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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Amber Jensen hugs dietitian Sherrie Hardy, 68, at Primary Children's Hospital in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 1, 2018. Hardy is retiring after 50 years and was the first and only dietitian when the program started.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Type 1 diabetes diagnosis can be life-changing for a patient and their family, and even more so when the disease shows up in a child, as it often does.

Patients dealing with those changes at Primary Children's Hospital have not only had technology on their side for the last 50 years, they've also had Sherrie Hardy.

"She does a lot to help patients and their families navigate this disease," Sara Browning, Primary Children's clinical nutrition manager, said Thursday. She said Hardy's "fantastic clinical knowledge paired with her tender heart makes her so good at what she does."

Friday was Hardy's last day of work, however, leaving Browning some very big shoes to fill.

"We're really going to miss her," she said.

For 50 years, Hardy has been an instrumental part of the diabetes education and nutrition programs at the Primary Children's. She's been there since its beginning.

"I found something I loved and it was very easy to stay in the same job," Hardy, 68, said. She worked at the medical center before it was the award-winning hospital it is today, when young patients occupied just a single wing of a facility in the Avenues.

Diabetic patients were once put on strict diets but now, dietitians like Hardy teach kids to enjoy what they want and use insulin to make up for it. Hardy has seen testing options go from using urine specimens to a tiny drop of blood and she's seen hundreds of meters, insulin pumps and techniques fine-tuned over the years.

"Kids have more opportunity than they ever had before," Hardy said. "I'm excited for them. They live to be healthier and live longer lives than when I started working."

Born and raised in northern Utah, Hardy said her heart is here. She worked odd jobs at the hospital throughout her schooling and pioneered the diabetic program after obtaining a degree. In addition to her usual rounds at the clinic, Hardy has volunteered to help the kids she works with at weeks of summer camps every year.

It got to be a lot and she reluctantly cut back on the camps, but always kept a full-time working schedule at the hospital — for 50 years.

Hardy plans to retire to warmer temperatures in St. George, where her home is across the street from access to hiking and biking trails and other outdoor opportunities that she loves.

"I'm looking forward to having a break," she said. "It's been wonderful and I'm glad to have done it, but 50 years is a long time."

"I'm going to sleep in — if I can," Hardy said, adding that she's pushing for a 9 a.m. wake-up call.

The influential health care worker won't sit still for long, however, as she already has plans to volunteer with organizations in southern Utah to ensure that local children aren't going hungry.

"It's an area that we as a community can do better at," Hardy said, adding that proper nutrition is "vital to their overall health and growth and overall well-being."

"It's very helpful to have a good diet and nutrition and get enough to have a good start in life," she said.

Having never married and no children of her own, Hardy keeps busy with her nieces and nephews, vying for the coveted title of "favorite aunt." She also likes to travel and spend time with family.

"Those things will continue," she said, adding that she'll miss her young patients the most, and she hopes that they all know how much she cared about them.

"If I didn't, I wouldn't be here," Hardy said.

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So while 50 years has seemed like a long time; consider she has worked about 2,600 weeks or 13,000 days in those years, and roughly 104,000 hours of her life educating and trouble-shooting medical equipment with patients and their families — not including all the volunteer efforts she made.

And every day, Hardy said, she "tried to do my best."

"I made it," she said, proud of leaving many things at Primary Children's Hospital, including many patients, better than she found them.