Airing Her Talents

October 31, 2014

Kris Brust loves being a pulmonary nurse—both at work and in her cherished San Pedro community.

When Kris Brust graduated from nursing school, the wardrobe for RNs included white caps and white hosiery. In the 30-plus years she’s been with Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center San Pedro, her attire has changed a lot, but her love for her job and the community hasn’t diminished one iota.

Brust spent her first year as an operat­ing room nurse. “I didn’t like it, and I’m a firm believer that you have to find your bliss,” she says.

Her next stop was as a pulmonary nurse specialist helping patients cope with asthma, COPD, emphysema and other breathing disorders. “I loved it, loved it, loved it.” 

Being a pulmonary nurse so appealed to Brust that she eventually helped develop an exercise program for people with breathing disorders. For many years, Brust and colleague Rick Hamil­ton—whom she calls a “brilliant respi­ratory therapist”—ran a program at the medical center called Lively Lungs. 

When funding for the program ended, they transitioned the concept to the San Pedro YMCA. Brust and Hamilton run the two-hour, twice-weekly pro­gram called Beyond Rehab, where 25 to 30 community members navigate an exercise circuit of weights (as light as 1 pound), a step machine and a treadmill that can go 1/10 of a mph. 

Brust checks blood pressure, listens to lungs, checks ankles for swelling and even has oxygen and an EKG machine on standby. The program also caters to people dealing with heart problems, strokes and surgical recovery. “They have to learn a way to move that works for them so they can stay active and have a life,” Brust said.

Her work on behalf of her patients draws positive comments from supervisors and co-workers. Karen Fredericks, past director of rehabilitation, respiratory and neurodiag­nostics, calls Brust “a bright shining star in nursing. She has a highly infectious energy and is passionate, creative and dedicated to her patients and all things breathing-related.”

Hamilton agrees. “She takes each and every patient to heart. She not only educates them on their disease, medications, etc., she does it in a way that lightens their anxiety and makes them a partner in their disease management,” he notes. “Kris goes out of her way to ensure that the patients not only have the tools they need but have a better quality of life—from basic, everyday activities of daily living, such as housework, shopping, making the beds, to outings, intimate relations and travel. Her goal is to make sure the patients live life to the fullest despite their health issues.” 

In January 2013 Brust became the med­ical center’s disease-management coordi­nator. “I make sure people with chronic diseases have the information and the help they need to stay out of the hospital,” she says of her position. 

She still runs a group called Better Breath­ers, which has monthly meetings and twice yearly luncheons and outings. In April she supervised the group on a chartered bus trip to the Segerstrom Center in Orange County to see a live performance of Mamma Mia! “You should have seen us dancing in our seats!” she exclaims.
Brust encourages the Better Breathers to stay engaged in the community. “Life can’t be about, ‘Oh poor me,’” she says. “One meeting, we may ask them to bring tooth­brushes and toothpaste or socks to donate to homeless shelters.”

When the group has a surplus of cash from outings or memorial donations, Better Breathers funds a college scholarship to a San Pedro High School senior who will be majoring in science. Since 2002, the group has donated a total of $18,000 to the fund. Better Breathers also donates $4,000 to $5,000 per year to the medical center’s pulmonary department; a total of $58,700 since 1978. 

Lest you think Brust is all work and no play, she is quick to discuss the joy of being a Girl Scout leader. She began leading her daughter’s troop from first grade through the senior year of high school.

“Then they had the nerve to go off to college,” joked Brust, who found herself at loose ends. When she learned she didn’t need her own scout to lead a troop, she organized a troop at a nearby elementary school. Those girls are now high school seniors, and Brust recently took them on an Ensenada cruise. “And we had enough money left over from cookie sales that we went to Disneyland and spent the night at the Disneyland Hotel.” 

Her troops have gone caroling at the medical center and also explored “Winter Holidays Around the World,” studying Kwanzaa, Hanukkah and Ramadan among others. Most Girl Scouts tend to drop out of the program in middle school, when competing interests and boys draw their attention elsewhere. But not Brust’s scouts. She managed to keep 17 girls together throughout high school. 

Brust won’t be at loose ends when this latest group heads off to college or careers. She’s lucky enough to be leading a grand­daughter’s troop. “I think I have one more group in me.”

Brust and her husband of 32 years have raised their daughter and twin sons. When she’s not working, she enjoys her three grandchildren, her rose garden and “trying to improve my cooking skills,” which she admits are not very good. 

To support that claim, she mentions an employee potluck at which a supervisor went around the room thanking each work­er for the dish he or she brought. When he got to Brust, he said: “And we have to thank Kris for bringing the party atmosphere.” And that she does.  

Her goal is to make sure the patients live life to the fullest despite their health issues.”