This post was originally produced for Forbes.
When LeAnn Thieman’s kids were moving out of the house twenty years ago, she says her husband, Mark Thieman, “had this wonderful ideal thing that I was going to stay home and start quilting.” Instead, her “hobby” of writing and speaking took her down another path to becoming a bestselling author.
Working as a nurse for more than two decades, Thieman, now 68, was an unlikely candidate to become a sought-after motivational speaker and author of 21 books that have sold more than 3 million copies. What brought her into the spotlight was a story she didn’t tell publicly for almost two decades after her visit to Vietnam at the end of the war.
Thieman decided to buy a dozen cupcakes at a bake sale benefitting an organization called Friends of Children of Vietnam.” The organization primarily worked to help orphans who were fathered by American soldiers with a goal of finding them homes in the U.S. Before long, Thieman had not only joined the group but had organized a chapter in her home and was planning to adopt one of the children.
When the organization had six babies ready for adoption, she says, “I agreed to fly to Vietnam and escort them back to their adoptive home the United States. But between the day I said I would go the day before I arrived. The bombing went from 100 miles from Saigon to right outside the city limits.”
Suddenly, everything had changed. President Ford approved “Operation Babylift.” Thieman would help bring home 300 babies. She was there just five days. She and a few colleagues loaded babies three-to-a-box on a C 141 cargo jet and headed for the United States.
Among the babies was Mitch, who, though just a toddler, unmistakably volunteered to be her son. “He literally crawled across the room into my arms, my heart and our family,” she says.
After 18 years, she wrote down her story and got it published. When she started getting invitations to speak, her response was, “About what?” People, mostly from the nursing community, wanted to hear about her lessons from Operation Babylift.
So, she prepared a speech and then wrote a book. She built her career around her book, Balancing Life in Your War Zones.
Then, Thieman submitted her story to Jack Canfield for inclusion in a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. Canfield accepted the submission. She started writing other people’s stories for inclusion in the series and many were also accepted.
Then Canfield called her and asked her to co-author Chicken Soup for the Nure’s Soul. She did. And then she wrote several other books in the Chicken Soup series.
She also wrote, SelfCare for HealthCare, as part of a training program for nurses that she provides over a year. The book, with its 12 chapters, focuses on a new self-care habit each month. The program is supported by emails, videos and on-site progress charts. The results, she says, are impressive, showing a 16% reduction in sick days and a 13% increase in retention.
This is “because of what we’ve always known; if we take really good care of the nursing caregiver, that’s the best way to take good care of patients,” she says.
Martie Moore, chief nursing officer for Medline Industries, Inc. says she was immediately excited by SelfCare for HealthCare. “What LeAnn has developed not only can be used at the individual level but also can be scaled to the organizational level. LeAnn, in essence, has developed a roadmap for nurses and other caregivers to love and care for themselves.”
Moore explains the importance of Thieman’s work in the context of frustrating trends in the industry. “Health care is in an unprecedented crisis. Article after article has been and is being written about the level of burnout, nurses leaving the profession and the lack of personal and professional engagement.”
“Employee Engagement drives not only quality outcomes, but patient and employee safety. Leaders must create healthy work environments and foster health and wellness for their employees. This is not a nice to do, but a necessity in today’s environment,” Moore adds.
Val Gokenbach, vice president and chief nursing officer for Baylor All Saints Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas, got acquainted with Thieman through the National Speakers Association where both are members (as am I). She says her staff loves the program and they are undertaking a research project to track progress over time.
Ultimately, Thieman gave up working as a nurse—and never did make a single quilt—but her influence on the industry is improving operational results for hospitals, job satisfaction and well-being for nurses, improving patient outcomes and saving lives. I, for one, am glad she didn’t take up quilting.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!