ALUM | Marissa (O'Bryan) Pitts, 2006

Mother and Nurse

For Marissa Pitts, Red Cloud’s valedictorian in 2006, finding common ground with others has made all the difference in her life. Her experience moving halfway across the country and working as a nurse with patients from a variety of backgrounds taught her the art of forming strong and lasting relationships. Marissa taps into her connection-oriented spirit every day, both as a mother and as a nurse working in the postpartum unit. Now, placing her priority on motherhood, Marissa is happy to share the lessons she has learned along the way.

Thank you so much for talking with us today, Marissa!. Can you tell us about growing up in Pine Ridge as a student in the Red Cloud Schools?

I grew up on the Pine Ridge Reservation on the same ranch where my dad spent his childhood, near Kyle, SD. I first went to elementary school at Our Lady of Lourdes (OLL) and then high school at Red Cloud. My parents definitely made a choice to send me to Red Cloud Schools. I drove 45 minutes each way to go to high school because my parents felt that Red Cloud provided the best education, so it definitely wasn’t just an easy choice! They made that happen for me even though it involved waking up very early every day to go in, even in the crazy weather and snowstorms.

While attending Red Cloud High School, you excelled not only as a student, but also as an athlete. How did Red Cloud staff members help you find your success?

Academically, my science teacher Wendell Gehman was the most inspirational teacher that I had. He challenged me, showed me what it was like to study, have challenging tests, and go that extra yard. That is mainly why I chose a science major [nursing], because I felt so much more confident in that specialty. I did do really well in high school and I was the valedictorian, so it was very upsetting to me if I didn’t get a good grade. Wendell challenged me to realize that I wasn’t going to always be the best and always get 100%. That was an important lesson.

In terms of athletics, Matt Rama volunteered his free time to coach me in track. If it wasn't for him, I wouldn't have had the opportunity to run at the college level. Track and field was a huge reason why I chose the University of South Dakota. Matt helped me learn how to set goals and have the determination to achieve them. With his help, I set multiple track records at Red Cloud and later was named an academic All American at the University of South Dakota.

Wow, what a high school career! Once you moved on to the University of South Dakota, how did your academic work at Red Cloud prepare you for the challenges of college courses?

Academically, it wasn’t easy at first and I found the tests a bit shocking. My first anatomy test didn’t go very well and I just started thinking, “Maybe I’m not cut out for this.” Then I remembered my experience in high school during chemistry, which I found particularly hard. My science teacher Wendell taught me that it was OK to reach out for extra help. He would offer extra help sessions during lunch time, which showed me that even if you don’t master a topic the first time in the classroom, there is always another opportunity to go in and learn it.

I also found academic support through a study program that was part of the athletic department at the University of South Dakota. When I ran college track, one of the requirements of freshmen was that we went to study group at the library. We had to do this for seven hours a week, sign in and sit in a certain section. I honestly don’t know if I would have set foot into the library to study if it wasn’t for this program pushing me out of my comfort zone! I probably would have just stayed in my dorm room and not gone out as much. Any change is hard at the beginning, but then you slowly become comfortable.

Once you graduated from the University of South Dakota, where were you headed next?

After I earned my Associate’s Degree in Nursing in 2010 from the University of South Dakota, I continued my education through online classes at Briar Cliff University, earning my Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, while also working at the Winnebago Indian Hospital in Nebraska. During this time, I rotated between the medical/surgical, emergency, and clinical departments. After 1 year, I moved to Wichita, KS where I worked in a neuro-intensive care unit (ICU), which was both interesting and challenging.

I then moved to Florida and started working again in a neuro-ICU, but soon moved to the postpartum floor at St. Joseph’s Women’s Hospital. This was my dream job from the beginning!  I was so happy when I got this job, I shed tears of joy. I am currently on a float team because I am trained in all of the units, so I can go anywhere that I am needed. I work in high risk obstetrics, postpartum, and gynecology. I am very fortunate, because I work two nights a week, and then I get to stay at home with my one-year-old daughter the rest of the time.

As a new mother yourself, what is it like to work on the postpartum unit caring for other new mothers?

As a nurse on the postpartum unit, I spend a lot of time teaching new mothers how to take care of their newborns. Sometimes mothers think they are asking a “dumb” question, but most of the time I hear these question at least once a night, if not multiple times. Having my own child, I finally got to experience what it is like to be nervous, scared, and not sure what’s going to go on. Now I know that when my patients look at their baby and get emotional, it’s just because they are overwhelmed with so much love. I’ll always have a special compassion for moms who are going through it for the first time. It’s just so special. I tell people that the birth of a child is kind of like a wedding day; you’re never going to have these first special moments with your baby ever again. It’s just so fun to watch new parents be in that moment and learn they are finally someone’s mom or dad.

When you picture your life in five years, where do you see yourself?

Right now I’m really happy with how things are going, and the schedule works well with my family life. Being a mother is coming first right now. It is amazing to have the time to do educational things with my daughter.  There is so much for children here in Florida, including museums, the zoo, and the beach! My daughter loves elephants, so we can go 20 minutes down the road to the zoo and look at elephants. She also loves the beach. I think I was 25 when I first saw the ocean, and here she was at 2 months old dipping her toes in the water. It’s so fun to get to watch her experience these things!

What piece of advice would you offer to current Red Cloud students as they venture outside their comfort zone?

My advice to current students is to challenge yourself to make new friends. One of the things I’ve learned from moving from South Dakota to Kansas to Florida is to break out of my comfort zone, say hello to people, and try to get to know them. Now, my husband and I have friends from different states and different countries. I believe you can make wherever you live feel like family, no matter where you are. Yes, I miss my aunts, uncles, and parents, especially at holidays, that never goes away, but I know that I’ve got great friends and neighbors right down the street that will take care of us just like family and we’d be willing to do the same for them.

I heard that you had a chance encounter at work with a Red Cloud donor, can you tell us that story?

Yes, it was a such an amazing coincidence! When I was working in Kansas, a patient asked where I was from, and it turned out that he had been a donor to Red Cloud years before. That was one of the coolest moments of being a Red Cloud alumni! It was the biggest honor for me to take care of him. You just never know who you are going to encounter in the world. I’m sure he felt that what he had donated was being directly repaid. Over the years I’ve also worked with physicians who donate to the schools back in South Dakota. It’s amazing how many people out there are willing to help.


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Photo: Courtesy Marissa Pitts
last updated: September 8, 2017