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Heartfelt Honors
Your name needn't be Diamond Jim Brady to make a lasting impression

Christopher Willis, above, clinical tech and Cozette Hastings, below, surgical tech are this year's winners of a scholarship named in memory of a modest, much loved surgical shift coordinator.

Shirley Alford

Betty Greer

Leon Plater
Betty Greer was an institution at the Wilmer Eye Institute, if only by virtue of her four decades of service. But Greer, a former scrub nurse who never advanced beyond an L.P.N., was more than a long-time employee, for when she retired last year, two operating suites were named in her honor.

Greer is part of an exclusive club at Hopkins Hospital, one that includes several employees, neither famous nor wealthy, who have had similar honors bestowed upon them. What distinguished them was their warmth and very ordinariness. They were the kind of people everyone seemed to know and love, the kind who left a hole in everyone's heart when they departed. And now, in some cases, their legacy lives on in the awards named in their honor and in those who receive them each year.

Leon Plater came to Hopkins in the 1960s as an aide and earned several degrees while holding down his job. Known for his whistle and the way he always wore white, Plater, an unstinting advocate for patients, was unfailingly calm and kind, despite the weight of his responsibilities as a surgical shift coordinator, a sort of traffic cop who finds beds, manages discipline problems and handles emergencies. When he died in February 1999, his co-workers in the Department of Surgery were so bereft that they filled a special edition of their nursing newsletter with remembrances of him. And to help spawn another Leon, they collected enough contributions to establish the Leon Plater R.N. Memorial Scholarship Award, one that goes to those who are pursuing a career in nursing.

Christopher Willis, a recipient this year and last, has been a clinical technician in the intermediate care unit on Halsted 6 for four years. Now, thanks to a Department of Nursing scholarship known as Project LINC, he's also enrolled in nursing school. For Willis, 27, who has supported himself ever since he turned 18, the Plater scholarship is a much appreciated, added dividend that helps with books and school supplies.

Willis began his career in the store room six years ago and worked with Plater. "If you could clone a nurse, Leon Plater is the one you'd want to clone. He was a spokesman for male nurses; in fact, he was the one who encouraged me to become a nurse."

Another award in surgical nursing, which has been given annually in November for 20 years, is the A. J. Salley Award, named for a perioperative nurse who worked in the general operating room from 1951 to 1983. Salley originally worked with Hopkins' famous "blue baby" surgeon, Alfred Blalock, then spent most of her career supervising the evening shift, which by all accounts she ran "like a drill sergeant with a big heart." Recipients of her award, who are nominated by their peers for displaying exceptional clinical, teaching or leadership skills, receive funds to attend an educational conference of their choice.

The most recent winner was Sharon Baylis, manager of the case cart system that supplies equipment and instruments to the GOR and Weinberg OR. At the beginning of her 29-year career as a Hopkins OR nurse, Baylis actually worked under Salley. "To have received this award, knowing what her standards were, is a real honor."

In pediatrics, the Shirley Alford Awards for compassionate care were launched just last year in memory of a nursing technician who worked with children at Hopkins for 43 years. "Miss Shirley" was gifted at calming frightened patients and helping new nurses adjust to their jobs. Physicians felt safe putting their patients into Alford's capable hands.

Dawn Breon, a social worker in the Harriet Lane Clinic until several months ago (she now works in Gyn/Ob), never knew Alford or anything about the award created in her name until she became the first winner last June. But she shared with Alford the experience of working in the high-volume, fast-paced outpatient clinic where 8,000 patients with complicated medical and family histories are on file. "We were all so busy in our own roles in that clinic, I had no idea anyone was recognizing what I was doing. Everybody likes to hear that their work is appreciated. But to get a plaque and a cash award-holy cow!"

Even though it has been more than a year, Betty Greer is still overwhelmed to have had two Wilmer operating suites named for her. Greer came to work at Wilmer in 1961 and, in just three months, became former chairman Edward Maumenee's personal scrub nurse. "God granted him the most gifted hands," she says. "In eye surgery, the tissues are so fine, but he knew the depth to get. His sutures were so pretty."

Soon, Greer found that she had watched so many of his operations that she could guide the residents in Maumenee's techniques. "She had enough knowledge that residents could ask her, What would Dr. Maumenee do?" says ophthalmologist Walter Stark, who was once one of those residents. "She looked through the microscope and replied, In this complicated case, he would take this instrument and use it in this special way." Her guidance, Stark says, "would usually get the doctor out of trouble."

Greer got such satisfaction from her work that even as a single mother with four children she volunteered her evenings to teach residents. "I have at least 100 sons and daughters," she says. "Seeing them go on to be professors makes me feel like I was a part of it."

--Mary Ellen Miller



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