URBANA – A teen-ager was dying in Carle Foundation Hospital's Intensive Care Unit as his devastated family stood by. An 8-year-old was stranded at Carle with her family on Christmas Eve.
Other patients faced death and illness at the hospital without family members, but they weren't alone. Amy Rushing brought one man his favorite pie. Joanne Heck helped a dying woman maintain her dignity. Jennifer Danford found a way to fulfill a man's wish to be baptized. Sue Gelvin held a woman's hand so she wouldn't be alone.
Kelly Wenta helped the teen-ager and his family with the transition from life to death. Leslie Snyder and a host of helpers created Christmas for the stranded 8-year-old, who was visiting her tiny brother in the hospital's neonatal unit.
These nurses and four others have been honored by Carle this year as the newest initiates in its Exemplary Nurse Program, which focuses on the human side of what happens at bedside.
"One of our values is acknowledgment, day in and day out, on special occasions and for special performance," said Dr. Jim Leonard, Carle's chief executive officer. "In the nursing area, there are fantastic things that happen over and above technical training. Without our nurses, we don't take care of patients. They're at the bedside minute by minute, hour by hour."
Eight of the 10 nurses honored this year are graduates of Parkland College, and Leonard said that's significant because the hospital and the community college officially work together to fill jobs in the local health care market.
"There are two pieces to the program," Leonard said. "There's a lot of interest from young people, and we give students who've made the decision to go into (nursing) scholarships if they agree to work for a while at Carle. And we pay for a position at Parkland, a representative who ties to communities and talks about opportunities in health care.
"It's not just about youth today. It's about the future."
He said the cooperative programs work well because Carle wants to hire nurses who will stay with the hospital.
"It was clear to us that nurses who grew up in the area and trained in the area are more likely to stick around," Leonard said. "We looked around and saw how many nurses at Carle trained at Parkland, and we wanted to strengthen that connection and make it grow."
Gretchen Robbins, a spokeswoman for Carle, said everyone was surprised when eight of the 10 winners turned out to be Parkland graduates. She said it's appropriate that Parkland and Carle formalized their relationship recently.
"The partnership's in its second year," Robbins said. "We've always worked with them, but now we have a formal program to enhance recruitment and provide scholarships to students who agree to work here for a while after graduation."
"Our staff does special things every day, and the Exemplary Nurses Program is one way to show that to the staff and the community," she said.
Snyder, a Carle employee for 23 years, said she went to Parkland with Carle's financial help.
"It was wonderful compared to the University of Illinois, where I had worked on a degree in occupational therapy," she said. "I needed something more personal, and people there helped me be a success in school.
"I came here prepared to be a beginning nurse."
"This is a wonderful profession for people to use what they're taught in school," said Gelvin, a house officer who first earned a teaching degree, then went to Parkland to fulfill her dream of being a nurse.
"We make many decisions that affect lives," she said. "We make a difference in individuals' and families' lives. I see it every day."
Other nurses honored were Joanne Heck, Shyane VanDeveer, Beth Novak, Cindy Warns and Debbie Williams. Only Danforth and Rushing didn't attend Parkland.
Wenta was nominated by the family of the teen-ager she helped.
"All nurses care for each of their patients and really strive to meet their need," said the nominator, an aunt of the teen-ager and herself a nurse. "But when it shines through like it does with a nurse like Kelly, you have one special nurse. Nick didn't survive, but Kelly made a most difficult time a little more bearable because she was his nurse."
Wenta worked as a veterinary technician for 20 years before she went back to school to get a nursing degree. She started working at Carle in 1994, she graduated in '95 and she accepted a job training to work in the Intensive Care Unit.
"I've been there ever since," Wenta said. "My education at Carle built on what I learned at Parkland. We continue learning when we become nurses with the help of our co-workers."
"There's an accountability and responsibility you learn on the job that you can't learn in school because you're not ultimately responsible then," Snyder said.
They said nurses must continue their education while they work because drugs and procedures change and there's always a new challenge in health care.
"You can't do it without a passion," Wenta said.
"All you have to do is look around the hospital," Snyder said. "You could write a story about almost any nurse here."
You can reach Anne Cook at (217) 351-5217 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.