Lauren DePietro, Wellstar Kennestone Hospital

Despite the difficulties COVID regulations added to her job, critical care nurse Lauren DePietro “persevered and continued to focus on the health and well-being of her patients,” nurse Cherie Baxter, assistant manager in critical care, wrote in nominating DePietro for an AJC Nurse Excellence Award.

Restrictions on — and sometimes elimination of — family visits made caring for long-term patients more difficult at Wellstar, but DePietro took extraordinary steps with a patient who had been there for months. Spending time talking with and getting to know this patient enabled DePietro to notice a change in demeanor, which she feared could be depression.

The patient “went a long time without seeing her husband and her children,” DePietro said. “I could see her getting real down. It’s hard for someone to recover after being so sick for so long and not having that emotional support from her family.”

DePietro advocated for her patient, reaching out to the doctor and charge nurse, telling them: “She really needs to see her family. We can’t expect her to get any better if she doesn’t see her family.”

That’s why DePietro was presented with an AJC Nurse Excellence Award on Tuesday afternoon, after being nominated last fall. More than 800 nurses were nominated, with 10 receiving awards.

DePietro’s intervention resulted in the patient’s husband being granted visitation rights a couple of times a week.

“She was special to me. She was so kind, and you want to give back to people who give that to you,” DePietro said.

Baxter said DePietro continued to spend time with the patient, chatting and getting to know her, hoping to find something that would lift her spirits.

“With Christmas approaching, Lauren was especially worried about her mental well-being and the restriction of visitors. Through their conversation, she learned how much the patient enjoyed the lights and sounds of Christmas and hatched a plan to help brighten the patient’s days,” Baxter wrote.

DePietro purchased fake plants to liven up the room and put together a gift basket with a blanket, coloring books and word puzzles. In addition, she bought colored Christmas lights and decorated the patient’s room while she was away for a procedure.

“When the patient returned, she looked around the room, and her face lit up with joy and excitement,” Baxter wrote. “She asked for her phone to FaceTime her family and moved the phone around the room so that they could share in the moment with her.

The family expressed gratitude for these small acts of love after the patient died with them at her bedside.

“People need to feel like people in the hospital,” DePietro said. “Many times, people lose their sense of self-worth and self-dignity in the hospital. Now that I’ve been a nurse for a couple of years, it makes sense to think about what people need holistically as a full human being.”

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

Shannan Browning, Piedmont Healthcare

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

Andrew Perea, Kaiser Permanente

Cherish Ramirez, Piedmont Healthcare

Julie Singleton, Northeast Georgia Health System

Denise Ray, Piedmont Healthcare: Nurse Leader Award


Age: 25

Current job: Wellstar Kennestone Hospital coronary care unit

Years of experience:

Educational background in nursing: RN, Bachelor of Science degree in nursing, Kennesaw State University

Family info: Engaged to be married. Always wanted to be a nurse and set a path to become a registered nurse at a young age. She took classes in high school to prepare for a career in nursing or patient care technician. “I always wanted to be in a job that I loved and that I was making a difference helping people,” DePietro said.