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Nurse Heroes Come in Many Forms

Organizations shine the spotlight on nurses during National Nurses Week

By Heather Stringer
In January 2021, Keith Caldwell, MSN, FNP, was working at a Tennessee health clinic when he ran to the aid of an unconscious woman in the parking lot. The woman’s boyfriend was frantic because she had suffered a drug overdose.
Caldwell, who had years of emergency room experience, learned that Narcan had already been administered with no success. He started performing CPR, and after three minutes of chest compressions, her eyes began moving. She was able to answer a few questions, and emergency vehicles arrived to transport the woman to a hospital. Although Caldwell’s story made news headlines, nurses don’t necessarily need to save lives in a dramatic fashion to be recognized for their important roles in communities. In many cases, nurses are caring for patients with compassion and clinical expertise when they unknowingly become important to the people around them, said Bonnie Barnes, FAAN, co-founder and president of the DAISY Foundation, an organization created to help patients and families thank nurses who have made a difference.
The DAISY Foundation honors nurses through recognition programs that celebrate nurses for a range of accomplishments — everything from disaster support to leadership in the community. Barnes and her husband Mark established the foundation in 1999 because they were deeply impressed by the nurses who cared for their adult son Patrick, who was suffering from an autoimmune disease called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. “When our son was in the hospital for eight weeks, we were able to see the impact nurses can make,” Barnes said. “Although their clinical skills were excellent, what really got our attention was how the care was delivered. The nurses treated Patrick with such kindness and sensitivity.”
Their foundation partners with healthcare organizations to implement the DAISY Award recognition program. Each facility has the freedom to design the criteria for nomination, but criteria “fall under the big banner of compassionate care,” said Barnes. A hospital committee reviews nominations from patients, family members and colleagues, and surprise recipients on their units to present the award. Larger facilities may opt to present two or three awards per month, while smaller facilities may do fewer.
When our son was in the hospital for eight weeks, we were able to see the impact nurses can make. Although their clinical skills were excellent, what really got our attention was how the care was delivered. The nurses treated Patrick with such kindness and sensitivity.
— Bonnie Barnes, FAAN
Danielle Giaritelli, BSN, RN, recently received the award after she cared for a mother and son who were admitted to Emory University Hospital’s primary COVID ICU in Georgia. The mother required maximum life support, and then the son became one of the sickest patients on the unit. Miraculously, the son started to recover, but his mother took a turn for the worse. Giaritelli asked the son if he wanted to see his mother before she died, and she made this possible. When she wheeled him back to his room, she sat with him and they cried together. Even after the son was discharged to the subacute ICU, he called to share with Giaritelli that he had walked 100 feet during rehab that day.
Off-duty nurse heroes
Although nurses primarily use their skills while treating patients in traditional settings like hospitals or medical offices, some of their most memorable moments may occur when their expertise is needed in emergency situations outside clinical walls.
In December 2016, Nicholas and Deborah Meyers, both RNs at UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, Calif., were house hunting in a Sacramento suburb when they heard screams for help from an adjacent backyard. Nicholas jumped over the fence and found a panicked mother who had pulled her 3-year-old son out of the pool.
The boy did not have a pulse and was turning blue. Deborah, who wasn’t tall enough to jump the fence, broke through to help her husband. Nick started CPR, and about three minutes later fluid sprayed out of the toddler’s mouth and he started to cough. The boy survived. Later, the couple learned that he was not showing signs of neurological deficits.
In February 2017, an Ohio nurse became a hero when he stopped on his way to work to help a woman who had been in a serious car accident. The woman had no pulse, and Keith Ezell, who works for the VA Medical Center in Cleveland, started CPR immediately. When the paramedics arrived, Ezell stepped aside, and a few seconds later someone shouted “We got a pulse! Good job!”
Bystanders started congratulating the nurse, but Ezell didn’t have time to stay — he had to get to work.
Honoring Courage During the Pandemic
In October 2020, the American Academy of Nursing partnered with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to honor four nurses selected for COVID-19 Courage Awards. They were recognized for working to save lives, advance health equity and protect communities during the pandemic, and RWJF provided funding for the recipients to receive $8,000 for professional development. One of the recipients was Ukamaka Oruche, PhD, RN, PMHCNS-BC, FAAN, an associate professor and director of global programs at Indiana University School of Nursing.
She was selected for her innovative approach to addressing the needs of children with mental and behavioral needs. During the pandemic, Oruche developed educational materials with tips for managing these children and self-care guides for parents, nurses and underserved communities.
Ukamaka Oruche
Volunteering During Crises
The American Red Cross has a longstanding history of recognizing nurse heroes with awards such as the Florence Nightingale Medal, which was established in 1912 to honor exceptional courage and devotion to the wounded, sick or disabled or to civilian victims of a conflict or disaster. It also recognizes exemplary service or a pioneering spirit in areas of public health or nursing education.
The organization also established the Ann Magnussen Nursing Award in 1968, the highest American Red Cross nursing award. It is given to nurses who have made an outstanding contribution to strengthening or improving Red Cross programs and services. “Nurses who volunteer their time, donate blood or give financially are heroes to me,” said Linda MacIntyre, PhD, RN, chief nurse of the American Red Cross. “Heroes also include nurses who take extra steps to change policies or systems that impact many people.”
Katharine “Posie” Carpenter, RN, MSN, MPH, is the 2019 recipient of the Ann Magnussen Award, and she’ll receive her award on May 20, 2021. Carpenter, a retired health care executive, recruited many people in the community to serve the Red Cross’s humanitarian mission. Within nine months, for example, her efforts led to a 24% increase in filling key positions within the organization. She also developed an online training to help remote volunteer leaders learn how to fulfill their roles.
Katherine Carpenter
About the Author
Heather Stringer is a freelance writer.
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