Grand Prize Winner, RN Category

RN Recognized for Devotion to Patients Experiencing Perinatal Loss

For Laurie Van Damme, RN, BN, working as a clinical nurse coordinator at Brandon Regional Hospital, in Brandon, Fla., simply isn't enough. In addition to overseeing the delivery of care to patients in labor and delivery, she devotes her time to the facility's perinatal bereavement program, and created Cherished Moments, a touching remembrance for families facing an unimaginable loss, the death of a baby.

For her tireless dedication, advocacy and breakthrough programs on behalf of bereaved families, Van Damme is being honored with the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award. She is one of 10 honorees nationwide in 2008.

"I knew we would take footprints and a few pictures, which is what most hospitals do, but for the first time, I felt like this just wasn’t enough. I wanted to make a difference."

The award is granted annually by Cherokee Uniforms to recognize nurses and other non-physician healthcare professionals who demonstrate exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation and have a positive impact on others' lives. This is the 6th year Cherokee Uniforms has honored inspirational caregivers, with hopes that the winners' stories will encourage the nation's brightest students to enter the healthcare professions.    

"Laurie Van Damme's innovation and leadership in advocating for compassionate care helped shape the culture of her work environment and how it responds to perinatal bereavement," says Wendell Mobley, who directs the company's charitable and scholarship programs. "It is difficult to imagine a more caring, passionate and deserving individual."

Van Damme performed much of her work on perinatal loss on her own initiative simply because she saw a need. As a clinical nurse coordinator, she serves as a charge nurse on the hospital's labor and delivery unit and also fills the role of bereavement program coordinator. In this latter role, Van Damme provides families with memories they can cherish for the rest of their lives and especially during times of sorrow and grief.  One baby's death about four years ago affected Van Damme so profoundly that it inspired her to change the way the hospital dealt with the bereavement process.

"I had never felt so helpless as a nurse before, and I wanted so badly to be able to do more for this family," Van Damme says. "I knew we would take footprints and a few pictures, which is what most hospitals do, but for the first time, I felt like this just wasn't enough. I wanted to make a difference."

Van Damme wanted to provide parents with an emotional connection to their baby and believed she should invite them to hold their baby and have pictures taken. Her dream produced a new program for Brandon Regional Hospital called Cherished Moments.

After the tragic news of a stillborn baby at the hospital, Van Damme can be found photographing the baby to create a memorial DVD and scrapbook.  She encourages the family to spend time holding the baby so that she can capture photos of moments the parents thought they would never have. Van Damme's relationship with the family doesn't stop when they leave the hospital. She calls them at home to see how they are coping. If the family initially declines the photos and DVD, the hospital often will hear from a family member months after leaving – requesting a keepsake or a memory of the baby.

"Although dealing with perinatal bereavement can be a very emotionally challenging and exhausting part of my job, it is also the most rewarding," explains Van Damme. "The experience of losing a child will be with those families forever, and the memories of those moments will be visited over many times in the months and years to come. That inspires me to give my best. I want those memories to be ones of care, compassion, empathy, respect – even love."

Michelle Meere, Van Damme's nominator and colleague, lauds the program. "The response from the families has been extraordinary, and parents have been truly touched by this addition to our bereavement program. Laurie has been giving 110 percent of herself to this worthy cause," Meere says.

Van Damme meticulously educates other nurses, patients and members of the community on the bereavement process. She trains nurses about the needs of the families and has enlisted their help with the memorial photos and videos. She has also created an educational brochure to prepare families for the difficult moments that can occur during the healing process and speaks on the topic. In 2007, she organized the hospital's first annual Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Ceremony which will now occur every October. This year's ceremony will incorporate a memorial garden where the names of the babies who've died in the hospital and surrounding community will be placed on tiles and pillars in remembrance.

As a Grand Prize Winner in the 2008 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award's registered nurse category, Van Damme receives an all-expense-paid Caribbean cruise for two, a wardrobe featuring the best of Cherokee Uniforms and Cherokee Footwear worth more than $1,000 and a trophy. She will also be featured in Cherokee's nationally distributed 2009 Inspired Comfort Award calendar.

Since the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award was established in 2003, nearly 7,000 healthcare professionals have been nominated in the Registered Nurse, Advanced Practice Nurse, Licensed Practical Nurse/Licensed Vocational Nurse, Student Nurse and Non-Physician Healthcare Professional categories. A panel of Cherokee representatives and past Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award recipients evaluates nominations and grants the awards.

For every nomination, Cherokee Uniforms donated $1 to Nurse's House, a national fund that provides short-term financial assistance to registered nurses facing serious hardship. Proceeds from Cherokee Uniforms products support healthcare professionals through initiatives such as the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award, an annual calendar and the A Nurse I Am Film and Scholarship Program. Cherokee Uniforms will be accepting nominations for the 2009 Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award beginning March 1st through May 31st, 2009.

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