No distance too far for family to celebrate their nurse

With each step, a familiar feeling resurfaced for Sharon’s husband, PD, son, Brian, and daughter, Lori Highsmith Miller. It was hard to understand just how strong those feelings were again, despite the five months that had passed since their loved one laid there, unresponsive following the car accident and stroke that brought her to Carle from Oblong, a small town abouttwo hours south of Urbana.

Why did the Highsmiths put themselves through this again? Why relive some of the most agonizing moments a caring family can endure?

It all came back to Andrea Ray, RN, who they had nominated for the DAISY Award because of the exceptional care she provided as the bedside nurse for Sharon for nearly three days.

DAISY co-chair Meagan Zindars, RN, said family members have showed up for Daisy ceremonies, but nobody has come from as far away as this family did to honor Ray.

The Highsmiths said Andrea meant more to them than any other healthcare professional they had been around, and that was why Brian drove 11 hours from his home in Oklahoma. That was why Lori and PD—who has been staying with Lori after Sharon’s passing—flew in two days early from Texas and drove up from Oblong.

“While we were here, Mom never, ever opened her eyes. She never could talk to us. Yet, there was Andrea in the room, and every time she would stroke my mom’s arm. She would squeeze her hand. She would say, ‘Ms. Sharon, how are you doing? Do you want to wake up and talk to me?’ One time she asked my mom if she was cold and if she was hungry. She asked if she could go get my mom something,” Lori said.

“What that means is that Andrea didn’t treat my mom as just another person lying in a bed. She respected my mom as a person, and that just amazed me.”

To bestow the Daisy honors, family, friends and staff waited at the nursing station on the seventh floor of Carle Tower for Ray to return from Radiology.

She finally appeared, unaware of what was waiting for her. When she saw Lori, Ray turned red as tears formed in her eyes.

The two hugged, and Ray asked how Lori was holding up; a nurse still checking in on the family.

“Coming around that corner and seeing the big group, I immediately got flushed. It was all a bit of a blur, and I didn’t previously know who had nominated me,” Ray said. “ … As soon as I saw Sharon’s two children and her husband, I remembered right away.

“I also immediately broke down in tears, because I specifically remember being by their side.”

Ray exhibited a balance of clinical expertise with the caring touch that can truly make a difference in a family’s experience during such moments.

During the DAISY recognition ceremony, Lori spoke before handing over a folder that detailed specific moments when Ray went above and beyond. Lori said their experience wouldn’t have been the same if they hadn’t gotten to know their nurse.

“I think Andrea was sent to us,” Brian said. “She is a special person. I’m sure you have a lot of special people here, but Andrea played a big part in mom’s last few days. It meant a lot to see her again.”

To PD the DAISY Award is now synonymous with excellence, which he finds perfectly fitting when he thinks about his wife.

“Sharon strove for excellence in everything she did, whether that was in her career as a vice president at a bank or in her favorite hobby when she was younger, bowling. You know, her bowling team even won a national competition in 1974,” PD said. “And that is why I believe Sharon would’ve been thrilled to have been here today.

“She would’ve made sure that Andrea received the recognition she deserves for being such an excellent nurse.”