Memories from September 11: How one story of survival impacted a future Gator Nurse

Mulhern family
Mulhern (second from right) with her family.

By Anna Suggs Hoffman

Thousands of lives were changed on Sept. 11, 2001. For one young girl, the events of this day would shape her family, career path and future in nursing.

Recent BSN graduate Keri Mulhern was just 4 years old when the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center took place. Her father, an electrician working in the towers that day, was injured when he decided to stay and help the first responders find survivors and clean up in the aftermath. His uncertain future, extended recovery, permanent disability and the Mulhern family’s experience throughout the years influenced her decision to become a nurse and try to make a difference in people’s lives.

“At 10:37 on Sept. 11, Dad actually wrote a goodbye note to my family when he thought he might not live following the collapse of both towers,” Mulhern said. “He inhaled dust, toxins and carcinogens, which has significantly impaired his respiratory functioning, and he injured his knee, which left him permanently disabled. Every year, he undergoes a medical monitoring exam at Manhattan’s Mount Sinai Hospital. My father’s health has been declining since that day, and assisting him has been integrated in my life for as long as I can remember.”

Mulhern’s father (right) at ground zero, assisting with cleanup and rescue.

Ten years later, Mulhern’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy. As a teenager helping care for her mother and watching the home health nurse, Mulhern’s passion toward becoming a nurse was further ignited.

“I admired the fact that Pat, my mom’s home health nurse, took the time to provide patient education about proper wound and drain care, not only to my mom, but to our entire family,” Mulhern said.

Mulhern graduated this spring and is now working as an R.N. at UF Health Shands. As a BSN student, she made the most of her time at the College of Nursing. She was involved in research through the EMBRACE program (Engaging Multiple Communities of BSN students in Research and Academic Curricular Experiences); she was a Gator Nurse Student Ambassador and the Bone Zone Chair and member of the UF Student Nursing Association.

A photo from ground zero.

Mulhern plans to gain a few years of nursing experience in an intensive care setting before returning to earn a doctoral degree.

“As the proud daughter of both a 9/11 survivor and a breast cancer survivor, I have been exposed to the challenges and wonders of health care at an early age, which has undoubtedly impacted my decision to become a nurse,” Mulhern said. “I hope to help my future patients just like the nurses who have helped my mom and dad by turning extremely stressful situations into more bearable, and sometimes even positive, experiences.”

A collage from the Mulhern family’s 9/11 collection, including the note from Mulhern’s father when he wasn’t sure he would make it home.