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It is said that nurses are the heart of health care.

The Times and Democrat, along with sponsors, honored 10 nurses who exemplify that maxim at a special reception Thursday night on the campus of Orangeburg-Calhoun Technical College.

The event was part of The T&D’s celebration of National Nurses Week, May 6-12. The celebration included a special section in the May 5 edition featuring profiles of the 10 honorees, also available online at TheTandD.com.

“This evening is the very first of what we hope will become an annual event to honor nurses in our community during National Nurses Week,” T&D Publisher Cathy Hughes said.

The process began back in January as The T&D accepted nominations from readers of nurses who impacted their lives in meaningful ways. Two judges read all the nominations and selected the 10 honorees. The judges were Delura Knight, retired OCtech dean of nursing and nursing coordinator, and Evelyn Disher, executive director of the Orangeburg County Community of Character initiative.

The honorees are:

• Whitney Bazzle – Regional Medical Center

• Beth Berry – Regional Medical Center

• Emma Jean Buck – Grove Park Hospice

• Dawn Burgess – Claflin University

• Lucy Strock Carter – RMC Internal Medicine

• Sonya Ehrhardt – Claflin University

• Laura Fogle – Palmetto Infectious Diseases

• Renae Stroman Hewitt – RMC Cardiology

• Priya Patel – Regional Medical Center

• Tammy Schriver

Representatives of the presenting and title sponsors spoke before the nurses were introduced.

OCtech President Dr. Walt Tobin congratulated the honorees, saying that he feels a sense of pride when OCtech nurses are working in doctors’ offices and hospitals around the state.

It’s important to him because, “we have contributed to the development of an individual who is a contributing member of this society.”

“But they are also providing a significant amount of care to people who need care and compassion as part of their medical issues,” he said.

“This program is extremely difficult, when we think about how difficult it is for people to come out of our program, in particular, and go into the field of nursing,” he said.

“I’m very proud of those students who have made that significant accomplishment.”

Tobin remarked that the sponsorship by OCtech, Claflin and RMC, “sends a message about how we value the profession of nursing and the work that these folks do in support of Orangeburg and the great state of South Carolina.”

Gilbert Harding Jr., vice president of patient care and interim chief nursing officer at RMC, said, “The care and compassion that nurses provide gives comfort to countless patients and concerned family members each and every day.”

The attitude, sense of optimism and hope of nurses have a lasting and profound impact on patients and their families, he said.

He said that for last 20 years, Gallup polls have listed nursing as the most respected profession.

“You are, after all, a patient’s primary caregiver for most of their hospital stay. The trust that the patients and the family members have between the nurses and themselves is sacred and dear and to be revered,” Harding said.

Being a nurse is a rewarding profession, he said.

“It takes an unwavering amount of commitment and the ability to care for others, provide emotional support and share important information about our patients’ and families’ needs,” he said.

“I would like to say to all of our honorees, thank you for your relentless devotion, for everything that you do to provide passionate patient- and family-centered care. You are the heroes of yesterday, today and forevermore.”

Dr. Shannon Smith, associate professor and chair of Claflin’s Department of Nursing, said to the honorees, “You have given of yourself unselfishly and tirelessly and without thought” of self.

“You care for patients every day, doing what you know is right to do, and you are not expecting this honor. But you’ve earned it.”

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Smith said that her greatest privilege in nursing is having the opportunity to serve others.

Nurses leave Claflin, “to serve by leading initiatives in health care, by conducting evidence-based practice, by conducting research, all to improve health care,” she said.

As Claflin partners with RMC and OCtech, their primary goal is to improve health outcomes for every resident of Orangeburg and Calhoun counties.

“And it is an amazing opportunity,” she said.

“We are so proud of all that you have accomplished,” she told the honorees. “We say to you, ‘Don’t let tonight be the end of it. Reach for the stars – they are dangling there for a reason.’”

Honorees were introduced with video clips and comments read from their nominations.

Whitney Bazzle said she was honored and could think of “so many nurses who could be standing right here where I’m at.”

She thanked family, friends, colleagues and bosses for all their support over the years.

Beth Berry said there are many people in her path who have helped her get to where she is today. Her path to nursing was delayed when she was younger, but when she finally got there, she knew it was what she wanted to do.

“It took me a little ways to get there, but I’m so proud of the fact that I did it,” she said.

“Like Whitney said, there are probably tons of other people that should be standing right here where I am, but I’m so very honored to be here.”

Emma Jean Buck said, “I just want to say thank you for everybody that supported me.”

“I just want to thank everyone,” Dawn Burgess said, naming family members in attendance.

Lucy Strock Carter expressed her gratitude to her family, her employer and all who helped her along the way.

“I think that I get my loving, caring personality from – it’s so perfect for Mother’s Day this weekend – from my mom. So thank you very much and happy Mother’s Day,” she said.

Sonya Ehrhardt said she started her nursing career at OCtech 34 years ago.

“And if it had not been for Ms. Delura Knight, I don’t think I would have made it. The week before we were to take NCLEX (nursing exam), she called me in her office and she said, ‘You’re not going to pass.’

“And I think she knew if she made me mad enough, then I’d study hard enough and I’d pass the first time,” she said. “So thank you, Ms. Knight, you’ve been an inspiration in my nursing career.”

She thanked her husband for nominating her and became visibly emotional as she spoke.

“Nursing can be tough. You deal with dying patients,” she said through tears. “You hold their hands while they die. You’re there at birth. But my family’s been with me through it all.”

Laura Fogle said, “So this is really outside my comfort zone. I think like a lot of us nurses, we like to be behind the scenes and not be in the spotlight.”

She thanked Ehrhardt for nominating her and said she had some strong nursing mentors in her life, including her mother, a cancer nurse.

“She always taught me to give back to my community and take care of the people, and I feel like I’m doing that here in Orangeburg.”

“I’m speechless. And that’s hard for people to understand because they know I talk a lot,” Renae Stroman Hewitt said to laughter from the audience.

“I don’t take recognition like this very well. I’m a nurse. I do what we’re all taught to do,” she said. “And I love my job. There are a lot of people in this room that I know that have taught me how to be a nurse.”

She said her job has been hard for her family.

“It’s been hard for them, it’s been hard for me,” she said. “But I couldn’t imagine doing anything different.”

Priya Patel said, “I’ve been blessed with great patients, great coworkers, a great doctor. We have a good family at RMC right now, and I’m very thankful to be working where I work right now.”

The last honoree, Tammy Schriver, a former employee of RMC Hospice, was unable to attend the reception due to health issues. But Ronda Smith, who nominated Schriver, said a few words about her.

“It was an honor to nominate Tammy for this moment in time,” Smith said.

“She’s the kind of person, if you asked her ‘What do you have?’ in time, she would say, ‘I have today.’

“And I want to share that with you because, you know what? That’s all we do have, is today,” she said. “So let’s embrace life. Let’s take the good, the bad and the ugly, and let’s celebrate life.

“And I think that’s what she would want me to encourage you to do.”

Each honoree received a framed T&D front page featuring their own profile, as well as a gift bag and bouquet of roses.

OCtech was the presenting sponsor for the nursing observance while Claflin and RMC were title sponsors. Bouquet sponsor was Garden Gate Florist. Auto sponsor was Jimmy Jones Toyota of Orangeburg. Care sponsors were Grove Park Pharmacy, the Bill Connor Law Firm and Calhoun Convalescent Center.

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Contact the writer: chuff@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5543.

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