Laura Toops, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

Laura Toops has one big regret: She didn’t become a nurse earlier. Toops was in her early 30s and raising two children when she began her career.

She said she wishes she could have 10 more years to give to nursing — she loves it so much.

“It is truly my passion,” said Toops, a registered nurse in the cardiac intensive care unit at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston and a 2021 Atlanta Journal-Constitution Excellence in Nursing Award winner. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, by a single mom, Toops always felt a calling to nursing. Her mother had been a nursing assistant, but money was tight and higher education wasn’t a priority in her family.

After moving to Atlanta, Toops spent 10 years working as a medical assistant in Roswell. Then one day, a registered nurse in the office spurred Toops into action, telling her: “You are too smart to be doing this. You need to go back to school.”

Toops enrolled at Kennesaw State University and put herself through college and nursing school, becoming the first person in her family to graduate from college.

“That was a really big deal for me,” she said.

RN Laura Toops was in her early 30s with two children when she started her nursing career. After working 10 years as a medical assistant, Toops put herself through college and nursing school at Kennesaw State University. Courtesy of Crew Atlanta

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In nursing school, with two children at home, Toops initially balked at a career in pediatrics. But she said she did a 180 after doing her clinicals at Camp Braveheart, which Children’s hosts for its young heart patients.

After graduating nursing school, she persistently lobbied the director of Children’s cardiac intensive care unit until she was hired in 2015.

Last year, Toops was on duty the day baby Josephine “Josie” Znoj came to Children’s. Josie was diagnosed before birth with the rare condition trisomy 18, and lived only four months, the last 1 1/2 at Children’s.

Colleen Znoj, Josie’s mother, said Toops “went above and beyond for our family, undoubtedly inspiring other nurses and helping us keep positive during the darkest days.”

Josie was dealing with multiple complications associated with her congenital disability, and “Laura — calmly, professionally and with careful precision — got everything that Josephine needed,” her mother said.

After Toops moved to another nursing assignment, she would stop before her shift, talk to Josie’s family members, and make sure they had what they needed. She also performed many acts of kindness for them, including bringing a gift to Colleen Znoj at the hospital for her 40th birthday.

Znoj said Toops also went to bat for the family with the hospital board after COVID-19 restrictions limited Josie’s visitors to two caregivers. Thanks to Toops, the board allowed Josie’s grandmother to visit for a week. This allowed Josie’s parents to go home to see their other four children and allowed her dad, who is self-employed, to go to work.

Toops said she and the family connected over Josie, who was “the sweetest.” She said she and Josie’s mother also bonded “over the chaos that was going on in the world” and how much each woman was missing her children at home.

“It was a very emotional time,” Toops said.

She said she copes with the heartache of losing a patient such as Josie by going home and loving her own children.

It also helps to know that Children’s has some of the most resilient children and families, she said.

“Every child we can get home is a triumph,” Toops said. “It’s really all about just doing all we can do for these kids who would have no other chance otherwise.”

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RN Laura Toops, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. 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

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