coronavirus illinois

Nurses Known As ‘Old Dolls' Bring Decades of Experience to Northwestern's COVID Unit

A unique group of 10 women have spent a combined 389 years in the ICU and are now mentoring young nurses on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic.

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Affectionately known as the "Old Dolls," a group of 10 nurses at Northwestern Memorial Hospital is on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic working in the intensive care units. The women have spent their entire careers in the Chicago hospital, each with 35 years of service or more.

"I am an official 'old' doll," Susan O'Connell jokes. She's been at Northwestern for 40 years and currently works in the medical intensive care unit (MICU).

"There’s a lot to teach, and that’s sort of what my role is now," said O'Connell, who acts as a mentor to new nurses in the MICU.

Combined, the women have 389 years of experience. Their wealth of knowledge and decades with patients are invaluable as healthcare workers navigate the pandemic.

"I’ve been a nurse since 1978," said Raquel Collanto, a 35-year veteran of the hospital. Her colleagues call her "Rocky," and she's the clinical coordinator in the coronary care unit.

"I didn’t think for the last years of my career I would experience this. Everyone is learning. It keeps changing," Collanto said.

The women have remained close throughout the years. Their group remains infamous because of their longevity. Their nickname, "Old Dolls," is more about experience than age, but it was a male colleague who came up with it.

"He used to call everybody 'doll. Hey, doll,'” said Cindy Pascalo, a staff nurse in the MICU with 39 years of experience.

"He didn’t like to deal with the new grads, so he would tell [them], ‘go ask one of the old dolls.’ Me being 30, it was kind of funny then," she said. "We kept the name. We owned it."

Now, the "Old Dolls" are a priceless resource for nurses who have never dealt with anything like coronavirus.

"There are a lot more patients than we’re used to," said Nikki Michna, a staff nurse in the MICU. She's now following in her mom's footsteps. Linda Michna, an "Old Doll," has 40 years of service. Nikki has been at Northwestern for seven years.

"They’ve seen it all. They’ve done it all. They know exactly what’s going on all the time," she said. "We all look up to them."

Through the decades, the nurses have leaned on one another for support, growing together in their careers and becoming close friends.

"It is an awesome group. I mean we’ve gone through a lot together," said Linda Michna, who's on the rapid response team at Northwestern Memorial.

"We’ve always been 'Old Dolls,' probably because it seems like there was a core group of us that just stayed. The turnover is pretty high because people get burnt out a lot. We were the resilient ones that never got burnt out," she said.

"Those nurses have been my friends since my 30's," Pascalo said. "We’ve raised our children together. We’ve gone on many vacations together."

Their bond and determination admired and appreciated, as health professionals and patients try to understand and defeat the complicated coroanvirus pandemic.

"When you think about the amount of knowledge and everything they’ve seen, the amount of people they’ve interacted with, it’s kind of mind blowing," said Nikki Michna.

"It's a really strong bond ," said O'Connell.

Contact Us