Shawnee Mission Faces: Brittney Hunter, pediatric nurse and marathon runner

A lifelong pediatric nurse for the past 13 years, Brittney Hunter loves her work at Children’s Mercy. For her, the work is personal and fulfilling, especially because she had severe health problems as a small child. Through her own experiences, she learned the value of nurses and their direct role in children’s health.

Born and raised in Houston, Hunter earned her chemistry and nursing degrees at the University of Nebraska. Outside of work, her biggest passion is running and training for marathons. Her goal: Run a marathon in every state. So far, she’s run 39 marathons in 34 states. 

Hunter also enjoys “all things food:” cooking, baking, sharing food with people who need it. She volunteers with After the Harvest, during which she picks leftover crops — namely, fresh fruit and vegetables — to distribute to food shelters. Her food-centric Instagram account @KCLocalEats showcases local foods.

She also volunteers with Girls on the Run, a youth group program that teaches life skills and self-esteem. She lives in Prairie Village with her husband and college sweetheart, Scott Hunter, their son, Bennett, the family dog, Herbie, and their cat, Callahan.

I’ve had health problems my entire life. I had my first surgery when I was 18 months old and then developed some auto-immune issues when I was 9, and had to have my spleen removed when I was 10 years old.

I’ve had several surgeries, probably six or seven of them operated on. I have a lot of scars on my stomach. So when I was young, I just was always dealing with stuff like that. I thought I wanted to be a doctor and solve all the world’s problems in healthcare. And I was in college and I just kind of had an epiphany.

I started thinking about my experiences, and I was like, you know, I don’t even really feel like the doctors were a huge part of my experience. It was the nurses that I remember the most because I hung out with them, or they were with me all day in the hospital.

Shortly after I made that decision, I had some more health problems when I was in college: another bowel obstruction, a blood clot. And so, it was like I got to experience what drove me to healthcare after switching my mind a little bit and deciding to be a nurse. It kind of validated everything for me and solidified it for me.

Right around that time, I picked up running, had run my first half marathon just weeks before I got sick. And I had kind of toyed with the idea of doing a full marathon but was scared of it, and my cardiovascular surgeon thought that I wouldn’t be able to run a full marathon with the blood thinner medicine I was going to have to be on with that blood clot and everything.

It sparked a fire in me, and I was like, well I’m going to prove him wrong.

So I decided to train for a full, did a full, and I’ve never looked back. They’re my favorite thing to do. It sparked a fire in me to run and train further and run longer.

I’ve been on the same unit — the surgical trauma unit — ever since the first day I walked in the door. I think that’s really mirrored what I went through as a kid because I had tons of surgeries, and I like being on the surgical side of healthcare because we can fix things.

And it’s amazing what kids can do. It’s amazing how you have a super sick kid one day, and by the end of the day, you’ve either taken them to surgery or done a certain couple things, and they rebound so fast. By that night or the next morning, they can be a totally different kid and be fixed.

The kids are amazing. They’re so resilient and so rewarding to work with. I have awesome coworkers, great leadership on my unit. I just feel like it wraps around everything that’s important to me. Taking care of people, it’s the little things sometimes.

There are so many good stories. OK, so a patient that I took care of my first year of nursing, she was an amazing patient to take care of. She was a toddler, probably like 4. She was on our floor for a couple months, and I took care of her at night because I worked nights at the time.

She was out of it for most of the months, not really comprehensive or understanding what was going on. She had a neurological diagnosis that made her not be aware of her surroundings. For the most part, she screamed a lot. She was very uncomfortable, she was very unhappy.

But her family was amazing, her mom was amazing. And I just remember when she started to come to a little bit, it took months — god it’s gonna make me cry — my favorite thing to do as a nurse is give someone a bath. It sounds crazy but it’s so simple to do. And everyone feels better when they get a bath.

So we went to take a bath, and she was kind of with it. But I just remember we took her back to her room that night and I know that she turned around thinking I was her mom, but she couldn’t quite see. And she gave me a big hug and said, I love you.

And I was like, oh I don’t think that was meant for me, but I’ll take it. She’s really sweet, and her mom was really sweet. I’ll just never forget it.

To have that human connection with her when she finally started to get better and started to be aware of her surroundings, because for a long time she couldn’t communicate… She’s got some delays, but if you could see her now, you would never believe she was who she was back then. She’s definitely persevered.

I just think that any type of challenge you have in your life or anything that you have that maybe isn’t ideal, it’s not really what happens to you; it’s how you choose to respond to it.

And so I think that if you can take any sort of challenge in your life or adversity or something like that and spin it a different way, you’re going to come out better and stronger on the other side because of it.