Laurie Pazda, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital

Laurie Pazda is the epitome of the highly skilled, talented and caring nurses that have been on the front lines during the pandemic, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital co-worker Cherie Baxter said.

“I’m surrounded by nurses who I consider to have all of those qualities, but Laurie continuously embraces the art of nursing,” Baxter said in nominating Pazda for an Atlanta Journal-Constitution Excellence in Nursing Award.

Pazda has sat praying at the bedside of a COVID-19 patient, holding her hand so she wouldn’t be alone as she drew her last breath. She has been a bridge between patients and families through the many months in which no visitors were allowed. And she has interceded for patients whose one wish was to spend their final days at home with family, Baxter said.

“She embraces these families and their struggles and works tirelessly to be an advocate to get them through some of the worst moments of their lives,” she said.

Pazda works in the cardiac intensive care unit at Kennestone Hospital, where three negative pressure rooms have been designated for COVID-19 patients who are intubated and/or on a BiPAP.

“This year was much crazier than the normal” becaue of COVID-19, Pazda said. “But we’ve all worked through it, and we’ve got a great unit. I’ve been (at Kennestone) 24 years, and I now know the reason why.”

RN Laurie Pazda, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, works in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit. Courtesy of Crew Atlanta

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Many patients have been coming to doctors’ offices and hospitals much sicker than normal because they feared coming down with COVID-19. Compounding the anxiety was the fact that hospital patients couldn’t have visitors, even family members, Pazda said.

“Prior to COVID, we pretty much had visiting hours 24/7,” she said. “So going from one extreme to the other was very, very hard.”

The hospital was “very supportive” when nurses would plead the case for exceptions to the no-visitors rule, Pazda said.

A native of Chicago, Pazda has been a nurse for 37 years, always specializing in critical care. Her mother and oldest daughter both chose the same career path.

She received her nursing diploma from Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, Ill., and her Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital in Chicago.

Pazda started her career in Chicago in 1984 and joined Wellstar after her family moved to Atlanta in 1996. She is married and has three children, ages 27, 26 and 24.

Pazda said she’s motivated by the important things, such as seeing a smile on a patient’s face or hearing a grateful “thank you.”

“It’s been an experience,” she said. “But I believe God’s in control of everything, and that is what keeps me going. For me, just being able to do what we’re supposed to be doing here on this earth, and then get a paycheck for it, is a bonus.”

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RN Laurie Pazda, 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

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

Laura Toops, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta