Chasing a dream, pediatric nurse wows national TV audience

August 1, 2018


Michael Ketterer, a pediatric mental health nurse, has shared his considerable musical gifts with patients and co-workers at Children's Hospital of Orange County in Orange, Calif., an affiliate of Providence St. Joseph Health. Now Ketterer, 40, is sharing those gifts with fans of "America's Got Talent," which airs on Tuesday nights on NBC-TV.

Ketterer, a singer and songwriter earned a "golden buzzer," in a performance broadcast June 5. That means he advanced directly to the live competitions. Those shows begin Aug. 14. Each week, viewers will vote for their favorite performers, and at the end of the season, the top winner receives a million dollars.

Chasing A Dream
An outstanding delivery of "To Love Somebody" earned singer/songwriter and nurse Michael Ketterer a spot in the current "America's Got Talent" competition. NBC aired the episode with Ketterer's audition June 5 along with an inspiring video about how Ketterer and his wife Ivey came to adopt five boys. The family is shown here at Disneyland, with Rodee in front. In the middle row, from left to right, are Shawn, Jared and Chase. In the back row, left to right, are daughter Sofia, and Ivey and Michael Ketterer. Jeriah is perched on Ketterer's shoulders.
Photo courtesy of Michael Ketterer

Ketterer has a fan following already. "This has all been really wild, mind-blowing even, to see all the support," Ketterer said in a recent phone interview from his home in Orange County. "I've had so many amazing emails and cards and texts, and people come up to me in restaurants and at the gym — everywhere. Everyone has been very supportive."

That includes his co-workers at Children's Hospital of Orange County, where Ketterer is a charge nurse in the mental health inpatient unit, which has 18 beds. "We're all very proud of him," said a spokeswoman at the hospital.

Ketterer's performance at the audition wowed the audience and the judges; his personal story also evoked strong emotional reactions. Before he sang, Ketterer told the judges he and his wife, Ivey, have six children ages 8 to 17, five of them adopted.

From the stage, Ketterer elaborated: "You know, one of the things that happens, especially because my children came out of foster care, when you're surviving, you can't dream," he said. "And that has been one of the most rewarding things, providing them with a home and a safe environment where they are free to dream."

Chasing A Dream
Trae Patton/NBC

He added, "So I'm here because I want to show them that if their dad can live out his dreams, then nothing is impossible for them." After Ketterer's performance, the whole family joined him on stage. Simon Cowell, the judge who had pushed the buzzer that advanced Ketterer in the competition, went up to meet everyone.

A native of Eastern Tennessee, Ketterer told Catholic Health World he has been singing all his life. "My dad was a minister of music, and he had me on stage performing, harmonizing from a young age, probably from when I was about 3," he said. Ketterer worked as a musician and artist, and recorded a lot of music previously, but when the economy soured in 2008, he decided on a different path.

"A lot of my family members are nurses, and they encouraged me to try it," he said. "My first job was at the old St. Mary's Hospital in Knoxville — now it's Tennova — and I remember the nuns would pray over us and anoint our hands with healing oil. I loved that."

Ukulele therapy
Ketterer moved his family to California in 2014 and has worked at Children's Hospital of Orange County for four years. "We do music all the time on our unit," he said. "I'll pull out a ukulele as part of therapy. I've taught several kids how to play, and maybe we'll even write a song together. Learning new skills provides a distraction, something to focus on besides pain."

He knows something about pain. Seventeen years ago, Ketterer's wife and newborn daughter both were in critical condition after Ivey gave birth. Both lived, but the couple was told they should not attempt another pregnancy. The Ketterers were convinced their family was complete.

When she was 7, their daughter, Sofia, told her parents she had dreamed the family would adopt three boys. She talked up the idea of adoption for a couple of years. When the couple applied to adopt a child, right away they were asked to consider adopting three brothers, who had been removed from a home with a meth lab. They said yes. Later, they adopted a boy who had been homeless and living on the streets and then a child with medical needs. The boys are Jared, 12; Chase, 11; Rodee, 9; Jeriah, 8; and Shawn, 8.

Talent will out
Before they knew anything about Ketterer's personal life, before they knew his family's story would evoke tears from the show's judges and audience members, the America's Got Talent team knew Ketterer could sing. Last winter, Ketterer posted a video on Instagram of himself singing "Ordinary Man," one of his original songs.

"One night when I got home, still in my scrubs, I sang this song and posted it. One of AGT's scouts saw it and reached out to ask if I would audition," Ketterer recalled. "Ivey and I prayed about it, wondering if it was the right move. We had a peace about me going on AGT, because it seemed different from other programs. They focus more on the story of the individual, not just the talent."

At the audition, Ketterer sang a soulful rendition of the Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody." Ketterer said he is working with a team to get the perfect song for the live competition.

"It's all just been an incredible experience, and my wife and I have really leaned into our faith to gain peace in the midst of all the excitement," Ketterer said. "My faith is central to everything."



Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.

Copyright © 2018 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.