Sonoma County nonprofit awards exceptional nurses

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Only weeks after the birth of his first child, Patrick Barnes developed blood blisters inside his mouth. He went to the doctor and was diagnosed with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpua, an autoimmune disease marked by excessive bleeding and inability to form blood clots.

He died just eight weeks later at 33, but the nursing care he received in that short window of time — spanning hospitals in Texas and Washington state, and an air ambulance 30,000 feet in the sky — left an indelible mark on his family.

“We were blown away by not only how clinically excellent they were, which we expected they would be, but also how they delivered their care,” said Bonnie Barnes, who is married to Patrick’s father, Mark Barnes.

“Their care just touched us. They were so thoughtful and compassionate and sensitive, not only to him, but to all of us,” said Bonnie Barnes, 67. “We just felt this compelling drive to say thank you to them.”

A little more than a week after he died, Bonnie and Mark Barnes, joined by Patrick’s wife Tena Barnes, launched the Sonoma County-based DAISY Foundation, which has honored more than 117,000 nurses across the globe for their exceptional skills.

Over the years, the foundation’s awards program has grown to include nursing faculty, and since 2007 it has awarded more than 100 research grants of $2,000-$5,000 to nurses studying best practices for bedside care. Nurses who want to present their research findings at professional meetings are eligible to apply for $2,000 grants, and DAISY honorees who volunteer for medical missionary trips are eligible to apply for $1,500 grants.

The foundation’s name is an acronym created by Patrick Barnes’ young wife that stands for Diseases Attacking the Immune System.

Today, more than 1.3 million nurses have been nominated for DAISY awards, and 3,000 health care facilities and nursing schools in all 50 states and 20 countries have received the awards for superlative care.

Patients nominate the nurses, and care facilities form their own teams to select one winner. Smaller hospitals may honor two a year, while larger hospitals may identify many more.

DAISY Award recipients are honored during a ceremony in front of their peers, receiving certificates, DAISY Award pins and serpentine stone sculptures made by artists in Zimbabwe, called “A Healer’s Touch.”

Just after Christmas, Kaiser Santa Rosa Medical Center nurse Hannah Egge, 39, got a phone call from her manager saying she had won.

She was nominated by a former patient who had been treated for pneumonia and suffered a relapse after losing the home he shared with his pregnant fiancée. The nomination detailed the patient’s struggle after the fires.

“Losing our home made me feel like less of a man,” he wrote. “This doesn’t make sense to many, but I felt that I could no longer protect my family. … I was scared, humiliated and full of shame. I even thought about ending my life.”

All of the nurses were great throughout his hospitalization, he wrote, but one stood out. It was Egge, who extended her kind care to the patient and his fiancee.

“She was our glimmer of light,” he wrote. “Each day she would greet us with a smile and a good laugh, and without humor, I don’t think I would have made it. Hannah made us feel there is hope.”

“It was really … it was super flattering,” said Egge, who has been a nurse for five years. “It was just nice that someone took the time. You always think about things like that — writing a letter if you have a good experience — but how often do you actually do it?”

Bonnie Barnes says the experience is what moved them.

“I was retired when Patrick got sick, happily growing wine grapes in the backyard,” Bonnie said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would be so immersed in this incredible profession of nursing.

“We hoped we could say thank you to 10 nurses in 10 hospitals around the country, and wouldn’t that be great. But as I always say, ‘We’re not the only family who needs to say thank you to nurses.’”

The nonprofit, officially known as Foundation for the Elimination of Diseases Attacking the Immune System, has annual revenue of $2.5 million that comes from gifts, contributions and grants. About 60 percent goes to the DAISY awards program, with another 10 percent to the grants programs. For more information, visit daisyfoundation.org.

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