Houston Chronicle honors Top 10 nurses during 2017 National Nurses Week
The Houston Chronicle once again is joining forces with the American Nurses Association and hospitals across greater Houston in honoring those who have been called to serve - the compassionate heroes of health care.
Each spring, the Houston Chronicle receives many nominations for the Salute to Nurses Top 150 and from this group, a panel selects the Top 10 honorees - those men and women who will represent nurses everywhere during National Nurses Week.
During Nurses Week, 19th century pioneer of public health Florence Nightingale is honored. She founded nursing, a profession that has evolved into a multifaceted career choice in which nurses have the ability to assume dozens of roles during the course of a single career.
This year, National Nurses Week is set for May 6-12, with a special celebration of Nightingale’s birthday, May 12, her 197th birthday. As of 1998, May 8 has been designated as National Student Nurses Day and as of 2003, National School Nurse Day is celebrated on the Wednesday within National Nurses Week every year. This Diamond Sponsor of the Chronicle’s event is Houston Methodist Hospital, and Becky Chalupa, chief nursing officer/vice president at Houston Methodist San Jacinto Hospital, has been a nurse for 37 years. During that time, she has witnessed nursing and the nursing environment’s evolution.
“We have fewer ‘sacred cows,’ more evidence-based practices. We conduct nursing research and implement performance improvement,” Chalupa said. “With the opportunity for Magnet Awards, hospitals, staff and nurses are challenged to outperform a majority of the hospitals across the country a majority of the time.
“Houston Methodist has evolved through myriad changes, from health care coverage to new technologies and new treatment protocols, and has adapted to nurses taking the extra step and asking ‘why’ as we become more outcome-based and push for more evidence-based practices.”
Harris Health System is the event’s Gold Sponsor, and Maureen S. Padilla, senior vice president and chief nurse executive for Harris Health System, said nurses are at the heart of Harris Health’s mission to provide quality health care to Houstonians, and particularly those who do not have easy access to care.
“We look for unique nurses who are passionate about serving the unserved and underserved,” Padilla said. “We want nurses seeking opportunities for personal growth as well as expanding their clinical skills as well. Because we serve so many people, Harris Health offers a demanding pace, but the rewards are enormous.”
Harris Health serves a diversity of patients living in the “melting pot” of a diverse greater Houston,with opportunities for growth and leadership.
“We appreciate the work the Houston Chronicle does each year during National Nurses Week and the opportunity to be part of the celebration and to honor these outstanding nurses,” Padilla said. “It is a pleasure to recognize these men and women who give of themselves every shift, every day of the year.”
Following are the 2017 Salute to Nurses Top 10 nursing professionals who have shown excellence in nursing care.
Mike Abreu, assistant administrator, Home Health Resources
“Home Health Resources has given me a unique opportunity to instruct and train our nurses and caregivers and, at the same time, care for patients,” Mike Abreu said. “These are two aspects of nursing I am passionate about - the hands-on, face to face with patients. Growing up as an “Army brat,” he spent his early years in Maryland and Panama.
“Right out of high school, I took a job with medical equipment company,” he said. “One of the nurses I called on allowed me to shadow her and I remember one patient who had a large wound. Watching her with that patient, shadowing her through that day, I embraced the ‘knowing’ I grew up with - that nursing was my calling.” Shortly after that, he applied to local nursing school, where he earned an associate degree and his RN.
During his years as a nurse, Abreu has witnessed many changes, including the regulations impacting nursing and the ever-greater documentation.
“I chose home health because it is an area of health care where nurses can spend as much time as necessary with patients. Home health nurses are autonomous-allowing us to get back to what I call ‘traditional nursing,’” he said.
Abreu was nominated by Mary Sue Harrison, the daughter of two of his patients, who said: “Mike cared for both of my parents, who were in their 90s, with his expertise, motivation, kindness and humor. He counseled them and our extended family about how to gain back independence following several serious health situations. “He guided our family and my parents Landis and Freda Feather through this process until the time came to move on to hospice care. He was firm yet kind in offering them motivation to take their medications correctly, exercise and strive to get stronger. He consulted with their many doctors and was available to our family day and night.
“During the months of care, Mike kept continuous communication with all of their doctors, and there were countless emergencies, hospital visits, ambulance rides, heart and lung emergencies, diabetes-medication emergencies, and falls to deal with. When the time came to consider hospice care, he met with my daughter first to get a plan of how best to talk to me about end-of-life for each of my parents. We developed a plan and he was there to say good-bye to my dad, as they exchanged a handshake.”
