An Award for Patient Care Excellence

Published in Wilmer - Annual Report 2018

In 1997, Sharon Kress was severely injured in a car accident. One month in a coma, three months in a wheelchair with a feeding tube and some 35 surgeries would follow, many for her face and eyes. That brought her into the care of Wilmer surgeon Nicholas Iliff, M.D.

In 1998, Iliff conducted the first of 20 procedures he would perform on Kress. He not only managed the health and well-being of her eyes, Kress says, but also referred her to other doctors at Johns Hopkins to assist with her many injuries. Kress credits Iliff and those doctors with helping to rebuild her life.

“He always had time for me personally. He always listened, answered my questions and addressed my concerns,” Kress says. “He really cared for me.” Once, after a visit to Iliff, Kress was driving home to New Jersey when her eye began to bleed. Kress phoned Iliff, who quickly calmed her and coached her through exactly what to do. “Having your eye bleed is beyond devastating, but having someone there to help you is priceless,” Kress says.

That extraordinary level of care inspired Kress to make the transition from patient to donor. She began to support ophthalmologists-in-training studying under Iliff, endowing several fellowships that helped them complete their training. She later included Wilmer in her estate plans. 

Most recently, Kress permanently endowed the Sharon A. Kress and Dr. Nicholas Iliff Excellence in Patient Care Award, which will be given annually by Wilmer to the first-, second- and third-year residents who are deemed to provide the most exceptional patient care. It will first be bestowed in 2020 and include a monetary award.

The award is the third to recognize resident contributions to the core missions of Johns Hopkins Medicine. Two existing awards acknowledge excellence in research and in teaching. What was missing was recognition of excellent patient care, says Michael Boland, M.D., Ph.D., Wilmer’s residency program director.

“Residency is often a thankless period during one’s career. Awards like these are an opportunity to recognize the great work residents do for Wilmer and our patients,” Boland says. 

In the end, the gift is one of recognition of Iliff himself, who, Kress says, is a “Renaissance man”—a super doctor and educator, and a man who cares deeply about his patients. 

Iliff cared for Kress for 18 years, until his retirement in 2016. He describes her as an incredibly generous and thoughtful woman. “Donations like this are critical to Wilmer’s mission, but this is more about Sharon Kress and her perspective on what is important in life. It means a lot to us all.”