Photo of Ellen Rummel

CON alumna Dr. Ellen Rummel

Courtesy Ellen Rummel

When faced with an unthinkable tragedy, an alumna of the College of Nursing at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, a part of The University of Alabama System, chose to transform her sorrow into a way of helping make life better for children with cancer by forming Zach’s Foundation.

“Dr. Ellen Rummel exemplified the core values of the UAH nursing program of integrity, inspiration, caring, excellence and wellness while serving her older adult population in Fargo, ND.,” says Dr. Pamela O’Neal, UAH Ph.D. professor and RN at the UAH College of Nursing. “She is an inspiration to her professional colleagues, students and others by setting up a foundation in memory of her son for young children who have cancer.”

A resident of North Dakota, Dr. Rummel, was named UAH College of Nursing Graduate Overall Award for Excellence in the College of Nursing DNP program in May 2020. She says she was inspired to found the organization after experiencing the help she and her family received during a protracted illness that ended with the loss of her son.

“Zach passed away in 2015 from brain cancer,” she explains, in describing the difficult journey her family has been on. “He was nine years old. I had just graduated with my MSN, and he was there with me. Zach's Foundation was established shortly after he passed away as a way to give back to the community. After spending eight weeks at St. Jude’s Children's Hospital in Memphis for his cancer treatments, the support was unbelievable – from people we did not know, back home and throughout the U.S.”

That assistance sometimes came in the most unexpected of moments.

Dr. Rummel and presentational materials for Skin SCAN.

Dr. Rummel preparing to teach about Skin SCAN communication guide.

Courtesy Ellen Rummel

“One day we were eating at the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, where we stayed,” Dr. Rummel recalls. “A well-dressed lady I did not know came up and asked if I was the mother of a child receiving treatments at St. Jude’s. When I said yes, she handed us a $100 check. She had a stack of them, handing them out to families. I could not believe the kindness and generosity, and this was only one example during his 10-month cancer journey. That is what Zach's Foundation strives to do, create moments of kindness for pediatric cancer families. We give monetary donations, toys and gifts to families in the area.”

Zach’s Foundation is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to “helping them be a kid,” as noted on their website. All funds they receive are slated to directly impact pediatric cancer patients in the Fargo, ND, region and their families. Through this work, children receive beach tote bags filled with items, such as personalized embroidered blankets for every child in the family, gift cards, toys, individualized gifts and cash. Dr. Rummel is especially pleased to be able to help out a community that has come to be her lifelong home.

“I have lived in North Dakota my whole life,” she says. “We are from a small town of 1,000 people called Parshall, ND. My dad was a funeral director, and we lived in a funeral home. I think this is where much of the service to other's work ethic in my family has come from. We now live in West Fargo on the North Dakota/Minnesota border. We definitely have all four seasons here – summer is too quick!”

Since graduating from UAH, Dr. Rummel is currently an Assistant Professor in the RN-BS Completion Program at Minnesota State University, Mankato. She reflects on the challenges she has faced brought on by the pandemic as well.

“There are blessings and struggles like everyone else. Blessings include more time with my 19-year-old daughter, who is a sophomore in college. We are very close, and I cherish the time we have been able to spend together. Regarding work, students have been greatly impacted having to accommodate to different learning modalities, sometimes affecting the ability collaborate in person, especially early on in the pandemic. Nurses are resilient; however, students definitely need extra support during these challenging times.”

Dr. Rummel chose the UAH College of Nursing for her DNP in a very systematic way.

“I had an excel spreadsheet for DNP programs across the country and found programs that fit my background and goals. It was a process of elimination – UAH was highly rated and had what I was looking for. It was not that easy, though. I did not get accepted the first time. After persistence and working with UAH, I was accepted the second time. It made me reprioritize and really understand what the DNP entailed and UAH’s expectations – this was a pivotal experience in my educational journey.”

She also had to overcome a number of "travel challenges," as well, both when she began her studies at UAH and upon nearing graduation.

“After being accepted to the DNP program, we were expected to come to campus for orientation; I was so excited!” she says. “After landing in Huntsville, there was a winter storm. I did not think much about it coming from ND, but this was significant in the south regarding travel. I spent enough time in the airport to get a Huntsville magnet for my fridge, then flew back home to avoid being stranded. Three years later, at graduation, with my regalia ready to fly to Huntsville, the pandemic hit. I have never been to the Huntsville campus. I hope to be able to walk through graduation and visit the campus in December.”

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Dr. Rummel and colleagues provided gifts to cancer survivors from Zach’s Foundation.

Courtesy Ellen Rummel

The alumna handled all of her coursework remotely for the DNP program. “The instructors in the DNP program at UAH are amazing. They support students regardless of geographical location and have an exceptional online platform and support for distance students. I completed my DNP project across the country in West Fargo, ND, with Dr. O’Neal’s unwavering mentorship throughout the project.”

She says her focus in nursing since then has been primarily on promoting quality care for older adults as a particular passion.

“I was a clinical instructor for five years at a long-term care facility working with students for older adult clinical experience. The staff and residents at this facility were like family. The facility request was for help with pressure injuries. During the project, the Director of Nursing was my contact. I asked so many questions to try and understand. She was so patient. I was not an expert, but working through this QI process with Dr. O'Neal, UAH and the facility was invaluable – especially for the residents that reside there.”

It's easy to see that Dr. Rummel is deeply involved in serving in every way she can. Her passion for helping even led her to generate a special guide to aid in caring for the specific needs of these patients.

“Dr. Rummel created a novel pressure injury communication guide related to Skin, Clean, Activity and Nutrition to assist unlicensed assistive personnel to promote prompt upstream communication to licensed nurses,” Dr. O’Neal says. “It’s a pre/post-intervention guide designed to provide pressure injury knowledge and skills to 25 unlicensed assistive personnel (UAP). This communication guide empowered UAPs to report early skin changes to licensed nurses, resulting in aggressive implementation of protocols to prevent and treat pressure injuries. She has worked with her clinical mentor and Chair to submit this work for publication. The manuscript was published as a feature article in August 2021 in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing.”


Dr. Pamela O’Neal

Russ Nelson