Sevala Habibovic was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer in 2015; she died two years later at age 46, leaving behind a husband and two daughters. Once she realized she had weeks to live, she began planning for her next chapter: her death and the full lives she hoped her daughters would live in the aftermath.
After receiving a terminal diagnosis, Habibovic asked Sanja Josipovic, her home health nurse, to attend the ceremony when her youngest daughter, Edina, then 18, graduated from nursing college. The women had become very close during the course of her care. They shared some striking similarities — born the same year, both were Bosnian refugees and moms. They formed an immediate and strong friendship during the six months of care.
“We connected immediately and became more than patient and nurse, and more like sisters,” says Josipovic, a graduate of Chamberlain’s RN to BSN Online Option. “I was there to do her IV infusions two or three times a week and so you spend a lot of time together. We both were from Bosnia, but the truth is our religious differences — she was Muslim and I am Catholic — would have separated us if we were still there. But it did not hurt our friendship at all. Edina was just 18 and starting school and her mom was worried about what would happen to her daughter after she was gone. Edina had not really decided to be a nurse yet, but her mom somehow sensed that she would and asked me to be at her graduation. I said, ‘I’m there.’”
Four years later, with arms outstretched in a hug, Josipovic made good on her long-held promise and stood in her patient’s place next to Habibovic’s daughter, Edina, at her pinning ceremony. Just 18 when her mom died, Habibovic, 22, graduated from Chamberlain University's Addison campus in November 2020.Their story was recently featured on a segment of Good Morning America.
“It was so special to me to have Sanja there at my side,” says Habibovic. “She is such a wholesome and caring person and even when my mom went on hospice, Sanja kept coming to visit to make sure our family was all okay. Over the years, she kept reaching out to me and welcomed me as part of her family.”
Though the pandemic put a hold on her official Chamberlain graduation ceremony, Habibovic’s nurse manager and the medical team at Marianjoy Rehabilitation Hospital in Wheaton, Ill., held a pinning ceremony for her on Jan. 14, 2021. Both Habibovic and Josipovic are nurses at the hospital. With photos of her mother on a table, the newly graduated Habibovic was circled by her healthcare colleagues at Marionjoy for the pinning ceremony. The tradition symbolizes the nursing pledge to be of service to humanity. With a huge hug, Josipovic presented her with her pin.
“I didn’t know I was going to be a nurse when my mom was alive, but I think seeing Sanja and how important a nurse’s care is has really inspired me,” says Habibovic. “Now, I am working with patients who cannot see their families because of the pandemic and it is so sad. In some ways, in my role, I can be a stand-in family member for them, like Sanja is to me.”
During the last four years, Josipovic has taken her promise to her patient to heart and has embraced her friend’s daughter as one of her own. A mother of three, Josipovic has been texting and inviting Habibovic over for family dinners throughout the last four years. And she has mentored her and connected her to her first job, where she also worked at the time. When she transferred to Marionjoy, she reached out immediately when there was an opening at the rehab hospital. For Josipovic, nursing is a family tradition. Her oldest daughter, Andrea, is a nurse, and her son, Ilijan, 24, is a Chamberlain nursing student.
“I felt as proud of Edina like I would be if one of my own children graduated,” says Josipovic. “I was so proud and excited.”
By Mary Beth Sammons
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