NEWS | July 9, 2018

Coming home: Nurse who received life-saving care as a child returns

Teaches in same room where she was treated for disorder 30 years ago


Elizabeth Clifton, a nurse educator with the Center for Professional Practice of Nursing, knows room 7125 at UC Davis Medical Center very well.

“I remember the tiny bathroom, the IV poles and treatment room, and being sick and scared to be at such a huge university hospital,” she said. “As a country kid living in my bubble in Grass Valley, my world expanded a bit more when I got sick.”

Beginning at about age 10, Clifton started getting progressively weak. Her body was wasting away to the point where she couldn’t walk. When blood tests ordered by her family physician showed kidney failure, she was referred to UC Davis Medical Center, where Raymond Adelman, a pediatric nephrologist working there at the time, ultimately diagnosed microscopic polyarteritis (now known as microscopic angiitis, or MPA.)  That was in 1988.

MPA is a rare autoimmune disorder in which inflamed blood vessels damage organ systems, most commonly the kidneys, lung, nerves, skin and joints.

Timing is everything

At about the same time Clifton became ill, physician researchers in London had been working to piece together a cause and treatment for 34 patients with the same array of symptoms. A paper they published in QJM, an international journal for peer-reviewed studies in internal medicine, named the disorder and reported on the benefits of immunotherapy treatments.

“Research on microscopic angiitis had just been published, and Dr. Adelman recognized my symptoms,” Clifton said.  

The diagnosis set in motion a series of treatments and frequent monitoring for the next two years at the medical center and Cypress Building, located next to the hospital.

“I remember going for monthly blood work and always waiting for the same phlebotomist, a young guy who had a pin that said ‘I’ve got the velvet touch,’” Clifton said. “He made me feel safe and secure.”

Inspiring a nursing career

But the experience would have a more permanent effect.

“I was always interested in science and caring for kids, but being a patient made me want to provide the care,” she said.

Clifton went into nursing, getting a master’s degree from San Francisco State University in 2004. She worked for eight years at UC San Francisco’s emergency department, where she said it wasn’t uncommon to treat the homeless in one room next to a billionaire who was flown in on a private jet.

During her 14-year career as a registered nurse and clinical nurse specialist, she’s only seen one other case of MPA, which was diagnosed in a 7-year-old boy who presented to UCSF’s emergency department. She believes her experience as a patient is invaluable in delivering patient-centered care and teaching nursing students.

“The care we give our patients today affects their entire lives and their mission,” Clifton said.

Coming full circle

Through her experience, she discovered tertiary care, and by serendipity she works in the same room where she was treated as a child.

“There’s history to that room that is good,” Clifton said. “A lot of lives were saved there in the pediatric hospital.”

Since returning to UC Davis two years ago, Clifton has been teaching pediatric sedation and pediatric First Five Minutes, which focuses on care delivered during the first 5 minutes of resuscitation. She assists with the new graduate nurse residency program, adult sedation training and coordinating nursing conferences, and also serves as the education chair for the Sacramento chapter of the  Emergency Nurses Association.

“I’ve always seen myself working at the medical center. I’ve come back home,” she said.

East Wing remodel to treat patients again (view screenshot of intranet webpage)
As part of the seismic master plan, approximately 9,300 gross square feet of space on the seventh floor of the East Wing will be remodeled, providing more than 20 hospital beds. The space was previously occupied by the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit, which moved to the Davis Tower in 2011.