UCLA Medical Center today announced Lea Ann Cook (Miracle Mile area of Los Angeles), a registered nurse for 28 years, as the hospital's "hero" representative at the National Health Foundation's Hospital Hero Awards slated for Friday at the Los Angeles Westin Bonaventure Hotel.
The inaugural Hospital Hero Awards is designed to honor the outstanding achievements that occur within hospitals everyday. Cook will attend the ceremony with other nominees from within the Hospital Association of Southern California.
"Southern California hospitals are in the news," said Jennifer Bayer, director of public affairs, Hospital Association of Southern California. "Hospitals are the front lines of care within our society and are committed to providing life-saving services to millions of people everyday. The Hospital Hero Awards will honor these outstanding achievements and share with the public how these extraordinary people affect our lives."
Cook, who has been with UCLA Medical Center since 1993, was surprised and delighted to be nominated. "I don't see myself as a ‘hero,' " said Cook. "This is just what I do. I always try to be of service the best way that I can in whatever role that I have."
As nursing director for UCLA Medical Center's transplant and surgical specialties intensive-care units, Cook sees first hand the devastating impact of the nation's organ shortage on those who are awaiting a new heart, lung, liver, kidney or other organ.
Seeing an opportunity to help remedy organ donation shortages, Cook led UCLA's participation - beginning in 2004 - in the Organ Breakthrough Collaborative, a U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services initiative to increase organ donation rates to 75 percent or higher throughout the U.S.
Due in large part to her leadership, expertise and compassion for patients and their families, Cook led UCLA's "Bruins for Life" initiative in increasing UCLA's organ donation rate from 46 percent pre-collaboration to 77 percent in April 2006, said Dr. J. Thomas Rosenthal, UCLA Medical Center's chief medical officer.
"This translated to an additional 45 people who benefited from life-saving transplants, some at UCLA Medical Center, but others from all over California," Rosenthal said.
"Families have told us how much it has meant to be given a purpose to their lives after the unbearable loss of a loved one," said Cook. "Working with a team of caregivers who cherish this gift and do everything in their power to help organ recipients recover to enjoy a fuller quality of life has been a privilege. What I have given is nothing compared to what has been given back to me."
The process of obtaining organs from neurologically injured patients is one of the most complex endeavors in all of medicine. There are multiple steps to organ donation, including donor identification, declaration of brain death, medical management of brain death, obtaining family consent and the organ procurement procedure itself. Active participation by neurologists, emergency room physicians, social workers, spiritual care staff, organ procurement agency staff, respiratory therapists, operating room staff and multiple levels of nurses is required.
"The real heroes are the patients who have the conversations with their families about organ donation, the families who consent to donation in an hour of tremendous loss, and the nurses, physicians, social workers, family care and organ procurement coordinators who are at the bedside with them, supporting them, comforting them, grieving with them and helping them through the decisions that they will make," said Cook. "To bring all these people into an improvement process and gain their commitment to achieve the gains that were attained is quite an amazing accomplishment," said Rosenthal. "Our mission at UCLA Medical Center is to provide excellent patient care in support of the educational and scientific programs of the schools of the UCLA Center for the Health Sciences. I cannot think of a clearer or greater example of this mission in practice than Ms. Cook's dedication to saving lives, not only at a hospital level, but also at the level of mankind."