T.C. Heintzman headshot

T.C. Heintzman: Compassionate Caretaker, Impassioned Musician

With courage and compassion as her muse, T.C. Heintzman, a registered nurse and composer extraordinaire, joyfully hums the melody to one of her musical works in progress. Fading in and out of her North Carolina accent yet still exuding Southern charm to spare, Heintzman describes how her mother selflessly scrimped and saved to pay for her to take piano lessons at age 12.

“Mama worked her fingers numb as a seamstress,” Heintzman recalled. “Yet somehow, she still managed to find the energy to sell Avon products door-to-door, just so we would have the extra money for lessons. She had no doubts about my musical gifts then, and she has unmitigated faith in my abilities today.”

Although the young virtuoso dreamed of being a concert pianist, it was more than 30 years before her dream came to fruition. A car accident at age 16 momentarily stalled her musical course and provided a glimpse into what would be her new career path.

“Watching my friend’s mother, a registered nurse, calmly and compassionately deal with the physical and emotional aftermath of the accident was inspiring,” explained Heintzman. “The empathy, kindness and strength she displayed during this frightening moment in my life epitomized the traits I wanted to emulate.”

The youngest of three siblings, Heintzman was born in 1961 in Concord, North Carolina. She obtained her associate degree in nursing in 1994 from the Carolinas Medical Center, a two-year nursing degree program developed and implemented in conjunction with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte — the school has since been renamed the Carolinas College School of Health Sciences. Heintzman also holds a certification in hospice, infusion and wound care.

In 1996, the North Carolina native relocated to San Diego, California, with Kevin, her husband of nine years — who works as a system’s analyst as well as her business manager — and her two daughters from a previous marriage, Sarah, 17, and Hilary, 16. With mom as her consummate role model, Sarah, a high school senior, also plans to pursue a career in nursing. Heintzman describes Hilary, born prematurely at 23 weeks gestation, as the “luminous beacon” that directed her in the most definitive way toward a nursing career.

"Caring for Hilary was a life-altering experience,” revealed Heintzman. “The NICU nurses at the hospital gave me extensive instruction on how to care for Hilary’s special needs. With this training and the unstoppable love of a mother to guide me, I fought alongside my tiny baby girl to make sure she had every opportunity at life. I believe its Hilary’s indomitable spirit that helped her overcome her early struggles, and ultimately, thrive.”

In addition to caring for psychiatric, cardiac and post-surgical patients, the veteran RN has spent the bulk of her 12-year nursing career in hospice care, providing compassionate, end-of-life care to terminally ill patients. It is in the simple, yet deeply profound moments she shared with these unforgettable patients that the musical artist emerged from her extended hiatus.

Patient-inspired compositions

Moved by her patients’ capacity to find everyday inspiration and determination to face their illnesses head-on while continuing to give to others in the most selfless and humble ways, Heintzman began composing [and performing] songs for the piano/keyboard in 1997. In between working as a full-time RN, balancing marriage and motherhood and teaching a variety of clinical and coping skills courses, this do-it-all woman with the quintessential “believe-in-your-dreams” attitude has since composed more than 360 original songs.

With a big-hearted twinkle in her eye, Heintzman shared a moment that captured the motivation behind her music. Amidst the sounds of youthful laughter and exuberance infusing the summer air, she watched a group of young children quietly fill the concert seats at the San Diego County Fair in Del Mar, California. At the end of her performance, these previously mild-mannered children — who had watched the performance as attentively as if they had been watching a Disney animated feature film for the first time — stormed the concert stage to ask for Heintzman’s autograph. Clutching a ribbon she had won earlier at the fair that day, a particularly determined little girl nudged her way to the front of the bustling group of children and held her ribbon out to the pianist.

“Here, you take my ribbon, ‘cause you play so well,” said the little girl.

A mixture of astonishment, elation and pride washing over her, Heintzman reflected on the young girl’s sentiments. “It was a small token of admiration from such a tiny girl, but her precocious words reverberated so powerfully and resolutely through my heart. Experiencing firsthand how my music moves people, young and old, has been and will continue to be my greatest reward.”

How it all began

At age 12, Heintzman described playing the piano as an intimate and private experience. At 45, her music tells the uplifting tale of a nurse who has cared for the most vulnerable of patients; a daughter filled with gratitude to a mother who supported her whimsical dreams from the very beginning; a mother finding meaningful ways to connect with her adolescent daughters; and a musician who has come full circle to realize her dreams three decades later. No longer a solitary journey, she plays music for all to enjoy.

When asked what memorable life lessons she has learned from her experiences as a nurse and musician, Heintzman expounded, “Share your gifts with others and praise people for sharing theirs — whether that’s playing music at a summer concert or reading poetry by your patient’s bedside. There’s no need to compare your abilities with anyone else’s. Be true to your personal passions and find a way to shine!”

This article originally appeared on NurseZone.com. © 2006. AMN Healthcare, Inc. All Rights Reserved.