17 May 2024

40 years on the front line: How this Canberra mum helped others become one

| Jacqueline Lyons
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Young nurse holds her diploma of nursing

In 1989, Helen Perkins graduated from the Mercy Private Hospital school of nursing and has stuck with the profession ever since. Photo: Mercy Private Hospital Melbourne.

What do you want to do after school? It’s a question many teenagers don’t have the answer to, but for Helen Perkins it was the easiest question in the world.

“I’m going to be a nurse.” And that’s what she did – for 40 years, going on to deliver countless babies at Canberra Hospital.

After finishing her schooling at Merici College at 17, Helen was desperate to start the career that would define her.

Despite being knocked back to train as a nurse in Canberra in 1983, she was determined to follow her chosen career, opting for a position at Mercy Private Hospital in Melbourne.

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For the next four years, Helen lived in a small room at the hospital which she furnished with all the home comforts including a carpet square, television, and the most necessary of electrical appliances at the time, a VHS video recorder.

Helen took pride in the way her room was presented.

“I wouldn’t leave to go to my training until my bed was perfectly made and there wasn’t anything on the floor,” Helen recalls.

Married couple join together

Husband Michael has supported Helen throughout her nursing career. Photos: Jacqui Lyons.

Helen’s training meant learning every aspect of nursing, which included gaining valuable experience in the various wards of the hospital.

During this time, Helen also met the man who eventually became her husband, a young policeman Michael Lyons.

Helen and Michael spent some time dating while living in Melbourne but, for Helen, the pull of Canberra was too strong. In 1989, she returned home to her family and friends where she was offered a job at the Canberra Hospital, and Michael followed a few years later.

After working as a nurse for a few years, Helen found her niche and trained to be a midwife. Midwifery quickly became her passion and she spent the following 32 years caring for mothers and their babies on the antenatal ward.

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In 1992 the young couple were married and two years later they started their family with the birth of their first daughter, Rebekah.

As she entered the world of motherhood, Helen cut back her hours spent at the hospital to ensure that Rebekah was cared for.

Three years later she gave birth to daughter number two, Jacqueline, and three years after that, to their third and final daughter, Caitlin.

For all of their primary school days, Helen continued to work part-time at the hospital while spending many hours working in the school library and canteen.

During her time on the antenatal ward at the Canberra Hospital, Helen worked on several projects to improve the care of women, and efficiency on the ward, and even presented one of her projects at a conference in Switzerland. Then COVID-19 intervened.

It was at this time that Helen had the chance to act as the acting director of nursing (ADON) in maternity as well as the manager of the antenatal ward. That same year, Helen was nominated for the Canberra Midwife of the Year award. While she didn’t win, it was recognition by her peers for her years of selfless dedication.

Five women stand together

Helen (left) met her best friend Julie Nugent through her time nursing in Canberra. Julie has since become an ‘unofficial sister’ to Rebekah, Jacqueline and Caitlin. Photo: Michael Lyons.

This month, after 40 years of nursing and 32 of caring for countless women, babies, and their significant others, while at the same time mentoring and supporting young nurses, and helping her husband raise their children, Helen retired to enjoy some family time.

Since she announced her retirement, her former colleagues and mentees have expressed their gratitude to a woman who knew what she wanted to be since before she could drive.

“In the past year I was so lucky to work under Helen, such a great leader and a very well-deserved retirement,” one former colleague wrote.

“Well done, congratulations on all your hard work and here’s to enjoyable times,” echoed another.

“I don’t believe nursing/midwifery will ever know another with your level of compassion, empathy, prowess and unfailing commitment,” her best friend of 27 years Julie Nugent said.

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marilyn wallace7:06 pm 20 May 24

Congratulations Helen. I remember you as a new graduate on Ward 6CD. Always a great nurse. We can still laugh about the Hyatt. Time now for you to enjoy your retirement.
Best wishes always,
Marilyn Wallace

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