Abreu said his average patient is around 80, and many times their children are facing losing their parents. “In every aspect of caring for patients and their families, a sense of empathy is a common denominator,” he said. “I have gained experience with (seniors) and have a secondary empathy.”
Rebecca Davidson, neuro ICU, University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Rebecca Davidson began as a nurse aide with her mother and her aunt. Taking time away from the beside to take care of her two boys, she then cared for her grandfather and then her grandmother, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. When her mother discovered she had breast cancer, Davidson was at her side through chemotherapy, through good days and bad, until hospice was needed. Mesmerized by the concept of carrying out someone’s last wishes and the compassionate nurses who provided guidance for the family and care for her mother, Davidson- at age 36-went back to the classroom after many years and graduated from nursing school at San Jacinto College with her RN on Mother’s Day, a year after her mother had passed.
“It wasn’t easy, but I had a very real goal and wasn’t letting anything stop me,” she said. “I knew I was where I needed to be.” That was four years ago and Davidson’s resolve is even stronger today. “Neuro ICU pushes you to become a better nurse than you ever thought possible,” she said. “As a nurse, part of my job is to prepare the family for changes in the patient’s demeanor and attitude, which is often difficult for the family, so families become part of the care plan, preparing for the outcome ... and there are no guarantees.”
Her nomination came from one such family member- Rosie O’Grady-whose sister had suffered a stroke and became one of Davidson’s patients. She wrote this in her nomination: “Advocate, compassionate, soulful. An angel in bright-colored tennis shoes. Integrity and sincerity for those she cares for and always including family members in her care.
“We first encountered Rebecca early on in my sister’s hospital admission. Rebecca was so attentive to my sister and always encouraged us to be at her bedside talking to her.
“When we asked Rebecca questions, she always was honest no matter how difficult the answers were, but the way she showed sincerity in those answers gave us a peace and comfort. After staying a few nights, Rebecca insisted we go back home for a few days to recoup and that she’d keep us updated on progress and any changes. “One day, Rebecca was working with my sister and noticed she was very agitated. Instead of increasing her sedation, she sat my sister up, with a ventilator and tons of tubes. Then, she handed my sister a dry-erase board. My sister cried (as did I) as she finally was able to communicate with us again. “We were grateful for Rebecca going the extra mile, understanding her (sister’s) frustration was the ventilator and not being able to communicate.”
Melissa Evans, pediatric ICU, Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital
From a family of nurses, Melissa Evans, RN, is the third generation, but like others in the Top 10, she took the circuitous route, attending Texas Tech University and earning her first degree in nutritional science.
“I had always wanted to be in the medical profession,” she said. “My mother and grandmother are both nurses. I first went to nursing school when I was 4 with my mom. I also went on a medical mission trip - and still didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do in the medical field. “Then, when I was completing my first degree, I went into hospitals and saw nurses by the bedside. That’s when I fell in love with nursing, and I wanted to help children. When I was in nursing school at Tech, I asked my instructors for as many clinicals in pediatric ICU as possible because I knew I wanted to spend time helping babies and children through their teens. That’s where I was at home.” Evans said she often hears, “how can you be around kids so sick, so injured?” She said, “There have been many days when, after my shift, I can’t make it out to the car without crying. “It’s difficult, standing by the crib, holding moms who are sobbing. It breaks my heart there are outcomes I can’t change, but I feel called to love and support these families and children through the worst day of their lives. I only know it’s where I’m supposed to be.”
Evans was nominated for the 2017 Salute to Nurses by a fellow nurse Jennifer Smith, who said: “Melissa was the first day shift nurse to care for my son, Jackson, after his accident. Her kindness and compassion in nursing, I feel, need to be recognized. “I am also an RN and work in the emergency room. She handled our horrible situation with ease and made us feel confident we had the best care my son could receive. Jackson was intubated and on multiple drips of medications to keep him alive. Melissa was very knowledgeable, yet took the time to be very compassionate. She even came into work an extra day to continue to care for my son.
“My son was eventually declared brain dead and Melissa was there with us when we were informed by the attending physician. She cried with us and stayed with us. She also came to my son’s memorial service.
“Melissa truly is an amazing nurse. She titrated many medications with expertise, all while keeping my family at ease during this most difficult time. She didn’t have to do everything she did for us; she went above and beyond any expectations.” Evans said, “I’ve had great mentoring from mom and grandmother, and hearing stories and seeing their hearts had tremendous impact on the nurse I am working to be. I saw many nurses in nursing school using their hearts - and their brains. It’s challenging, allowing yourself to become invested in your patients’ lives, if even for a short time.”
