Northwestern Medicine Nurses Hailed as Red Cross Healthcare Heroes

Northwestern Medicine
Nursing April 20, 2021
For stepping up during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic and mentoring dozens of less experienced colleagues through an unprecedented global health crisis, a group of stalwart Northwestern Medicine nurses is receiving the “Healthcare Heroes” award from the Red Cross of Illinois during its “Honoring Our Heroes” virtual event*. 

The nurses, who lovingly refer to themselves as “Old Dolls” and are described by a colleague as the “backbone of Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s intensive care units,” will be awarded the honor during a virtual ceremony on April 29.

The nurses worked together since the 1980s, including during the AIDS crisis. 

“Each of these nurses were given the option to transfer to other hospital departments with lower exposure risks” in the early days of COVID-19, the Red Cross award said. “However, this group of nurses opted to remain together on the frontline of the pandemic, which included taking care of the sickest COVID-19 patients…This group is legendary at Northwestern and is training and mentoring the next generation of nurses who work alongside them.” 

Receiving the award are:
• Raquel B. Collanto RN, BSN, CCRN, clinical coordinator in the Coronary Care Unit
• Cynthia Pascalo, RN, BSN, Medical Intensive Care Unit
• Andrea Baer, RN, Coronary Care Unit
• Valerie Gongaware, RN, Coronary Care Unit
• Kathleen Hoke, RN, education coordinator in the Cardiac-Transplant Intensive Care Unit
• Phyllis “Peach” Donnan, RN, Cardiac-Transplant Intensive Care Unit
• Susan O’Connell, RN, Medical Intensive Care Unit
“I want to wish the ‘Old Dolls’ coronary care unit nurses of Northwestern Memorial Hospital a heartfelt congratulations for the Red Cross Heroes Award,” said Marianne D. Harris, PhD, APRN-CNP NEA-BC, director of patient care — cardiology at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “These nurses mentored and supported their peers and were a calm and stable presence for the new generation of nurses at the bedside during the pandemic. They ran towards the challenge instead of running away, even when it meant longer hours, floating to a COVID unit,  or putting their own health concerns aside.  Their years of experience and sage wisdom were paramount to getting their teams through this unprecedented event.” 

Harris added, “In the words of FDR, ‘We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.’”

"We are so excited that these ladies are receiving this well-deserved recognition, said Jamie Hosler, BSN, CCRN, manager of patient care in the Coronary Care Unit. “This award is not only a testament to the heroic work put forth during the pandemic, but also a tribute to lifetime careers dedicated to critical care. These women are the backbone NMH’s ICUs, and the inspiration for future generations of NMH nurses.”

Interventional cardiologist James Flaherty, MD works closely with several of the nurses in his role as medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute Coronary Care Unit. He hailed his co-workers as “ageless, tireless and full of energy” as well as “friendly, calm and dependable.” 

The Annual Heroes Event was established to raise awareness of local heroes who carry out the mission of the Red Cross by making a commitment to creating stronger communities and providing help when crisis strikes.

For more information about the award and virtual event, click here.*
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