Clayton Fowler, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital

Canton’s Clayton Fowler was so set on being a nurse that he started building a resume as a teenager. At 15, he went to work in a family practice in hopes that would be a stepping stone to a career in nursing.

“That’s really the only thing I ever wanted to do,” said Fowler, a charge nurse in Wellstar Kennestone Hospital’s very high acuity critical care intensive care unit.

A graduate of Kennesaw State University, Fowler has been a registered nurse for 11 years and a charge nurse in the 16-bed unit for the past six years.

“He is very valuable to the nursing profession, and his expertise and leadership shine brightly,” said Marsha Kadner, Wellstar’s executive director of nursing, in nominating Fowler for an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Excellence in Nursing Award.

As a charge nurse, Fowler is responsible for the unit’s staffing, schedules, patient flow in and out of the unit, and complaint resolutions, Kadner said.

He has additional responsibilities in this unit because of its use of an intense therapy called ECMO — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — she said. An ECMO machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

“We take the sickest of the sick patients,” Fowler said. “We have people flown in from all over the Southeast.”

RN Clayton Fowler, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, works in a unit that cares for some of the hospital's most critically ill patients. Courtesy of Crew Atlanta

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In March 2020, the Marietta hospital’s ICU was converted to take care of critical COVID-19 patients, Kadner said.

Many of these patients also are on other life-saving therapies, such as continuous renal replacement or ongoing bedside dialysis for kidney failure, she said.

And despite these challenges, Fowler demonstrates pride in being a critical care nurse and leader, Kadner said.

“He maintains a ‘can do’ and ‘will make it happen’ attitude,” she said.

Fowler remembers that initially transitioning to a COVID ICU was “very scary for a lot of the nurses.”

At that time, the medical profession didn’t have that much knowledge of the virus.

“Once we got our bearing on what COVID is and how we go about treating it, it became easier,” said Fowler, the father of a newborn and 3-year-old. “But it was a very, very difficult time.”

The unit’s team did an “awesome” job, however, he said.

Fowler was touched recently to hear from a former ECMO patient whose hand he had held in the hospital. The patient reached out on Facebook and said: “Thank you for saving my life.”

Fowler said: “That really makes you smile when things like that happen.”

RN Clayton Fowler, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital. Courtesy of Crew Atlanta

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Meet the other award winners:

Vicky Hogue, Wellstar Paulding Hospital. Winner of the Nurse Leadership Award, sponsored by Mercer

Rochanda Crawford, Grady Health System

Beth Dziczkowski, Northside Hospital Cherokee

Danielle Giaritelli, Emory Healthcare

Jody Leonard, Southern Regional Medical Center

Kathleen LePain, Piedmont Healthcare Athens

Tasneem Malik, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Laura Moss, Wellstar Spalding Regional Hospital

Laurie Pazda, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital

Laura Toops, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta