Better Together: Work, Family and Fun

The minute she saw the umbrella, she knew.

They had been acquaintances for a long time. Both were from small-town Virden; He was just one year ahead in school. Their kids went to the same daycare. She saw him almost every day. But that rainy afternoon was different. When she saw Matt Helmerichs with an umbrella meant just for her, Allison knew that first date would turn into something more.

“I was hooked,” she said. “It was such a nice thing to do to be so concerned.”

The two were married exactly one year and one day after. It wasn’t easy at first. Together, they had four small kids, all just three years apart in age. But soon after, the blended family fell into a routine and found their new normal.

“Every day was a new challenge,” Allison said. “But we’re both too stubborn to let it fail,” Matt said.

Back then, Matt served on Virden’s local volunteer fire department. Inspired by his passion, Allison enrolled in an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) course. Not long after, they were both driving the local ambulance. Then one day, Allison came home with an announcement that was sure to shake things up.

“I wanted to take it to another level,” she said. “When we dropped patients off at the hospital, we always wondered how it turned out. So, I knew nursing school was the next step.”

Moving ahead side by side

Allison was 30 years old. Matt was 31. The transition was tricky. They had just purchased a new minivan and keeping up with the family’s schedule was already hard enough. But together, they made it work. And one year later, Matt followed in her footsteps.

“We just love being around each other, so of course we would love working together,” Matt said.

Throughout their careers, they’ve served as travel nurses, worked in various hospital departments and mentored new nurses. And with every new experience, there’s been one constant that never changes–they must work the same days and same shift, no exceptions.

“When we’re off, we’re off together,” Allison said. “And when I’m at work, I get to be with my best friend. You always have someone there you can count on.”

With help from family members, the two found a way to make their schedule work while raising kids. While they may have missed a few things along the way, they prioritized all the major milestones. For nearly the past 20 years, they’ve found that work-life balance at Memorial Medical Center. And as life-long problem solvers, they like the fast-paced, challenging but often rewarding work of the Emergency Department (ED).

“When we have a bad night at work, we have the whole drive home to sort it out,” Matt said. “Having someone who understands it, who lived it with you, makes all the difference. But when we shut the door, we’re done. It’s back to family time.”

Continuing their parallel career paths

With the kids now raised, they decided to go back to school–together, of course. Both will graduate in May 2018 from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and will then apply to graduate school. Matt wants to be an advanced practice nurse and Allison is interested in nursing education.

“We’ve talked about what happens later if we end up in different places,” Matt said. “But when we’re done with school, we’re hoping we’ll feel guided to the next fork in our careers.”

So for now, the self-described “grandparents” of the ED will continue to balance their work, education and free time together. They pull the night shift three days a week. In their house, there’s a designated study area just big enough for the two of them. They have five grandkids, ranging from seven months to 11 years old, who keep them on their toes. And while they show no signs of slowing down, they do know how to focus on enjoying the ride–together.

“There is nobody else on the planet I want to spend my days with,” Allison said. “We just genuinely like each other. To be able to do what we both love together is incredible. Knowing we have impacted someone’s life is huge. Our big goal is to leave Memorial a little better than we found it.”