Chung-Win Fey, Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital
Nominator Nancy Huang characterized Chung-Win Fey as “caring, supportive, knowledgeable and willing to share.” She further said in her nomination: “My sister was very ill in the hospital after having a stroke. After the administration of TPA, which ended massive bleeding, my sister was in coma. Our whole family was in deep sorrow, but Chung-Win was there for our families. She came to visit every day, not only bringing us food but also talking with each of us. She comforted and supported us.
“Our family salutes her, not only for the friendship, but also for the best nursing compassionate heart. She is the model for every nurse. I also know she is very active and does much community service, especially Chinese health fairs and teaching. She is an outreach-to-community person.”
This is just one of three nominations Fey, with 37 years of nursing, received this year.
“When I was child, I loved taking care of others,” she said, “and when I was 9, I fractured my arm. While I was in the hospital in Taiwan, I met a nun who was always smiling. She put my arm in a sling and take me to visit other patients. Before I went home, she told me, ‘One day you will be a good nurse.’” “I always wanted to be her,” Fey said. “She was a great person. She inspired me and I wanted to take care of others. ”
So, armed with a nursing diploma and bachelor’s degree, the young nurse traveled to New York, where she practiced nursing and her English-language skills. A second nomination was by co-worker Manavalan George, who said: “Joy is an extraordinary, compassionate, enthusiastic, caring individual and an excellent charge nurse (Joy is Fey’s American nickname). In October 2016, Joy won Houston Methodist System’s Quality and Patient Safety Everyday Award.
“Joy also spends a lot of the time sitting with patients and their families and listens to their concerns. She offers her shoulder for them to cry on and prays with them.
“And, for oncology patients who crave foods not on the menu, Joy always finds a way to accommodate them. Joy buys many cancer patients daily planners, and encouraged them to write down their experience and thoughts, treatment plan and what is important to them because while on chemotherapy, they may be more forgetful.”
She also said she wasn’t expecting to be nominated for the Chronicle’s Top 10.
“I was stunned and cried, but also happy,” Fey said.
Mary Gordon, nurse scientist, Texas Children’s Hospital
A nurse for 43 years, Dr. Mary Gordon decided to become a nurse after volunteering one summer at St. Joseph Hospital. After graduating from Texas Woman’s University, she joined the Army Nurse Corps, which paid for her senior year in college.
“After that, I owed them two years, so during the Vietnam War, I worked at the Institute of Surgical Research in San Antonio, where burn patients were brought from the war zone for care,” Gordon said. “I had minimal training in treating burn patients, but I spent my two-year obligation there, which launched a fabulous burn-nursing career.”
She also worked at Parkland in Dallas, went back to Institute of Surgical Research for five to six years and then was recruited into pediatric burn nursing by Shriner’s Hospital in Galveston. That hospital closed due to Hurricane Ike’s destruction, she said, so she began working at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she has been the past eight years. Her recent years in nursing have been spent as an advanced practice nurse - CNS, supporting patients, families and staff nurses, helping in complex cases, and helping patients and families with their clinical-care needs.
Colleague Melissa J. Silvera said in her nomination: “An exemplary clinician who has an innate ability to support and educate others about evidence-based practice and research, Dr. Gordon has been instrumental in ensuring clinical nurses maintain their enthusiasm about their projects and the opportunity to improve patient outcomes. She supports excitement about scholarly work by mentoring others. “As a clinical nurse specialist and nurse scientist at TCH, Dr. Gordon has had a tremendous direct and indirect positive impact on the health of children and their families. Over the past year, she co-developed and co-presented an Evidence-based Nursing Practice course to clinical nurses from across TCH. More than 15 clinical nurses completed the program. She is a formal and informal mentor to nurses on the Quality Practice Council, the Nursing Research Council and the Innovative Solutions Council.
“Most recently, Dr. Gordon was instrumental in guiding and supporting a nurse-led team focused on improving oxygen saturation in infants hospitalized with bronchiolitis. When feedings via nasogastric (NG) tubes were introduced to boost nutritional status, length of hospital stay and improved patient satisfaction were studied. As a result, feedings via NG tube are being considered for inclusion in the Texas Children’s system-wide bronchiolitis clinical guideline.”
