The heart and soul of SARS has left us

In 1979, two years after I started the Sexual Assault Resource Service (SARS) in Minneapolis and what was to become the SANE-SART model, an unassuming but extremely qualified woman walked into my office to apply for the grant manager/office manager position. Little did Susan Valentine know what she was getting into — and little did I know how lucky I was to find a colleague with such wisdom and judgment.

Back then the whole system, except for a few wise souls, was against the idea of having nurses work as independently as we were suggesting to provide services to sexual assault victims. Even the local advocate programs were skeptical and feared that with trained sympathetic nurses their role would be in jeopardy.

Being highly aware of the need, ED physicians were first to support the SANE role. Others were harder to win over. I even kept an “attack file” in my office with all the attempts by individuals to stop the change we were trying to make. It grew over the years. 

For me, it was essential for Susan to believe in what we were doing. And probably even more important to be able to put out the many fires I often unknowingly ignited in my impertinence and impatience to make a change. She seemed to somehow always know the right thing to say and remained calm even during the most difficult times. 

When the first SARS grant from the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH) ran out in1980, Susan came to the SARS office (which the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation was kind to allow us to continue to use rent-free) every day for six months to type the grant applications (yes, that was really before computers) I was writing and submitting to local nonprofits and national funders.

Finally, after 40 rejections Hennepin County decided SARS was too important to lose and it became a program of the Hennepin County Medical Center where it remains today.

That was just one of many challenges we overcame as a team. Without Susan by my side every step of the way on this journey I would likely have given up years ago. It certainly would not have been as much fun. We had many dedicated nurses as a part of our team over the years as well. I’ve learned that while nurses, in general, are a special breed, nurses that want to become SANEs —and do the work we do— are some of the most incredible people I could hope to meet.

Susan left us peacefully October 24, 2017. As I say goodbye to Susan, I am so grateful for her wisdom, support, and friendship over the last 38 years! I wish all of you the good fortune to have a Susan in your life. Please take every opportunity to let them know how important they are to you and to the work we still need to accomplish. 

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