Glen Ellen couple honors nurses in wake of son's death

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This could be happening right this minute in a hospital somewhere in America or in one of 14 countries overseas.

At the start or end of another busy, quite possibly exhausting shift, a clutch of nurses gathers for an announcement.

One is surprised, maybe even blushes, when a colleague launches into a tale of the extraordinary caring and humanity that she or he exhibited there on the ward. Then that one nurse is applauded, cheered, hugged and presented gifts that include a gorgeous stone sculpture hand-carved in Zimbabwe.

There’s a good chance tears are shed and a treat of warm Cinnabons is served.

Thanks largely to Glen Ellen residents Mark and Bonnie Barnes, the scene of gratitude and acknowledgment has played out at hospitals, nursing homes and other health facilities more than 65,000 times since shortly after the Barnes’ son died in 1999.

J. Patrick Barnes was 33 and the new father of a baby girl. Having fallen ill from the auto-immune system disease ITP, idiopathic thrombocytopenia purpura, he spent the last eight weeks of his life in hospitals near his home in Amarillo, Texas, and in his native Washington State.

Mark Barnes noted that his son “died in Seattle in the same hospital he was born in.” In the midst of their mourning, Pat Barnes’ wife, Tena, his dad and his stepmom, Bonnie, shared reflections of their awe at the kindness and care that Pat and they had received from nurses.

“They just engaged us and made us feel like we were part of the team,” Bonnie Barnes said. Her stepson’s nurses did much for him that seemed to be beyond the call of duty, such as the special, romantic dinner that nurses in Amarillo arranged the day they learned it was Pat and Tena’s fifth wedding anniversary.

Only days after they lost Pat, a grand idea occurred to the people closest to him: to honor his life by dedicating to his memory an award that thanks a nurse for his or her skillful and compassionate care.

It was Tena, who lives in Atlanta and whose daughter, Riley, is now 16, who came up with the name for the award: DAISY, for Diseases Attacking the Immune SYstem.

The three Barneses created the nonprofit DAISY Foundation and began asking the staffs at hospitals if they would like to choose a nurse to receive the award. “That first year,” Mark Barnes recalled, “nobody understood what we wanted to do.”

It took some explaining for hospital managers to grasp that sheer gratitude prompted the Barneses to offer an award of acknowledgment to the nurses of the hospital’s choice.

As longtime residents of Sonoma Valley, Bonnie and Mark Barnes promoted the DAISY Award program early on to the hospitals nearest them. Sonoma Valley Hospital, Santa Rosa Memorial and Sutter all signed on.

The concept is simple: A committee of nurses accepts DAISY Award nominations from nurses, patients and other hospital staffers and as often as once a month brings nurses together and presents one the honor and the attendant gifts.

The Barneses’ foundation provides for each honoree a DAISY pin, a personalized certificate that honors Pat Barnes and a special piece of art: a stone sculpture that’s called “The Healer’s Touch” and is made by the Shona people of Zimbabwe.

“It’s a wonderful celebration of one individual,” said Robin Hagenstad, the chief nursing officer at Sutter Medical Center of Santa Rosa. “And by celebrating one of the nurses, we’re really celebrating the contributions of all of them.”

Hagenstad said nurses can’t get too much recognition and thanks.

“They do extraordinary work,” she said. “It’s the kind of work that takes a lot of heart” — as well as scientific and technological expertise, and physical endurance.

At Memorial Hospital, registered nurse and education generalist Helen Cortopassi called the DAISY Awards “a phenomenal program.”

“When a nurse loses their DAISY pin, they are quick to request a replacement,” Cortopassi said. “It is truly seen as the ultimate honor as a nurse. After a (DAISY) celebration, the day seems lighter for everyone, including the patients.”

“DAISY,” she said, “has elevated nursing practice.”

Mark and Bonnie, who both have backgrounds in advertising and marketing, volunteer for the foundation they created. Tena is one of 17 employees. The Glen Ellen residents point out that one of the popular DAISY pins goes also to all nurses nominated for the award. To date, the number of nurses presented one of the pins exceeds 700,000.

Today, the DAISY Award is presented to nurses at more than 2,100 hospitals and other healthcare facilities in all 50 states and in countries that include Thailand, Saudi Arabia, China, Mexico, Brazil, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Canada, the Philippines and Vietnam.

The cost of the stone sculptures, pins and other program materials is covered by a fee the participating health facilities pay and by contributions from a dozen corporate sponsors.

One of the founding sponsors is Cinnabon, because one day when Pat Barnes was too sick to be interested in eating, his father showed up at his hospital with one of the chain bakery’s sweet rolls.

As his family recalls the story, he asked his dad for a bite, then ate the entire bun. As Mark Barnes was leaving the hospital room that day, the patient asked, “Please bring me another one in the morning, and bring enough for all my nurses.”

A sweet DAISY tradition was born.

Chris Smith is at 521-5211 and chris.smith@ pressdemocrat.com.

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