Sharon Ikeler, Tomball Regional Medical Center
Sharon Ikeler followed a winding path into nursing, a path that began with a career as a mortgage banker; was temporarily halted by family losses; and then, through hard work, determination and a passion for nursing, led her to Tomball’s Regional Medical Center and to the highest level of nursing administration, along with eight nominations for this year’s Top 10.
But close to the beginning of the path, it was 1984 and she had reported for work at a new job. Hours before she had taken her son Brandon to a daycare center and her phone rang. The voice at the other end of the line was a caregiver at the daycare.
“Your son isn’t breathing,” the caller said. “We rushed him to the hospital.”
She doesn’t remember driving to the hospital. Brandon had been fine hours earlier, and all she remembers was praying. She was led to a room, the remnants of emergency procedures on the floor and many machines. On a hospital bed, looking small in relation to the expanse of white hospital sheet, was the body of her first born, another victim of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. It was an earth-shattering, last visual image of her son she never forgot - and it eventually served as impetus for Ikeler to pursue her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
In the interim, she began her nurse education. Fast forward to 2002, when an accident on a rural highway near Abilene took the life of her daughter, Ashley. Another daughter - Brittany - spent 79 days at Parkland Hospital in Dallas, recovering from a severe head injury and going through neuro rehab.
Ikeler has nothing but praise for the physicians from UT Southwestern Medical School and the nursing staff at Parkland. Through it all, her family bonds grew strong, so this mother of eight kept putting one foot in front of the other as she moved closer to her goal of earning her DNP.
Nominator Jackie McClain, RN, said: “Dr. Ikeler the hospital through two floods in April 2016 that caused significant damage to our hospital. She organized nursing staff and physicians to be brought in by boats and fire trucks to keep the hospital open. She is hands on, and you will often find her in the ER making sure no patient is ‘left’ without being seen.”
Debbie Jones-Tyrone, clinical assistant professor of nursing, Prairie View A&M University College of Nursing
It is impossible to speak with Debbie Jones-Tyrone without noticing the palpable passion she has, not only for nursing, but for her students. Shepherding her students through their clinicals, she is not only a teacher, but a role model and chief encourager. Jones-Tyrone also embraces her faith and speaks from her heart. With a can-do spirit, she sets the bar high for her students and is committed to the success of each one. But her caring goes far beyond the classroom and the clinical site.
For Jones-Tyrone, her commitment to quality health care, and health and wellness is extended into her neighborhood, her church and her community.
“Every person is entitled to the best health care, regardless of gender, race, religion, ethnicity, education and standing in the community,” she said, “and as a nurse, I want to facilitate the delivery of preventative care whenever and wherever I can.”
Former Prairie View A&M College of Nursing student Victoria Adebo said in her nomination: “Dr. Jones is the best nurse I have ever met. She ensured I knew my skills and she pushed me to succeed. Now I’m enjoying all the investment as a confident, compassionate nurse working at Texas Medical Center. Dr. Jones pushes her students beyond their comfort zones, telling them they can do it and can do it excellently well. Dr. Jones is not just a professor, she is a committed nurse, and her passion is educating future nurses and seeing them excelling in their various hospitals.”
Colleague Forest Dent Smith, PhD, said: “Dr. Debbie Jones is a dedicated nurse faculty member - dedicated to producing generalist nurses who are knowledgeable, professional, skilled and safe. She is a community servant, providing service learning opportunities to nursing students through organizing health fairs and other events in the community and at the College of Nursing.
“She is a sincere, caring nurse and colleague. Her work as a nurse for over 30 years is a testimony to how important she thinks the profession is to the health of the public.”
Cindy Jordan, maternal-child health, Texas Children’s Hospital
“My mother was an amazing caregiver. She was not a nurse, but she became the neighborhood’s go-to person who knew how to make anyone feel better,” said Cindy Jordan, RN.
Once her children were of school age, Jordan enrolled in the Alvin Community College nursing program and earned her RN.
“I worked the night shift,” she said. “I slept while my kids were in school and was up and ready when they got home. We went to all their after-school activities, put them to bed and went to work. My schedule worked very well.”
For the last 17 years, she has worked at Texas Children’s Hospital in maternal-child health. “I knew I wanted to be connected to that relationship,” she said. “I wanted to teach moms what my mom taught me.”
At Texas Children’s Hospital, Jordan has worked in the community care sector, working in the field with a focus on maternal-child health.
