“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”
Henry James may have said it first, but it is a philosophy that Regional Hospice and Home Care (RHHC) Nurse, Christine “Chris” Mastropietro, has built her life around. She incorporates this loving attitude in everything she does, from raising her 3 children, to supporting the families and young patients that she cares for. The soft-spoken, humble, Waterbury native was raised to value serving others and giving of herself – lessons that she has brought to the nursing profession for over two decades.
A Desire to Help
Chris found her way to nursing by chance. “I always wanted a job where I could be with people, connecting with them and helping them,” she stated. Initially she thought that role would be in teaching, possibly in Special Education. However, after having children of her own, her career goals shifted and she found herself in health care becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA).
Hooked on Health Care
Once in the health field, Chris was hooked and began advancing her education, becoming a Registered Nurse through Naugatuck Valley Community College. Upon graduating she worked in Labor and Delivery at Saint Mary’s Hospital, and enjoyed the role, working there for 11 years. During that time, she developed an affinity for handling the challenging births. She explained that, she “felt comfortable with assisting those families and felt privileged to serve them in that capacity.”
Drawn to Hospice
Chris began considering a transition into hospice care, and set out to research the nonprofit hospice organizations in Connecticut. She read about Regional Hospice’s Healing Hearts Center for Grief and Loss and fell in love, stating, “I was drawn to Regional Hospice, really drawn.” Initially she wanted to test the waters by working per diem four hours, one morning per week. However, in less than one month she was assisting hospice patients full time. “I felt like I belonged there, like I was sent there for a reason,” she recalled. That was over ten years ago.
A Culture of Support, A Desire to Learn
Mastropietro credits the phenomenal mentors and colleagues at RHHC for her ability to flourish so quickly as a Hospice Nurse. “Everyone was great and I was able to learn as I went…The training provided helped me to feel comfortable in my role,” she explained. That support, teamed with her unwavering desire to, “help families to the best of my ability,” ultimately led Chris to pursue advanced training, first becoming a CHPN (Certified Hospice and Palliative Nurse), and then going on to complete the highly specialized credential of CHPPN (Certified Hospice and Palliative Pediatric Nurse), a designation held by only a handful of nurses in Connecticut. She has even been selected as one of six national board members for the HPCC Pediatric Examination Development Committee.
Perinatal Hospice – Care for the Littlest Lives
Chris’s expertise enables her to support and care for babies who are diagnosed with life-limiting illness before birth, a field known as perinatal hospice, of which RHHC is the only provider in Connecticut. This demanding role has her traveling throughout the state to support women and their families through challenging pregnancies and births. As a Home Care Hospice Nurse, she also serves young patients and teens for end-of-life care. In addition, she has been co-facilitating the Healing Hearts’ Infant Loss Support Group alongside colleague and friend, Carolyn Wolfe, LCSW, for the past five years.
Grateful to Serve
Chris is so appreciative of her ability to serve others that in honor of National Nurse’s Day she wrote the following:
“Thank you to every hospice patient I have ever cared for – the infant yet to be born, diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, the baby with cancer, the child with the disease no one could pronounce, the adolescent who had to face his own mortality much too soon… Thank you to the families – the mother who grieves the newborn she will never get to raise, the parents who permitted a dreaded hospice nurse into their home and their child’s life…Thank you for allowing me to be there during some of your most private, personal moments.”
The Continuum of Life
Chris is quick to point out that while caring for young lives can be difficult, “It’s a continuum – and you have to move forward to keep helping. You don’t always deal with end of life – it’s a continuum. A circle of life that is always in motion.” She wishes that people could see hospice not as giving up hope, but as, “a new hope, a different hope and support.” She likens the care she provides to families and their children as a big safety net underneath them, ready to catch them and help them back up. “It is not about dying. Death is just one moment of that journey. There are a lot of other moments,” she stressed.
Expanding Hospice Care to New Haven
On June 27th, Regional Hospice and Home Care will begin providing hospice care as part of an inpatient, hospice bed project for patients at Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale New Haven. Mastropietro will be one of the nurses, among other team members, working on this new pilot project. She is excited as it will enable her to, “Meet new families and be invited into their lives at sacred moments.”
When asked what is needed most in hospice, Chris was quick to say, “Compassion.” She further explained that, “You have a choice every day in how you are going to live.” The way Chris and her colleagues choose to live in service to their patients, their families, and to each other is commendable.