Tonya Ringo, RN, CSO, is a registered nurse uniquely equipped to care for patients at UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital. She knows exactly what it’s like to be the chronically ill kid in and out of the doctor’s office.
At just 10 years old, she was diagnosed with scoliosis and fitted with a cumbersome back brace at the same hospital she works at now.
That brace frequently cracked and wore out thanks to constant use and the smothering Florida heat, so she returned often for repairs and checkups. While most kids dread visits to the doctor, Ringo embraced them at a young age thanks to her physician, Robert Bright, M.D., one of the nation’s top pediatric surgeons at the time.
In contrast to the non-stop teasing Ringo endured at school, she found a welcoming environment with her pediatric orthopaedic team. Before long, she developed a close bond with Bright.
“He was just a very sincere and caring doctor,” Ringo said. “He always told me, from the start, that I could do anything.”
Ringo took inspiration from Bright’s compassion, and she soon grew interested in the medical field.
When she told Bright she wanted to be a pediatric nurse, he encouraged her.
“He kind of became my mentor,” Ringo said. “He just shared his medical stuff with me and said that it would be terrific if I took up the medical field.”
After a few years, however, Bright moved to Baltimore.
Ringo was then placed under the care of a new physician who was less enthusiastic about her aspirations. He told her nursing was too demanding of a job for someone with her back problems, but Ringo did not let it deter her.
Ringo corresponded with Bright through letters, and would eat lunch with him when he came back to Gainesville every six months. All the while, however, Ringo’s scoliosis was worsening. By the time she was in 10th grade, her spine had fused from the base of her back all the way up to chest-level. So, Ringo and her family drove to Baltimore to see Bright for surgery.
The operation was a success, though Ringo was forced to wear a cast covering her chest down past her hips for six months. After her long recovery, Ringo finished high school and went straight to nursing school, just like she’d always wanted.