Pharmacists stepping up

Pharmacists often go above and beyond their basic responsibilities to become heroes to their coworkers, their patients and their communities.
Mark Hamstra

Many pharmacists choose their profession at least in part because it provides opportunities to help others. Sometimes, however, they rise above their day-to-day obligations and give even more of themselves to their patients, their coworkers and to others in their communities.

Some give of themselves quite literally, such as Kathleen Kirkland, a staff pharmacist at CVS in Kernersville, N.C., who donated a kidney to a patient who was in dire need of a transplant.

[Read more: How retail pharmacies go beyond the basics to impact communities]

Others step up in times of medical emergencies, such as David Kaiser, who administered CPR to a man who had passed out in his HomeTown Pharmacy parking lot in Hart, Mich., ensuring he stayed alive until paramedics arrived.


Many become heroes in times of natural disaster, such as Lee Anderson, store manager and pharmacy technician at a Walgreens in Lahaina, Hawaii, who risked her life as a massive fire was engulfing her town to ensure that her staff was safe, and Joe Shunnarah of Joe’s Pharmacy in Harvest, Ala., whose spirit of community service helped people in his area survive a destructive tornado.

[Read more: Pharmacists are front-line heroes, too]

Still others use their position and training to help others around the country and around the world, such as Jennifer Jackson, a pharmacy manager and pharmacist at a Walmart in Tyler, Tex., who also is a speaker, author and philanthropist who supports women, children and families through a range of charitable activities.

lee anderson
Lee Anderson
lee anderson
Lee Anderson

 Lee Anderson Leads Her Team Amid a Devastating Fire

When a massive fire destroyed the town of Lahaina, Hawaii, in August, Lee Anderson, a store manager and pharmacy technician at Walgreens, narrowly escaped the flames after spending the whole day making sure her coworkers were safe.

Anderson, who has worked for Walgreens for 38 years, went to the store on the day of the fire knowing that there were power outages and at least one small fire in the area, but as the day went on, conditions deteriorated. The winds became more intense, knocking down trees and power lines.

Although many people in the area were without cell phone service, Anderson’s provider remained online, which allowed her to monitor the increasingly dangerous conditions. By mid-afternoon, she had sent the crew home but stayed at the store and continued to try to reach the evening crew to alert them not to come in.

“I did not want them to get involved in trying to get through that wind and the fires that were spreading, so I was trying to call or text and do everything I could to get ahold of them, and let them know the store was closed, and don’t come to work,” said Anderson.

Patrick Tacderan, a pharmacist at the store, came by and told her she should leave, but she decided to wait until a little after 4 p.m., when the afternoon shift was scheduled to arrive, to make sure none of them showed up to work. That’s when the most harrowing part of her day began.

Attempting to drive out of town turned into a nightmare. As the fire raged ever closer, black smoke filled the air and the roads were clogged with cars full of people  the small seaside town. Seeking an escape route, she ended up in a line of traffic in a narrow alley.

“All I could see was black smoke everywhere, and I could hear explosion after explosion as the fire got closer and closer,” she said.

Three hours later, she made it home, and soon learned that everyone on her staff, and their families, were safe, although eight of the store’s workers lost their homes in the blaze.

Anderson quickly went to work in the following days helping out at the other Walgreens and at some pop-up facilities the retailer opened in partnership with other local health care providers.

“We all realized we needed to get out in the community and help,” she said. “All of the team members were anxious to get out there and help and do whatever they could.”

jennifer jackson
Jennifer Jackson
jennifer jackson
Jennifer Jackson

Jennifer Jackson Uplifts and Inspires Others

Jennifer Jackson, pharmacy manager and pharmacist at a Walmart in Tyler, Tex., decided to become a pharmacist after seeing first-hand the ability that pharmacists have to save lives.

While she was a pre-med major in college, her father became very ill with diabetic mellitus but recovered with the right medication therapy. That inspired her to switch to studying pharmacy instead, and she went on to get her Ph.D. and lead an active life of community service for women, children and families in her community and around the world.

“I hold the idea true that no one operates as an island,” said Jackson. “We all impact the next, and I have been the recipient of grace beyond measure, mercy and love. I desire to grant the same for others who need to see it actually does exist, and afford them the opportunity to live well and resiliently.”

