Elizabeth Oliveira, Wellstar Kennestone

Trauma nurse shows extraordinary empathy for patients and their families

As a trauma nurse at Wellstar Kennestone Hospital, Elizabeth Oliveira confronts the grimmest scenarios daily, but she never overlooks their effect on patients’ families.

Last year, for example, a teen who had been in a traffic accident was pronounced brain-dead but was on life support. Knowing his family and friends would never hear his heartbeat again, Oliveira helped them record it on their cellphones. She even preserved the paper with his heart rhythm, placing it in a bottle as a keepsake for the family.

Marsha Kadner, a fellow nurse at Kennestone, praised Oliveira’s extraordinary empathy, calling her actions “a great gesture” that transcended typical nursing care and demonstrated her commitment and compassion for her patients’ families.

That’s why Oliveira was presented with an AJC Nurse Excellence Award on Tuesday afternoon, after being nominated last fall. About 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 being honored.

“This nurse, as well as many others, care for more than the patient,” said Kadner, who nominated Oliveira for the award. “They see the entire situation and provide needed resources and compassion to family and loved ones.”

Working with organ donations helped Oliveira develop an appreciation for what it means to families to save a little bit of their loved one, she said, and she encourages nurses to go out of their way for grieving families.

That’s why she stocks Wellstone’s trauma unit with small glass bottles to create a “heartbeat in a bottle” for a patients’ surviving friends and family.

“Sometimes it seems a little silly,” she said. “But I like to think going forward they will appreciate having a piece of them.”

Oliveira decided at a young age her career would be science-related but also allow her to be involved with people. She said a high school health care science class solidified her interest in a nursing career.

After earning her associate degree in nursing from Chattahoochee Tech, Oliveira worked in critical care at Kennestone for a couple of years before deciding she needed a change of pace. She worked in organ donation and procurement for about a year at Piedmont Hospital before returning to Wellstar Kennestone and the trauma/ICU in her current job as a charge nurse. She went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Columbus State University.

Having a work schedule of three days on and four days off gives her time for what she said she enjoys most: long walks, reading, and fun with husband of six years and their cat.

“Not every day I work is a great day,” she said. “We experience a lot of death and hardships. But I think it is important to bring a little bit of light to people on what’s the worst day of their lives.”

Oliveira said she enjoys meeting patients “where they are at,” but nursing has her heart.

Read about the other winners