“Our team consists of five nurses and we go into the community and work with vulnerable, low-income first-time moms,” she said. “We go into homes, teach young moms how to have a healthy pregnancy, and provide competent and responsible care and the necessary resources. At the same time we show them how to become economically self-sufficient - and many manage to break poverty cycle. We’ve offered the program to 25 moms and we work with them until their infants are 2.”
Working with these women, the nurses found poverty, domestic abuse and substance abuse. Many of the women were on their own financially - no family, no partners/ husbands or consistent relationships.
“As we built trust, they became comfortable disclosing their situations and their needs,” Jordan said. The name of the government program was the Nurse- Family Partnership (NFP) Home Visitation Program for First-time Pregnant Moms.
“During their pregnancies and after delivery, they have all of these resources,” Jordan said. “It’s a partnership between the mom and the nurse.” Jordan said she was surprised and amazed to find out she had been chosen as one of this year’s Top 10. “I can’t get my mind around it. I just do my job - just like all the amazing nurses I work with,” she said.
Michelle Kimery, Cypress Fairbanks Medical Center
Michelle Kimery, a nurse for 18 years, is a Type A, detail-oriented person who strives to honor God with every aspect of her life.
“I grew up in a Christian home and as a child, wanted to be mother of 100 children,” she said. After graduating from high school in Belton, Kimery knew she would go to college, but her decision was very unclear about the major she would pursue. She enrolled in Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene. In the fall of her sophomore year, she distinctly heard a voice say, “Michelle, you’re going to be a NICU nurse.”
A strange experience at every level because Kimery didn’t know what NICU was, and there have been no nurses in her family. Doing a quick U-turn in her college major, Kimery enrolled in the nursing program, even though she had to go back to take prerequisites to prepare her for a totally different curriculum.
“Even though it took five years to graduate rather than the four I had planned, over the past 18 years, NICU has been a perfect fit and a privilege - and it has provided the 100 children I had dreamed of as a little girl,” she said.
In her job, she sits with couples who have just seen their dream of a perfect pregnancy take an unexpected detour. She also works with families during one of the darkest times in their lives.
“I arrive at work early. I read, think and pray for the families, the babies I take care of and my coworkers,” she said. “I’ve also learned when people ask for prayer, I ask them to join me in prayer at that moment. When families ask me to pray with them, I am honored to do that.”
In her nomination, Kimery’s co-worker Diana Atchley said: “Michelle has a heart for people. She is a relational person through and through, with a nurturing heart. She always comes to work with a smile on her face. “Michelle is definitely a team player. She will help with admits/discharges/IVs/feeds-whatever needs to be done. She is extremely committed to making her babies and families a priority.”
Norman Douglas Parker, Stem Cell Transplantation/Cellular Therapy Department, MD Anderson Cancer Center
A U.S. Peace Corps volunteer in Ecuador from 1988-1990, Norman Douglas Parker had been interested in Peace Corps since 1974.
A graduate of Keene State College with a teaching degree, the then 30-year-old wanted to realize his dream since childhood of working with the Peace Corps and signed up to see - and meet - the world.
″(The people) were more ... conversant in world affairs and philosophy,” he said. “They made me rethink and question my own philosophy.”
During his deployment, Parker was affiliated with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Health, due to his certification for EMT.
“I worked in a rural area in an agricultural town of 200-300 people who were more worldly, more aware than I could have ever imagined,” he said. His Peace Corps experience influenced his decision to go to nursing school in 1991, enrolling in courses at a community college. He enrolled in the nursing program at the University of Virginia - and the rest is history.
Graduating in 1993 with his RN, he spent two years working with the DHS, doing Navajo nursing. The rest of the time, he has been involved in stem cell and bone marrow transplant, gaining a rich, longitudinal knowledge.
Coming to Houston in 2004, attracted by its cultural diversity, Parker is now a respected resource nurse and has brought recognition to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the state of Texas as a national Bone Marrow Transplantation Certification Examination test writer for the Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN) credential.
Co-worker Ann Ramirez said in her nomination of him:
“Norm was selected by the Oncology Nursing Society (ONS) as one of its pioneer test writers for the Bone Marrow Transplantation Certification Examination.
“He crafted the first of its kind certification test that is now active and recognized as a valid nursing certification for stem cell and cellular therapy nurses in the United States and beyond.
“He has brought honor to the University of Texas MD Anderson, and the state of Texas in general, and that is just the intellectual side of him, because in the daily grind of a nurse’s life, Parker is adored by his coworkers - senior and new nurses alike.”