Jackson, known as “Dr. J,” is editor In chief for The Blooming Digital Magazine SitiGirl Houston, and has co-authored more than 15 books under the She Is The Ish Brand. She recently published her first book with several other women under her Be Her Now brand. She also hosts the Be Her Now Conference in Tyler yearly on the Saturday of Mother’s Day weekend. After graduating from pharmacy school, Jackson began giving back through The Tiffany’s Breakfast Initiative, through which she gives needed supplies and funds to outstanding students she meets.

She has also served as an adjunct professor/instructor at Texas College, and continues to stay connected with the college by mentoring young women and through other activities.

Her career at Walmart actually began in 1998 when she became a stocker, who coincidentally was assigned to work in the pharmacy. The pharmacy manager remembered her and later wrote one of her recommendation letters for pharmacy school. She remained connected to Walmart throughout college, first as an intern, then as a graduate intern, and eventually as a staff pharmacist and pharmacy manager.

“Being a pharmacist at Walmart has afforded me a platform to see the concept of pharmaceutical care truly has an impact,” said Jackson.

While in pharmacy school, Jackson had envisioned pharmacy as a source of income while she pursued work in ministry.

“I didn’t know that it would be so much more than that,” she said. “Walmart has granted that I can now afford other people the same opportunity I was blessed with in pharmacy, and fulfilling my mission of seeing people well.”

“I hold the idea true that no one operates as an island. We all impact the next.”
– Jennifer Jackson, pharmacy manager/pharmacist, Walmart
david kaiser
David Kaiser
david kaiser
David Kaiser

David Kaiser Saves a Life in His Store Parking Lot

According to David Kaiser, a pharmacist at the HomeTown Pharmacy in Hart, Mich., he was just a guy in the right place at the right time when a man fell unconscious in his store parking lot. Kaiser put his CPR training to work, administering chest compressions and a few rescue breaths, in an effort to keep the man alive until paramedics arrived about five minutes later.

“I do not consider myself to be a hero,” said Kaiser. “While people bestow accolades on me, it’s nice, and it’s appreciated, but at the end of the day, it’s the paramedics that deserve those accolades.”

It was the second time that Kaiser, a former hospital pharmacy director, used his CPR training. The first time was a few years prior when he found his wife’s sister unconscious, and successfully resuscitated her using the CPR training required of most pharmacists.

The patient who passed out at the store last October—who had apparently just used a breath inhaler for his asthma, fell unconscious and hit his head—recovered quickly, although Kaiser did not learn of the outcome until later that evening.

Kaiser said that in the hours after the incident, he was filled with doubts about whether he had done the right things to save the man’s life.

“When I ended up leaving that night, I honestly thought the guy was dead,” said Kaiser. “I was second guessing myself – what could I have done differently, and where did I go wrong?”

He said the man’s face was turning purple when Kaiser arrived in the parking lot. He cleared the crowd that had gathered and directed a pharmacy technician to call the paramedics. Kaiser began administering CPR, and the man drifted in and out of consciousness, his pulse fluttering.

When the paramedics arrived, the man, who Kaiser estimated to be in his late 40s, was still drifting in and out of consciousness, and Kaiser assumed he was not going to survive.

“I honestly thought I had just given CPR to a corpse,” he said.

Kaiser said his CPR training, which he has kept current through online courses, kicked in when he needed it.

“When something like that happens, you fall back on your training, become dispassionate about it, and just focus on what you have to do,” he said. “At the time it was just a lot of adrenaline.”

He and the other two pharmacists at the HomeTown Pharmacy in Hart—part of a small network of independently owned and operated pharmacies—keep current on their CPR training. 

“With CPR, one thing we have learned is that we need to be in action, rather than be frozen by inaction,” said Kaiser. “The most important thing is to have someone there who can begin rescue efforts until paramedics get to the scene.”

Kathleen Kirkland
Kathleen Kirkland

Kathleen Kirkland Donates a Kidney to Save a Patient

Pharmacists have often been known to go out of their way to help their customers, but it’s safe to say that few have gone as far as Kathleen Kirkland, a pharmacist at a CVS in Kernersville, N.C.

