Nurses go above and beyond

Brittany Hall (from left), Holly Law and Courtney Fizer.

Credit: Courtesy

Credit: Courtesy

Brittany Hall (from left), Holly Law and Courtney Fizer.

COVID-19 unquestionably put the giving spirit of nurses to the test, and yet many of them keep going above and beyond.

They are doing the extraordinary for their patients – everything from giving gifts to those hospitalized during the holidays to easing a dying woman’s worries about her pet.

Their acts of kindness, compassion and selflessness are inspiring. And sharing some of their stories is a perfect way to celebrate May as National Nurses Month.

Rita Ford, RN, Northside Hospital Gwinnett. Photo by CrewAtlanta

Credit: spe

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Credit: spe

Gift of time given to elderly patients

Spending time with patients who need a listening ear is something Rita Ford gladly manages to fit into her busy schedule at Northside Hospital Gwinnett. She gives special attention to her older patients or those who don’t have many visitors.

“I feel this passion in me to take care of the elderly, especially those who are vulnerable,” she said.

The 38-year-old has been a nurse for eight years, the past three at the Gwinnett Hospital. On her unit, it’s not unusual to have many older patients, and to get to know them can make a difference in their care, Ford said.

One older female patient wanted to tell Ford about her family and where she went to school. The nurse sensed that she had short-term memory loss but patiently listened to her stories, day after day.

“She tells me the same story every time I come in, but I make it look like I had never heard that story before,” Ford said. “She needed someone to listen, not just come in and go out.”

The lady’s family was appreciative because it gave them time away to navigate her care, and they could see their mother’s delight.

“Rita was so considerate of our mother, making her comfortable with her joy and laughter,” the family wrote of Ford.

The nurse also advocated for the patient and helped to create a health plan to suit her needs best.

“I’ve discovered that each time I have these elderly patients, I have a bond with them. I don’t know if that’s my calling or what,” Ford said. “They touch my heart so much. I feel like nobody else will take care of them like I can.”

Nurse Holly Law began giving out gifts to patients in 2017, deciding it made working on Christmas Day more meaningful to patients and staff. Courtesy of Holly Law

Credit: Photograph courtesy of Nurse Holly Law

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Credit: Photograph courtesy of Nurse Holly Law

Spreading Christmas joy to patients

There’s not much to ho-ho-ho about when you’re in the hospital at Christmas unless nurse Holly Law is around.

Since Law started working in the cardiac care unit at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital in 2017, she’s been doing her part to lift the spirits of both staff and patients with a little gift-giving.

“My very first year, my very first holiday to work was Christmas Day, and, of course, nobody really wants to work then,” she said. “But I was trying to keep a positive attitude. I wanted to make this day meaningful and fun and not focus on the negative part of having to work on a holiday.”

She bought “some really cute blankets” at the store and gave them as Christmas presents to a few of her patients.

“They were crying. It meant so much to them,” Law said. “They just blew me away, and I said, ‘Wow, we have to do this again next year.’”

And so they did. The staff in the hospital’s cardiac unit dressed for the holiday and pulled a wagon around full of blankets for all their patients.

The tradition that she started has grown and is now carried out hospital-wide. Outside donors collect enough blankets so the staff can give one to every patient each Christmas Day.

On the cardiac unit, Law and her colleagues still do something strictly for their patients. Last Christmas, they gave each patient a Christmas ornament, some sugar-free candy, and a card with a poem Law wrote.

“I was just hoping to make them smile,” she said.

Courtney Fizer and Bonnie the boxer. Courtesy of Courtney Fizer

Credit: Courtesy of Courtney Fizer

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Credit: Courtesy of Courtney Fizer

Nurse opens heart to patient, pooch

If every dog has its day, then Bonnie the Boxer’s was last fall at Piedmont Fayette Hospital.

That’s when the 8-year-old trusted therapy dog accompanied her ailing owner to the hospital and met nurse Courtney Fizer.

Bonnie was sticking close to her owner, a woman in her late 50s, even sharing her hospital bed.

That would have been fine, only the woman wasn’t able to take Bonnie for the dog’s obligatory walks. And she had no family or friends to help.

That’s when Fizer stepped in.

“It’s just an ounce of compassion,” Fitz recalled saying when she was spotted trying to slip unnoticed by the nurse’s station to walk Bonnie. “It’s not the patient’s fault that she’s deteriorating and that they are in that situation. And it’s not the dog’s fault.”

Fizer offered to foster Bonnie until the patient improved. In the weeks that followed, Fizer would bring Bonnie back to the hospital to visit the patient.

When the woman deteriorated and then died, Bonnie officially became a member of the Fizer family.

Fizer said she didn’t think what she did was a big deal until she heard from colleagues.

“Nurses have to take that holistic approach and care for the whole person,” said Fizer, a registered nurse in the hospital’s Dedicated Education Unit.

The patient “had a need, and I could fulfill it. I was able to help her in that time of need.”

