Jody Leonard, Southern Regional Medical Center

Nurse Jody Leonard, who works in the emergency department of Southern Regional Medical Center, always had her heart set on a nursing career.

“My mom told me that as soon as I was talking, I talked about wanting to be a nurse, and I haven’t wavered from that,” she said.

Born with pulmonary atresia, a congenital heart disease, Leonard endured many major surgeries and was in and out of the hospital while growing up in Lincoln, Neb. She lives with a heart valve replacement, and her own health struggles have given her empathy for others with health needs.

Co-workers say Leonard, a nurse for 24 years, shows genuine concern for each patient, often going beyond job expectations to make interventions for their care.

RN Jody Leonard has wanted to be a nurse for as long as she can remember.
Courtesy of Crew Atlanta

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She recently helped an uninsured cancer patient find and finance specialty care, “utilizing both her nursing heart and her knowledge of the healthcare system,” former ED manager Brian Cesar said in nominating Leonard for an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Excellence in Nursing Award.

The patient came into the emergency room with an open draining wound on her breast and had been given a tentative cancer diagnosis months before at another health care facility. Leonard said the woman never followed up with a specialist because she didn’t have insurance and was worried about the cost.

“Normally, as the triage nurse, you just move on to the next patient,” Leonard said. “Something just told me I needed to get this lady some help. I sensed the despair in her eyes.”

Leonard connected the woman to the hospital’s financial counseling team and helped enroll her in a Medicaid HMO plan covering some health care costs. She also made her an appointment with a well respected breast surgeon who had grants available for the uninsured. Within four days, the patient began receiving comprehensive specialty care.

Cesar said Leonard often turns her passion for nursing and helping others into action, and her patients directly benefit from these interventions.

“Jody took it upon herself to be that patient’s advocate, and leveraged her personal and professional relationships with the other members of the care team to both obtain the required resources for the patient and to speed up the process, as she knew the patient was literally running out of time,” he said.

Leonard still keeps up with the woman and says she is undergoing treatment and doing well.

“I don’t feel like I’m a hero or should be honored in any way because of that,” she said. “I feel like that’s our job as nurses. It may be a little more complicated — you may have to think outside the box or take a few little extra steps — but that’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re there for.

“I was glad I was sitting at the desk that day. It could make the difference between life and death for her.”

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Jody Leonard, RN, Southern Regional Medical Center. 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

Clayton Fowler, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital

Danielle Giaritelli, Emory Healthcare

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