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Felicia Marie Lachat, a respected surgical nurse, dies at 75

FeliciLachlongtime surgical nurse Little Company Mary Hospital taught other nurses anticipate which instruments doctors would need even before they asked

Felicia Lachat, a longtime surgical nurse at Little Company of Mary Hospital, taught other nurses to anticipate which instruments doctors would need, even before they asked for them. "She was the person you always wanted in the room,” said Dr. William Baylis, a surgeon with the Parkview Orthopaedic Group. “Her legacy is all the people she trained." | Family photo

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Updated: September 9, 2013 3:00PM



Felicia “Fish” Lachat was such a skilled teacher of operating-room nurses, there are doctors who say they can tell when they work with those she trained.

Mrs. Lachat, a longtime surgical nurse at Little Company of Mary Hospital, taught RNs to anticipate which instruments doctors would ask for even before they spoke. Her young nurses mastered lining up the physician’s tools on the tray — in the right order. Through Mrs. Lachat, they learned to guard the sterility of the operating room with strict discipline, thorough scrubbing and, when necessary, the skills of a bouncer — by keeping unnecessary people out.

“She was the person you always wanted in the room,” said Dr. William Baylis, a surgeon with the Parkview Orthopaedic Group. “Her legacy is all the people she trained are as good as her.”

After being schooled by “Fish,” Baylis said, “They’re handing you the instrument you need before you even need it.”

When he saw Mrs. Lachat on duty, “It was this ease we had: ‘Oh, we have the A Team,’ and she was the captain of the A Team,” Baylis said.

Mrs. Lachat, 75, died of a brain tumor Friday at her Chicago home.

At home, “Fish” juggled caring for five girls, her husband and a spring-loaded Dalmatian who was prone to stealing her delicious pot roast and beef stew if she didn’t keep an eye on him.

Her mother, Esther, and her dad, a butcher named Felix Pietrowicz, had a mom-and-pop corner grocery at 23rd and Sawyer. Young Felicia’s friends gave her the nickname “Fish,” a derivation of her first name. Later in life, even her grandkids called her “Fishy.”

Her paternal, Polish-speaking grandmother lived with the family, and they kept Old Country traditions. They shared oplatki — angel wafers — at Christmas. “We used to go around and everyone would take a piece of the wafer, and wish everybody the best for the coming year,” said her sister, Charlene Hummel, who was sometimes called “Little Fish.”

In 1955, she graduated from Lourdes High School. Later, Mrs. Lachat told her daughters she wanted them to do what they loved in life, because in that era, she felt her only choices were to be a secretary, a teacher or a nurse. Mrs. Lachat chose medicine.

She went to nursing school at Little Company of Mary Hospital and worked as an operating-room nurse there for more than 40 years.

She found orthopedic surgery beautiful and compelling. “You could take someone apart, put them back together again and fix them,” said her daughter Jeanmarie Lachat-Mahoney.

She had a warm smile — and a firm handshake. In the operating room, Mrs. Lachat was all business.

“She was highly respected,” said her friend Barbara Connors, a longtime nurse at Little Company. “She wasn’t one to have a lot of yuk-yuk going on.”

She met her husband, William Burke Lachat, in a church group. They wed in 1963 at St. Simon the Apostle at 51st and California, and they raised their family in the Mount Greenwood neighborhood.

To feed her five girls and husband, she made tasty, hearty meals, including barbecued ribs, beef stew, salmon casserole, pot roast and meatloaf. Her family loved her soups — chicken, oxtail and split pea.

Once, when she left a roast out to cool while the Lachats went to church, their Dalmatian, Sgt. Pepper — Sargie for short — gobbled down the whole thing. At other times, he also ingested batteries, crayons and Barbie dolls. Still, he lived to be 14. But after he died, Mrs. Lachat preferred not to get another dog.

Mrs. Lachat was a big fan of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bears. “She loved Walter Payton, because he was so Chicago,” her daughter said. She made bets on football games with her brother-in-law, John Lachat. Payoff was always the same — a bottle of Jean Nate body splash.

She loved to read, especially Janet Evanovich’s comedic crime novels. When she went on weeklong cruises to Alaska or Mexico, it wasn’t unusual for her to bring along six books. The Lachats also enjoyed trips to Hawaii and skiing in the Rockies.

Twenty years ago, the Lachats achieved their dream of owning a lake house in Grand Junction, Mich., where they fed the hummingbirds and rode around on their pontoon boat.

She loved big-band music and some jazz. “One of her all-time favorite possessions was a full record set of all of Glenn Miller,” her sister said. The Lachats also liked to play pinochle and dine at Petey’s Bungalow in Oak Lawn.

Her refrigerator was at maximum magnet capacity — plastered with pictures of her children and grandchildren.

Mrs. Lachat retired in 1997, but after getting restless, she went back to Little Company as a part-timer, and she retired for good in 2004.

In addition to her husband, William, and her sister, Charlene Hummel, Mrs. Lachat is survived by five daughters, Michele Burbatt, Suzanne Vaughan, Jeanmarie Lachat-Mahoney, Christine Nagelhout and Nicole Mendez; 15 grandchildren; brothers-in-law, Jack Hummel and John Lachat, and sister-in-law, Anna Lachat. Visitation is from 4 to 9 p.m. Sunday at Lack & Sons, 9236 S. Roberts Rd., Hickory Hills. Her funeral mass is at 10:30 a.m. Monday at St. Christina Church, 111th and Christiana.

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