Careers at Lifespan Health System

A Legacy of Devotion

Passion for nursing inspires four generations

Blue eyes, curly hair, or being tall are traits that run in families. But is it possible for the passion for a profession to be passed down?

Four generations of Newport County nurses would seem to provide proof of such a trait. Eva Heitmann, a nurse who worked at Newport Hospital in the 1960s, began their family tradition.

Lois (Thurston) Mass represents the second of the four generations of nurses in their family. Her daughters, Cory Thurston-Lallo and Sarah Nekrasz, followed in the footsteps of their mother and grandmother.  Thurston-Lallo’s daughter Kate Brooks is now the family's fourth generation nurse.

Nekrasz is clinical manager of Turner 2 at Newport Hospital, and her niece, Brooks, works in the emergency department.

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As a child, Mass sometimes came to Newport Hospital while her mother was working. “She was an excellent nurse, very nurturing,” she says. "She had all the characteristics of a good nurse.”

So, it wasn’t surprising when it became Mass’s ambition to become a nurse in her mother’s mold. After graduating from high school in 1957, she began her studies at the former Newport Hospital School of Nursing. However, when Mass wed, she was required to leave the school – in those days, married women were not allowed. Undeterred, she returned in 1973 after having her children and graduated in 1976.

Unlike their mother, Thurston-Lallo, RN, CCM, and Nekrasz, MSN, RN-BC, didn’t have a burning desire to become nurses.

“She never pushed us,” Nekrasz, a Portsmouth resident, says.

Four generations of nurses
From left to right are Cory Thurston-Lallo, Kate Brooks, Sarah Nekrasz, and Lois (Thurston) Mass.

Both tried a number of other jobs – and both eventually got their associate’s degree in nursing at CCRI, taking night and weekend classes while raising children.

“Once I started working as a nurse, I realized this truly was what I was meant to do,” says Nekrasz. She went on to earn her BSN at Salve Regina University and earned her master’s degree from Walden University.

Thurston-Lallo, a Middletown resident, spent 20 years in hospital nursing before she became a case manager for Blue Cross & Blue Shield. Now she does “nursing on the phone,” and especially enjoys working with elderly patients.

Brooks, who works in the emergency department at Newport Hospital, said her grandmother, mother and aunt all were strong role models for her. She was inspired by their stories of what a difference they made in their patients’ lives, and her mother “seemed to love what she did.”

At the same time, “I saw all the blood, sweat and tears that went into it,” Brooks says. As a single mother, while working full-time, she took evening and weekend classes to earn her degree – a 14-year process. This spring, she received her bachelor of science in nursing from URI.

The Middletown resident said her original career plan was to be a military nurse, but that dream was derailed by her asthma.

“I wanted to serve my country, but I serve my community here,” Brooks says. “I work in a great team. I feel supported here by the hospital, and supported by my coworkers.”

It could be that the women are inspiring a fifth-generation nurse. Brooks’ 13-year-old daughter, Riley, recently has come around to the idea of following the career path that has been forged by the strong women before her.

She may find, as her grandmother said, that “becoming a nurse is something within you that makes you want to give.”

Eva Heitmann and Lois Thurston
Eva Heitmann was a night nurse supervisor at Newport Hospital in the 1960s, and her daughter, Lois (Thurston) Mass, graduated from the hospital’s School of Nursing in 1976.