was supposed to be doing all along. This was my calling.”

She’s one of six nurses who deliver shots at six clinics and uses her previous experiences to convince mothers that their kids really do need the vaccines. Chickenpox is a good example because for decades mothers wanted their children to contract the disease and get it over with. As Super Shot partner Jeanne Tagtmeyer, a nurse for more than 50 years, said, because people don’t see diseases like polio anymore, they may not think they are still a threat. They are.

Because of her experiences both with her family and professionally, Heck can be honest and blunt. Though she has a great bedside manner, she doesn’t sugarcoat when talking to parents about why the shots are a necessity. The consequences she’s seen have dug too deep into her memories.

“I look at this as I’m preventing what I had to do to do the kids there,” she said. “It hurts for a couple of seconds as opposed to weeks at a time like that kid who died from chicken pox. That was a horrible, long, slow death.”

Because she’s delivered so many shots, Heck is very quick with her needle and can give multiple shots in seconds. Because she’s done it for so long, she can recognize members of families like regulars.

“I went to an Amish garage sale once and walked in and the little kids were whispering,” she said. “I got up to pay for my stuff, and the mom asked, `Aren’t you the shot lady?’ Another time a bagger at Krogers asked if I was the shot lady, and I wasn’t wearing scrubs.”

She’d rather be recognized for something less painful, but Heck knows she’s doing good work, no matter how loud her patients cry and scream at her.

“I don’t listen to the radio in the car on the way home because of all the noise in here,” she said. “I just need it to be silent for a little bit.”

Clinics Locations and Times

* Grabill Missionary Church, 13637 State Street, Grabill, Monday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

* Parkview Hospital, 1818 Carew Street, Tuesday 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; 4 p.m.-7 p.m.; Thursday 4-7 p.m.

* Anthony Medical Center, 5717 S. Anthony Blvd., Wednesday 4-7 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. 1 p.m.

* Parkview First Care, 3909 New Vision Drive, Saturday 9 a.m.-12 p.m.