Houston Chronicle Salute to Nurses: Top 10 nurses receive honors

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Carrying on a tradition of caring dating back to the 19th century and a pioneering nurse, Florence Nightingale, nurses have been there through contagious diseases, war casualties, natural disasters and the health crises of entire populations, often sacrificing themselves to care for and heal their patients.

Each May, during Nightingale’s birthday week, the Houston Chronicle has joined with local partners and generous sponsors to celebrate National Nurses Week and the role nurses play in delivering the highest level of quality care to their patients. National Nurses Week 2015 is being celebrated May 6-12, with a special celebration of Florence Nightingale’s birthday, May 12. This year marks this pioneering nurse’s 195th birthday.

Since 2000, The Chronicle has solicited nominations from the public, including administrators, academicians, patients, physicians, families, peers and others for its annual Salute to Nurses awards. These nominations are then reviewed by a blue ribbon panel, and 10 outstanding nursing professionals are selected to be honored as greater Houston’s Top 10 Nurses of the Year.

This year’s National Nurses Week theme, “Ethical Practice. Quality Care,” recognizes the importance of ethics in nursing and acknowledges the strong commitment, compassion and care nurses have. The theme is an important part of American Nurses Association’s 2015 Year of Ethics outreach to promote and advocate for the rights, health and safety of nurses and their patients.

Two Texas Children’s Hospital nurses received this top honor:

Donna M. Daigle-Tinsley, RN – staff nurse, bone marrow transplant unit, Texas Children’s Hospital

Her mother, although she had no formal training as a nurse, always had been a caregiver for everyone, neighbors and family alike, and her loving care provided an inspiration for daughter Donna M. Daigle-Tinsley, RN to pursue a career in nursing.

“Watching my mother care for others helped me decide my future and inspired me to be a nurse – to be like her,” she said.

Starting as an LVN, Daigle-Tinsley attended the Associate Degree in Nursing program at San Jacinto College before taking a position at Texas Children’s Hospital, where she has spent her entire 31-year nursing career.

“Like most nurses, being at the patient’s bedside is my favorite part of my job because I like caring for my patients,” she said. “For me, it’s about taking patients and families on a journey while keeping it peaceful, informative and safe. I always remember a definition I heard many years ago, ‘nursing is the gentle art of caring.’“

Daigle-Tinsley has, indeed, taken a page from her mother’s book on loving care and applied this definition to her career, as her nomination by a patient’s family read:

“Donna was my son Kevin’s nurse on the hematology/oncology floor more than 15 years ago, for 14 years and three weeks before he passed away. Donna went out of her way to go the extra mile for my child as she did every patient she cared for. Donna applied her nursing skills as a nursing professional, but she also treated each child and the whole family as a unit with her compassion and love.

“When Kevin died, my daughter Jennifer was so devastated to be without her brother, she refused to go back to high school and because Donna loved the patient and the whole family, she had a talk with Jennifer, promising if she would go back to high school and graduate, Donna would be there for her, watching her get her diploma, and true to her word, Donna was there to see Jennifer graduate.

“As the years passed, Donna fell in love, but she didn’t get married until she brought her fiance to Kevin’s hospital room, introduced Gregory Tinsley to Kevin and asked his approval of Gregory.

“Donna and Gregory got married. When Kevin died, Donna was pregnant and was bedridden … under doctor’s orders not to do anything. But, because Donna loved Kevin – her patient of 15 years – and his family, she got out of her bed, soon to have her baby, and attended Kevin’s funeral.”

“When I first began working at Texas Children’s Hospital in 1983, I was assigned to the renal diabetic floor,” Daigle-Tinsley said. “Then, after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer and being out for six months, when I returned, someone else was in that job. So, they gave me a list of positions available for a night nurse. One was the cancer floor – and cancer scared me, but I took the job the on bone marrow transplant floor and have been there for 18 years.”
Vicki L. Wiest, RN – Meyer Center for Developmental Pediatrics at Texas Children’s Hospital

For more than 30 years, Vicki Wiest has been a nurse at Jeff Davis Hospital and then Texas Children’s Hospital. She was a nurse in the Jeff Davis nursery, caring for indigent newborns and then worked in the Texas Children’s neonatal intensive care unit.

“Because of her knowledge of the care needed by NICU graduates once discharged to home, she was chosen to handle the calls from mothers of NICU graduates seeking advice for the care of the graduates once home,” her nomination read.

“Approximately six years ago when the Texas Children’s developmental pediatrics section was seeking a nurse to triage medication phone calls from parents of patients with various neurodevelopmental disabilities, nursing administration advised Vicki would be the person for the job since many patients with neurodevelopmental disabilities were former NICU graduates.

“The developmental pediatrics section triage position required a caring, relatable, knowledgeable medical professional. It also called for someone who could ask the correct triage questions without upsetting the worried callers, who could give appropriate and understandable interim advice while awaiting the physicians’ further instructions, and then give the physicians’ advice to the parents in an understandable manner that would gain the parental cooperation in following the instructions.”

Wiest was the perfect choice.

This nurse now handles the calls for patients with attention/impulsivity/hyperactivity problems, anxiety problems, tics, aggression problems, many of whom also have autism and/or intellectual disability. Since some patients have multiple health issues, it makes it difficult to know if the child simply needs an increase in a medication dose or if the instruction being given the parent is above their understanding level.

It takes a skilled triage nurse to work through various questions and answers that will lead to the correct understanding by the physician in the situation. Without someone like Wiest, the physicians in this specialized section of pediatric health care would not be able to give appropriate advice.

Wiest said her mother had an illness that led to her death when Wiest was only 11.

“I grew up without a mom, taking care of my siblings, so that situation was a catalyst for me to become a nurse,” she said.

Wiest’s principal responsibility may be triage, but she also is an advocate for her patients and their families on many levels beyond their diagnosis.

“For example, as these kids get older and may need to transition into the community, there are very limited services and resources, including residential facilities, therapy, medication, safety equipment, respite opportunities for caregivers – the list is a long one. We still see patients in their early 20s, but this is simply because the resources for older individuals are so limited,” she said.

It takes only minutes to see this nurse’s commitment to the patients and parents she serves.

“On good days, we hear from families who have reached a milestone. It may be going out to a restaurant for a meal, or going on a road trip, or a mother’s tearful call to say, ‘I think my daughter really looked at me today.’ The achievements may be small, but to the families, they are huge,” she said.