SEARCH WITHIN CONTENT
Citation Information : Australasian Journal of Neuroscience. Volume 30, Issue 1, Pages 44-46, DOI: https://doi.org/10.21307/ajon-2020-005
License : (CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0)
Published Online: 01-June-2020
The Australasian Neuroscience Nurses Association recently lost a valued member and more importantly a great friend in Sharryn Byers. Sharryn was a long serving member of the association, a passionate Neuroscience nurse, patient and nursing advocate. She was a highly committed ANNA executive member over many years at both federal and state levels and was a proud life member.
Sharryn was more than just a run of the mill member who paid her annual fees. She fell into Neurosurgical nursing early in her career and fell in love with the specialty – a love that never left her.
I first met Sharryn in 1990 in Alice Springs, the year Nimodopine made its first big break onto the scene to treat SAH. This was Sharryn’s second meeting and also mine, although my first was the previous year and Sharryn’s was 2 years prior. Barb Lester, a dear friend of the association, often reminded me that her first introduction to Sharryn was that of a very loud, eloquent and outspoken young nurse with enormous potential, one to watch.
Since 1990 Sharryn seldom missed a meeting, she also seldom missed a Neurosurgical Society meeting, which in those times were held back to back in the same venues. I know this because I too attended them and we quickly formed a strong friendship which lasted 30 years. Along with some other dear friends, Mary Lomas, Barbara Lester, Naomi Moody (Winter) and Eithne Mallon (Irving). We all met through our belonging to ANNA and were blessed to travel to all ends of Australia and New Zealand and internationally with Sharryn. We enjoyed many intrepid times together. Lenore Saville (from Qld) dubbed us intrepid because we drove everywhere possible, camped under the stars and made the most of our times together. These annual jaunts were professionally rewarding and often hilariously entertaining.
When we met Sharryn she was the Nurse Unit Manager of Neurosurgery at Westmead Hospital. Sharryn had already developed a great passion for learning and teaching/mentoring. She always questioned why things were done the way they were and, where needed, ensured practices were challenged and adapted. Always done with clear evidence, tact and careful coercion if needed. She was never one to blend into a crowd or not express an opinion. She was to the end a loud and proud Neuroscience nurse.
Through Sharryn’s investigative mind and determination to provide best practice she developed a love of research and presented many times at ANNA meetings, winning both the Tonnie Keonin and NSA prizes on more than one occasion. In past years the NSA prize winning paper was represented to the surgeons at their meeting and Sharryn’s papers were always of such a high standard and clinically significant value that they always generated questions and comment from our surgical colleagues.
Those of you who may not have known Sharryn well may not know that those memorable papers were often only finalised in the early hours of the morning (0300) or rising early to ensure her data was up to date and her slides were in the correct order and accurate. We of course plied her with Bombay Sapphire or wine of any colour while she tirelessly read through the final drafts.
When I first saw Sharryn present, overhead projectors with plastic sleeves were the audiovisual of choice. With technological advancements we moved through Kodak Slides, CD’s and Memory sticks right up to current day emailing of papers. Sharryn was always our IT guru as she had a great capacity to work through technology and solve problems. I recall well her assisting the NSA with their fledgling IT needs at their meetings.
As an ANNA member, Sharryn held many executive posts and sat on many committees and conference organising working parties at both state and federal level. She was part of the association’s first multi state executive, using email, skype and the old fashioned telephone to stay in touch. She was always one to demonstrate the ethos that ‘the more you put in the more you got back’. Through participation at these levels Sharryn and I, along with many others, have become lifelong friends and will continue to share many fond memories of times together.
All ANNA members are also members of the World Federation of Neuroscience Nurses Association, Sharryn was also an avid attendee and presenter at these meetings and travelled widely. At the meeting in Opatia, Croatia, she was mentioned in a keynote speech as a world leader in her field along with Joanne Hickey, Linda Littlejohns, Virginia Prendergast and our own Vicki Evans-Roach. This meant the world to Sharryn, who had held these leaders in high esteem and was humbled to be mentioned in the same light as her own heroes.
Conference adventures: Sharryn and I along with Mary, Barb and Naomi attended many conferences frequenting many wineries and amazing places along the way. International driving on the wrong side of the road, staying in the quaintest of B&B’s which only Sharryn could source.
Sharryn was never a morning person and on our journeys would sleep the first driving leg and take the last leg. I was the early riser and would constantly need to drag her out of her bed to hit the road. She was always last to be ready.
During the many years we all spent together children and grandchildren were born and weddings were had. Sharryn’s son Michael was her greatest achievement and we all knew of Michael’s adventures and loves. Sharryn was able to see Michael marry his soul mate Sarah just weeks before she passed away, this was her greatest thrill and she valiantly stood at his side resplendent in her favourite colour (Green).
I was also privileged to get to know Sharryn’s brother William and sister in law Anita and their three amazing children. She was particularly close to Emma, her niece who also sadly passed away recently. Both Emma and Sharryn were thrilled to see Emma’s brothers, Sharryn’s nephews, having children of their own. Sharryn loved her family to the moon and beyond and their closeness was so clear to all who knew them.
Sharryn also had a passion for cooking, cake making and decorating. She always made the family wedding cakes and Christmas cakes and we joked prior to Sharryns passing that the fruit would have been soaking in brandy somewhere at home and they needed to ensure it was found and used.
In the weeks prior to Sharryn’s passing she was able to stay at home with the help of family, friends and colleagues who stayed overnight and around the clock to ensure she could stay at home as long as possible. I know you all know who you were, but Sharryn was very grateful for all the care and love she was shown. I recall calling one day to find she was holding court with Kylie Wright and Maureen Edgtton-Winn. She called me back later to tell me she had had a lovely afternoon. I know there were many more such visits from ANNA friends and colleagues.
In Sharryn’s work life she was an amazing mentor and friend to her staff. I was privileged to meet many of her work colleagues, who were all heartbroken at the thought that she was not going to be there to help and guide them. Many told me how she encouraged them to apply for their jobs and present papers or even teach junior colleagues at the bedside. The Executive DON of Nepean came to visit and was also saddened to know she was losing a friend. She told me that Sharryn was one of her greatest inspirations. Sharryn’s battle with cancer was a long and brave journey. She had fought and won the first battle only to have the beast return.
Sharryn fought on her own terms and always told us that she would know when it was time to leave. She died on November the 19th 2019 in her much loved Nepean hospital surrounded by her family and with the full knowledge that she had achieved all she could and had lived and amazing life. Many of you will appreciate that Sharryn’s family were chatting among each other telling anecdotes and sharing Pizza, Beer and wine in her last minutes. This was as it should have been, Sharryn would have loved to partake. It was my greatest privilege and honour spend Sharryn’s last two days at her side. My heart broke for her family, friends and colleagues, and for all of us who knew her. As we were packing Sharryn’s belongings we discovered a signed text in her locker for the ward staff. Sharryn had clearly planned to give this to them but had not had the chance.
At Sharryn’s funeral many members and friends travelled to the most amazing church, chosen not for its religious sensitivity but its amazing architecture. A long and enjoyable reception overlooking the water and with wine flowing was a great tribute to Sharryn where there were countless stories and memories exchanged. Sharryn would have been with us in spirit and looking down from above. We have lost an amazing lady and it was a privilege to know her and count her as my friend.