When one of her regular patients, Donnie Pickeral, told her he was on the waiting list to receive a kidney transplant, she didn’t hesitate.

“He’d always been so sweet, and I had known he had kidney disease, and so we'd talk about different medicines, because he was always concerned about his blood pressure and how it was affecting his kidneys,” said Kirkland.

Eventually Pickeral, who had suffered with kidney disease most of his adult life, told her he did not have much kidney function left, and was approved to receive a transplant. After a brief conversation about the requirements of being a donor—such as not having hypertension issues or a family history of diabetes—Kirkland said she’d get tested to see if they were a match.

Pickeral, a pastor at a local church, had planned to ask his congregation if anyone could donate a kidney, but Kirkland did in fact turn out to be a suitable donor, and in May of 2020, doctors removed one of her kidneys and transplanted it into Pickeral.

“I’m just the kind of person who tries to help other people if I can,” said Kirkland. “So I felt like it was meant to be. If I was a match for him, then that was like God telling me that this is what I should do.”

Although Kirkland said she had no reservations at all about donating one of her kidneys, she did have to convince her husband. Among his concerns was that one of their four daughters might someday need a kidney, but she convinced him that other family members could be viable donors.

Pickeral and Kirkland are since doing fine, and the two stay in frequent contact, referring to his new kidney as “our kidney.”

Although she had only known Pickeral as a patient in her pharmacy, which is located in a Target store, Kirkland said she felt he was the kind of person who would make the most of the opportunity to live a healthy life.

“I knew he wanted to be healthy and take good care of himself, so I knew that he would take care of our kidney, and it would not be a waste,” Kirkland said. “I felt like he was truly deserving of another chance at life.”

“I’m just the kind of person that tries to help other people if I can.”
– Kathleen Kirkland, staff pharmacist, CVS
Shunnarah’s actions during and after the storm, as well as his ongoing support for his community, helped him earn the Community Leadership Award from Cardinal Health.
Shunnarah’s actions during and after the storm, as well as his ongoing support for his community, helped him earn the Community Leadership Award from Cardinal Health.

Joe Shunnarah Provides Shelter and More in a Storm

Joe Shunnarah, owner of Joe’s Pharmacy in Harvest, Ala., has a knack for prevailing in extremely challenging circumstances.

He’s not only a two-time cancer survivor, but he also leveraged his survival skills to shelter several members of his community in his store during when they were trapped by a tornado. And when rescue workers showed up, unable to get to their station for supplies, he walked up and down the aisles with them to provide everything they needed, from bandages to slings and crutches.

“Don't ask me why, but when I built the store, I built a huge natural gas generator into the foundation,” said Shunnarah. “So we had lights, all the major appliances we needed, all the computers, the doors, everything.”

As severe weather engulfed the area in June 2021, a tornado formed, one of several deadly twisters that plagued the Southeast that year. More lives might have been lost if Shunnarah had not welcomed stranded passers-by into his store.

“It was just too dangerous for them to take their families down the road,” he said. “There were trees down, electrical wiring down, and you couldn’t see anything when you were driving down the road.”

He ended up with about 20 people, including his wife and two young children, along with some dogs and cats, huddled in his office as the twister ripped down the street, directly across from the store.

When the EMTs arrived, Shunnarah said he helped them find everything they needed, including first aid supplies, bottled water and other items. Although he did not ask for payment, he said the community and the volunteer EMTs raised money to repay him, and he received a check a few months later.

The power in the area remained out for several days after the storm, but Joe’s Pharmacy stayed open and helped people fill their prescriptions.

“The only thing I couldn't do was bill insurance,” said Shunnarah, who has had his own pharmacy for about 15 years, and was a pharmacist with Eckerd and then Rite Aid for about 15 years before that. “People would just bring in the filthy bottles from their homes that were destroyed, so I started collecting receipts and rebilled them after the power came back on. Would you believe every one of them came back and paid their copay except one woman who was from out of town? To be honest with you, with all the things going on in her life, that was one thing I wasn't worried about.”

Shunnarah’s actions during and after the storm, as well as his ongoing support for his community, helped him earn the Community Leadership Award from Cardinal Health. Among his other community activities, Shunnarah supports local schools and youth sports in the area with donations and fundraisers.

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