Mark Lee, Emory University Hospital

Credit: Special to the AJC

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Credit: Special to the AJC

Nurse hits a high note making patient’s concert dream come true

Nurse Mark Lee didn’t miss a beat last fall when one of his cancer patients wanted out of Emory University Hospital to attend a Billy Joel concert.

It probably wasn’t what Lee was expecting when he asked his patient about his goal for the day.

But the patient, who was hospitalized with metastatic cancer, said he needed to go home.

“I have tickets to see Billy Joel with my family tomorrow,” the patient was quoted as saying.

Lee made no promises but started working to remove barriers to the man’s discharge.

He spoke to the patient’s doctor, who agreed to allow the patient to wait for some biopsy test results at home, with some conditions. He needed to complete an imaging study, secure the medical equipment he would need at home, and demonstrate that he could handle some daily living activities without help.

Lee “emphasized to care team members how meaningful it would be for the patient to be able to go home that day,” said Betsy Augusthy, the director of the patient’s unit.

“The patient could not stop beaming,” Augusthy said. “He was going to the Billy Joel concert with his wife, his ‘Uptown Girl’,” she said, referencing one of Joel’s numerous hits.

Kristina Schulze

Credit: Special to the AJC

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Credit: Special to the AJC

Nurse willing to give of herself for ‘angel’ patient

Nurse Karen Kristina Schulze was willing to give a part of herself – literally – to one of her patients.

Schulze still remembers the patient she offered up one of her kidneys to a patient.

“She was like an angel on earth. She was just so sweet,” said the 13-year nursing veteran, who has worked for 11 years at Wellstar Kennestone.

The patient was in her 30s with two children. Lupus had attacked her kidneys. She was on dialysis and had been hospitalized for about two months.

“I kind of got attached to her,” Schulze said. “I told her since I didn’t have any kids I would give her my kidney. I felt like she deserved to live.”

The two had compatible blood types. But Schulze was ruled out as a potential donor because she’d had a kidney stone.

“I felt like it might be a way to contribute to society,” she said. “Also, I am a Christian and just thought it was the right thing to do.”

That was about four years ago. The patient eventually received a kidney transplant and is doing well, said Schulze, a charge nurse in the hospital’s med/surgical unit. The two keep up on Facebook.

Lelia (Gabby) McDaniel, Wellstar system cath lab float nurse.

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Credit: spe

Cardiac nurse ‘finds calm in the storm’

Gabby McDaniel has a natural affinity for cardiac health care and wants to teach other nurses interested in the specialty. Those attributes were helpful during an emergency that called for a calm, decisive leader.

McDaniel had only been on the job a month as a floating nurse for cardiac cath labs at Wellstar hospitals when she pulled her team through a tense situation. A Wellstar North Fulton Hospital patient was in cardiac failure and needed an assistive device to help the heart pump.

There were many problems, and the others on the team had little experience inserting the Impella device. Still, McDaniel was able to help the other nurses stabilize the patient to be transported to Wellstar Kennestone Hospital for more care.

“I just told them, don’t worry. We’re going to get through this,” said McDaniel, a nurse for nine years.

Being in the cath lab, where procedures revolve around the heart, is where McDaniel has always wanted to work. When she was in high school, her grandfather suffered a stroke, and she helped her grandmother care for him.

“That just fueled the fire. I was so thankful for the education those nurses gave us. I wanted to be able to return the favor,” she said.

Working with heart procedures can be high-stress, but “you find your calm in the storm,” she said.

Brittany Hall, a charge nurse and unit educator at the LifeLink Organ Recovery Center at Piedmont Hospital. Courtesy of Brittany Hall

Credit: Courtesy of Brittany Hall

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Credit: Courtesy of Brittany Hall

Nurse created sculpture to memorialize organ donor

Nursing is much more than bedside care to Brittany Hall of Piedmont Hospital.

Hall is a charge nurse and unit educator for the LifeLink Organ Recovery Center at Piedmont, caring for organ donors prior to their donation surgery.

Sometimes families ask if there is a way to honor their loved one’s memory. So the care team created several projects, such as heartbeat recordings in stuffed animals and thumbprint artwork.

Recently, Hall was inspired to use her artistic talent to memorialize the final moments between one mother and her son, an organ donor. She made a sculpture of their interlocked hands as a gift for the family.

Creating the sculpture was a team effort, said Hall.

“We got together as a group and thought, what better way to do this than to create a plaster of their hands interlocked to really show that lasting bond between a mother and a child,” she said.

Hall was inspired to use her artistic talent to create this interlocking hands sculpture to memorialize the final moments between one mother and her son, an organ donor.

Credit: spe

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Credit: spe

Once finished, Hall drove it to the mother’s home so she wouldn’t have to return to the hospital.

“I absolutely love working here,” Hall said. “It is difficult. Patients have very sad stories, but I try to look at the positive side. We’re honoring this gift that this person is giving and knowing the work we’re doing will save lives in the long term.”

Hall, a nurse for five years, has been at the OCR since it opened two years ago. Before that, she worked in Piedmont’s medical-surgical intensive care unit, often caring for post-transplant patients.

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