Andrew Perea, Kaiser Permanente

Andrew Perea has nursing in his blood — his mother, sister and two in-laws are nurses. Perea, a registered nurse with Kaiser Permanente in Duluth, said he “was always into medicine.”

For 17 years, however, his health care career was driven by his instinct for engineering, leading him to be a cardiac technician working with pacemakers and internal cardiac defibrillators.

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At age 50, the Albuquerque, New Mexico, native decided to go back to school so he could achieve the dream of being the newest registered nurse in the family.

“I did it all on my own, too,” said Perea, a fourth-year RN and an AJC Nurse Excellence Award honoree. Perea received his trophy during a luncheon Tuesday afternoon, after being nominated last fall. More than 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 receiving awards.d

Now a nurse with Kaiser Permanente, his job is driven by another of his interests: the human heart.

“It’s our lifeline,” Perea said. “It’s fascinating to me.”

Perea “has a spirit that cannot be taught, that cannot be learned,” said Julee A. Martin, a co-worker, preceptor and friend who nominated Perea for an award. “It is truly a passion for caring for others that comes from within.”

In her nominating letter, Martin cited a specific example of how Perea worked to help a patient achieve better outcomes.

A seemingly otherwise healthy man collapsed at his job after a life-threatening arrhythmia — a problem with the rate or rhythm of his heartbeat — that led to his heart being shocked five times.

Perea’s job was to help the man avoid another scare — or worse.

Because of COVID-19, Perea was not able to meet with the patient face to face. He made sure the two met by video chat and talked regularly on the phone for weeks as he guided both the patient and his wife through the changes necessary to alter the trajectory of his life.

After eight months of dedication and constant communication, the patient’s cardiac function went from a low of 15% to 40%, Martin said.

“Andrew was able to use his compassion and caring to help this family achieve a new level of normal that they would otherwise not have been able to enjoy,” she said. “We should all wish to be Andrew or to be cared for by someone like Andrew.”

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Perea said launching his career as an RN at the start of the pandemic was challenging.

“Who would have thought?” he asked. “Telemedicine wasn’t even part of our (nursing school) curriculum.”

Perea said many patients can feel very bad with fatigue and swelling when they are first diagnosed with heart failure, typically after experiencing shortness of breath. Most can rebound with the proper medications, he said.

He is regularly talking to patients by phone or in the office, cheering them on and giving them that human touch.

“The best part of it for me is I know I am doing what I can for each and every one of them,” he said. “Since nursing school, I’ve been inspired by a quote from Maya Angelou: ‘They may forget your name, but they never forget how you made them feel.’”

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Read more about the nurses honored at this year’s ceremony:

Shannan Browning, Piedmont Healthcare

Lauren DePietro, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital

Sarah Harper, Wellstar Cobb Hospital

Rose Horton, Emory Healthcare

Damar Lewis, Northside Hospital Duluth

Gina Papa, Clarkston Community Health Center

Deepa Patel, Wellstar Shared Services

Cherish Ramirez, Piedmont Healthcare

Julie Singleton, Northeast Georgia Health System

Denise Ray, Piedmont Healthcare: Nurse Leader Award


Age: 55

Lives in: Atlanta

Nursing experience: Has been a registered nurse for four years

Education: Graduated from Herzing University in Atlanta with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing at age 50.

Prior work experience: Spent 17 years as a cardiac technician working in electrophysiology with the pacemakers and internal cardiac defibrillators.

Family: “All my family resides back home in New Mexico, and I’m very proud to be from a family of 4 RNs, one DNP, and 3 electrical engineers.”