The DAISY Foundation honors nurses for their extraordinary work

Nurses often encounter patients and families at their darkest moments. That was certainly the case for the Barnes family, whose son, Patrick, passed away in 1999 at the age of 33 from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), an autoimmune disease.

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Patrick's father, Mark, and stepmother, Bonnie, were able to spend his eight weeks of hospitalization with him and his wife, Tena, since they were retired at the time.

Although the Barnes family expected Patrick to receive a high level of clinical care, they were particularly impressed by the nurses' compassion. They turned their grief and appreciation for Patrick's nurses into a mission of love that continues to honor them both - the DAISY Foundation, which recognizes nurses who provide extraordinarily compassionate and skillful care.

"Even when he was completely sedated, they touched him and spoke to him," Bonnie said. "We were blown away by the care he received in the hospital. We kept talking about how wonderful his nurses were with their compassion and sensitivity to Patrick and everyone in the family," she added. "We were pretty sure that this wasn't unique to these nurses."

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From left to right, The DAISY Foundation founders Mark Barnes, Tena Barnes Carraher and Bonnie Barnes
Photo: Courtesy of The DAISY Foundation/For the AJC

Just a few days after Patrick passed away, the family began to talk about how to help fill the hole in their lives. Bonnie and Mark put their retirement on hold and, along with Tena (now Tena Barnes Carraher), started the DAISY Foundation to keep Patrick's spirit alive and to thank nurses. The name DAISY, which stands for diseases attacking the immune system, was Tena's idea.

Anyone who experiences or observes extraordinary skill and compassion on the part of a nurse can nominate him or her for a DAISY Foundation award. This includes co-workers, patients, families and doctors. Winners receive recognition that includes a certificate, pin, and a unique hand-carved stone sculpture, "A Healer's Touch."

While the original goal was to celebrate nurses from 10 hospitals, the program has grown far beyond what they could possibly have imagined. After nearly 20 years, the DAISY Foundation has relationships with about 3,650 health care facilities and schools of nursing. The organization operates in every state as well as in 21 other countries and has honored about 120,000 nurses.

And with their retirement now nowhere in sight, Bonnie and Mark serve as full-time volunteers with the DAISY Foundation's staff. Tena serves as the non-profit's co-founder and vice president.

"It's a real labor of love," Bonnie said.

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The following are a few of the DAISY award recipients from the Atlanta area:

Sarah Juhasz - PICU nurse at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta: Scottish Rite, Egleston and Hughes Spaulding, Atlanta

Juhasz had a young patient who was struggling with hair loss during chemotherapy, so she let the patient give her a Rod Stewart-style haircut. She then shaved her head bald, telling her patient that they would grow their hair back together. As a result, her patient took off the hat she'd been wearing since her treatment began.

Andrew Johnson - Medical intensive care unit nurse, Grady Health System, Grady Memorial Hospital

A patient's sister credits Johnson with saving her sister's life. When the patient's breathing started to decline rapidly, he jumped into action to increase her oxygen, get assistance from the respiratory therapist, contact the doctors, place the respiratory mask on his patient and manually help her breathe. "It is my belief that without his actions, my sister would not be here today. His dedication is truly unwavering," the patient's sister wrote in Johnson's nomination. "Nurses are truly unsung heroes who should be recognized if they are anything like our Nurse Hero Andrew Johnson."

Cheryl Kuhn - Pediatrics nurse, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta

A parent recommended Kuhn for this award, describing her as "kind, caring, compassionate and so very understanding." She switched shifts with another nurse so she could be with the family as they removed their daughter's life support and she shared with them that she had also had to make the decision to discontinue life support for her own disabled son years earlier. "She is truly a blessing to not only me and my family but also to CHOA," the parent wrote in Kuhn's nomination.

Alex Langley - Surgical ICU charge nurse, Atlanta VA Medical Center, Decatur

Langley cared for a patient who had two surgeries on one day, and the patient's wife described him as "extremely helpful, competent and proactive in the care of my husband." He took care of the family's needs, from offering to assist the patient in walking on a day when there was no physical therapy to moving him to a new unit. Langley was also described as "a role model of a compassionate, caring nurse that makes sure things get done for the patient."

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