“I always knew I wanted to be a nurse,” reflected Veronica “Vee” McAuliffe. McAuliffe grew up in Monte Vista and joined the U.S. Army as active duty at age 17. “I had never left the Valley before. I was raised by a loving, single mother who promoted education and supported my decision.” After basic training at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Vee spent four years as active duty and her first assignment was a fork lift operator. “I had thought I would be working in a medical warehouse, but I ended up working in an aviation warehouse with huge aircraft engines,” laughed Vee as she recounted her time in the service. She was stationed in Fort Bragg, NC, for those years and then returned “home.” After she returned to Monte Vista, she joined the National Guard and served another nine years, with several highlights being part of the 122nd Ambulance Company where she received many awards along with the Army Achievement Medal for the World Youth, Pope Exercise and was honorably discharged as a Lieutenant. While working as an emergency medical technician (EMT), she attended Trinidad State Junior College to get her LPN. She worked as a nurse for Dr. Hurley in Monte Vista, and has loved being a nurse through her career. She worked a night shift at the St. Joseph's Hospital in Del Norte so she could be with her son when he got home from school. Vee was at St. Joseph's the day the hospital closed, and then she started her studies to become an RN. While working for the SLV Regional Medical Center, as an LPN and Graduate Nurse, she completed her studies and received her Registered Nurse in 1995 and worked as a charge nurse on 3rd floor Med-Surge. This is where she met and married Dr. Greg McAuliffe in 1996.
Vee worked in the Outpatient clinic under the management of LoriAnn (LB) Blakeman at the Physician Services building. Greg’s older sister from Minnesota fell and broke several bones so Vee went to go help her and thought if they would ever move, St. Cloud would be a great place to raise the three remaining children at home. They moved there for eight years and became empty nesters. Vee worked for a group of oral surgeons and really liked assisting in surgery and doing very life changing surgeries.
Greg was diagnosed with cancer and went through chemo treatments to deal with cancer and Vee was amazed at how chemotherapy worked and it was something that she felt drawn to. A year later Vee’s mother was diagnosed with AML, so they felt inclined to move back to the SLV so that we could be closer, but Vee’s mom passed away in 2008. “This is why my current position in the infusion clinic is so personal for me. I’ve been through this with close family and friends through the years,” commented Vee. “My mom did not want to travel back and forth to Pueblo and eventually opted out of chemotherapy. Seeing this new cancer center and treating patients here in Alamosa has meant so much to me so that others can survive this disease and stay close to friends and family in the Valley while going through treatment.” Vee worked in home health and as a Public Health nurse for five years and enjoyed her time learning from Julie Geiser, RN, who was the Public health Nurse Director at that time. But one thing she always liked was playing with cash registers! So in 2009 she expanded the gift shop with the help of the volunteer SLV Health ambassadors but never gave up on her calling to be a nurse. Working in surgery when they needed help became one of Vee’s favorite jobs. Coming in early to work in surgery and then closing up the gift shop was a frequent occurrence. She also went to train in Arizona to inject Juvaderm and Botox and opened a private treatment center in downtown Alamosa called Beauty by Design. “It was fun to be able to help people feel good about themselves,” reflected Vee.
“Did you know that chemotherapy treatments in the Valley actually started in Conejos County Hospital in La Jara?” Vee asked. “The services began in 1997 before finally moving to Alamosa in 2006. We began adding more doctors to the schedule as the patient load increased.” Nurses who work in the oncology/infusion center must be “chemo certified” every two years. SLVH Cancer Center has four of the only chemotherapy certified nurses in the San Luis Valley. “It’s a pretty intense test,” commented Vee. “This cancer center is a dream come true.”
There is a bell that hangs in the Infusion Center. It was donated by John and Evelyn Pacheco in honor of John’s brother. The bell hangs there ready to be rung by patients who complete their mission of the prescribed chemotherapy course. It has been rung by so many that the cord kept falling off. It continues to hang to be viewed and is preserved to keep his honor. Vee and Greg wanted to be sure that the tradition continued so they donated a “giant” bell that is very loud so that all can hear the celebration. The bell ringing is a symbolic recognition that life is renewed. The bell also hangs silently in quiet remembrance of those whose fight just came up short. "I can’t thank the community and leadership of SLV Health enough for this new place to treat cancer patients in the San Luis Valley, " Vee commented. "As I say good-bye to the patients here and head off to Arizona to continue my quest for cancer care as nurse manager at Banner Health, MD Anderson Cancer Center in Mesa, I am humbled by their warmth as they thank me for making a difference in their lives.”