Brick by brick, learning what loyalty is all about

new brick pavers celebrate loyal Carle employeesDuring Employee Appreciation Week, Carle introduced its Loyalty Courtyard to celebrate the impact long-term employees and physicians have on the organization, as well its patients and the community. Outside the hospital breezeway, the courtyard features bricks with the name of every 30-plus year active employee as of Dec. 31, 2016.

That’s more than 300 names, with more to be added each year.

But the definition of loyalty expands far beyond the number of years someone spends with an organization. Loyalty at Carle comes from dedicated individuals—like Diane Kouzmanoff Williford, RN—who found a fulfilling purpose in health care.

Thirty-two years ago, Kouzmanoff Williford, RN, started down a path she couldn't have predicted.

She began working at Carle as a secretary for the Emergency Department (ED) in 1985. She loved that she could work part-time and devote most of her attention to her young son at home.

Diane with her colleague But she also got an adrenaline rush from helping patients and families.

While she planned to save money to go into another field, a few ED nurses turned her plan on its head.

“They saw something within me, a potential for my career, that I didn’t see,” Kouzmanoff Williford said.

“Those nurses said they could tell by the way I interacted with the patients and their families that there was no way I could go into accounting.”

Today, Kouzmanoff Williford is still learning about her capabilities as a nurse, with Carle always at the center.

As the ED secretary, Kouzmanoff Williford took the SAT at 27 years old. She was accepted into Parkland’s nursing program, floated throughout Carle Foundation Hospital as a nurse extern, and landed her first full-time job as a surgical nurse on North Tower 4.

Since then, she racked up experience on the trauma floor and has been with the Digestive Health Institute since 1999. She laddered up to become  a level-4 registered nurse and mentored both students and staff.

Despite all she accomplished, she wanted more.

Diane on medical mission tripAnd that desire to push led her to mission work at Kenya's Tenwick Hospital with Jeffrey Hallett, MD. After two trips, Kouzmanoff Williford will go back again this fall, but she still doesn’t know what new adventure will come.

A few surprising relationships stand out.

Kouzmanoff Williford remembers one woman who came up to their group and gave them a hug every day she was there to visit her husband. That’s because the team helped save her husband’s life after his stomach ruptured from an ulcer.

She also remembers a 4-year-old boy who didn’t speak English but immediately connected with her. As he gained strength, he would leap into her arms. And she would then carry him around the hospital.

“One thing I’ve learned from nursing is that certain things can be hard to put into words,” Kouzmanoff Williford said. “But I do know that we make a difference.”