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Health Care Heroes

Nominated by their patients, these five professionals save and alter lives by displaying amazing persistence and good old-fashioned competence. They are (from left) Troy Tanji, Belinda McGillicuddy, Melissa Champlin, Sandy Na-o and Heather Sloan

While grammarians might disagree, the analogy is supported by the actions of five Hawaii Health Heroes. What they did in the name of compassion, patient care and responsiveness elevates them to a moral standard that merits public recognition.

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Nominated by their patients, these five professionals save and alter lives by displaying amazing persistence and good old-fashioned competence. They are (from left) Troy Tanji, Belinda McGillicuddy, Melissa Champlin, Sandy Na-o and Heather Sloan

In conjunction with Healthcare Association of Hawaii (HAH), MidWeek salutes five individuals who are nominated by patients for exemplary health service. These five make up the inaugural class of Healthcare Heroes who will be honored each year by the statewide organization that represents health providers and policy makers.

Nominations were solicited from the community during September, with a panel of judges culling more than 100 entries to pick the five most compelling real-life stories.

Judges were: Lee Cataluna, English faculty at Iolani School and playwright; Scott Humber, news director, Hawaii News Now; and Maleko McDonnell, Star 101.9, Clear Channel Hawaii; Kimberly Miyazawa Frank, senior vice president of community development for Pulama Lanai; Ron Nagasawa, publisher and senior vice president, MidWeek; and Pono Shim, CEO, Enterprise Honolulu, Oahu Economic Development Board.

The program marks HAH’s 75th anniversary, with winners being honored at a Nov. 8 awards dinner at Ko’olau Ballroom.

“Their stories are an inspirational reminder that health care is ultimately about compassion,” says George Greene, Esq., HAH CEO. “We salute those who dedicate their careers to saving and improving the lives of fellow human beings. This is their time to shine!”

Following are excerpts from nominations naming 2014 Hawaii Health Heroes:

Hero: Heather Sloan, registered nurse, Hawaiian Island Ear Nose and Throat Specialists

Nominated by: Brandon Tomita, Ewa Beach

Why: “There is a good chance that I would not be here were it not for the dedication and professionalism of Heather Sloan, APRN. I first visited Ms. Sloan in March of 2014 with a persistent cough that affected my sleep and general well-being. I could barely walk 50 feet before feeling winded.

“After months, my condition got worse, and I reluctantly decided to see an otolaryngologist. As part of the visit, Ms. Sloan sent me for a chest X-ray to rule out tuberculosis.

“What was not expected was the observation that my heart was ‘gigantic’ and that my aorta was twisted. I have a family history of cardiovascular disease, and my blood pressure had been higher than average since I was a teen. I had ignored the signs that my heart was not healthy.

“On my follow-up visit, Ms. Sloan suggested that I visit a cardiologist and took the initiative to set up an appointment.

“On 17 March 2014, I visited the cardiologist and had an echocardiogram two days later. On 21 March, I was admitted to The Queen’s Medical Center. I was a 37-year-old with heart failure.

“The time in the hospital and the five days immediately after discharge were the most painful and humbling experiences of my life. Then I began the slow process of recovery by overhauling my diet, rededicating myself to working out and taking medication to address the problems that I had ignored for too long.

“Today, six months after preparing to say goodbye to my 3-year-old daughter, I can run next to her as she rides her bicycle. Ms. Sloan changed the course of my life. She returned my normal life to me and I am living, thanks to her.”

Hero: Sandra Na-o, certified nurse aide, The Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu

Nominated by: Terrilyn M. Kahiamoe, Kapolei

Why: “I was admitted to Queen’s Medical Center-West Oahu Aug. 14, 2014, for gallbladder surgery. Coming from a broken family, I never knew love could come from a total stranger.

“From the first day of my post-operative recovery, she took me under her wing and made sure I was comfortable and clean. She was gentle and loving, like a mom I never had.

“Even on her off hours, she stopped by to check on me and take my vitals (health monitoring) to observe the level of my blood pressure.

“While in the hospital, I learned that my brother passed away. Sandra comforted me and told me I need to get well so I could go to his final rites. She helped me every day through my loss.

“God will surely bless her. I couldn’t wait to go home so I could cook for her and her family.”

Hero: Belinda McGillicuddy, respiratory therapist, Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children

Nominated by: Geri Kimura, Honolulu

Why: “My 3-year-old son was hospitalized for a month, and nearly every day required some form of respiratory therapy, usually three or four times a day. Depending on how he was feeling, he would either dread or enjoy the respiratory treatments, sometimes giving the respiratory therapist quite a difficult time.

“However, he would ALWAYS enjoy his visits from ‘B’ or Belinda, from the first time she visited and every visit thereafter. She would make the treatments fun for him, and thus he would refer to her as his ‘funny nurse.’ Belinda would go the extra mile to ensure that he was doing all of the breathing exercises he was supposed to by not just giving him his respiratory treatments and moving on to her next patient, but asking him to show her how he did the incentive spirometry, or being the target of his marshmallow shooter, or cheering him on as he blew up the beach ball.

“Belinda also took the extra time to check how I was holding up, as I was there practically the whole time my son was hospitalized.

“Attitude is contagious. I hope Belinda’s positive attitude and enthusiasm are caught by everyone she comes in contact with.”

Hero: Dr. Troy Tanji, ophthalmologist, Eye Surgery Center of Hawaii

Nominated by: Gary Slovin, Honolulu

Why: “A recent eye surgery did not go well, and I lost the sight in one eye. Dr. Tanji was not the surgeon, but is my ophthalmologist. He took over my care and attended to me nearly every day, often two or three times in a day, including when his office was closed. He interrupted his office and personal/family schedules to make sure my eye was constantly monitored. He combined his technical skill with compassion to minimize the trauma of losing my sight in my eye, and thereby preparing me for a needed second surgery that he understood I was very reluctant to have.

“My sight was ultimately restored through that second surgery. Because I needed to be awake during this second surgery, I believe I would not have been psychologically able to undergo it if Dr. Tanji had not understood and addressed my high anxiety.

“Without Dr. Tanji’s caring and compassionate attitude, I believe I would not have regained my sight.

“Further, Dr. Tanji was born and raised in Waipahu, and maintains an office in Waipahu to serve his boyhood community. It is not a token effort, as he splits his time evenly between his Waipahu office and his town office, further demonstrating an approach to health care that is not so common, but should be.

“While Dr. Tanji is recognized as a leader in his field, he remains a compassionate healer. It is clear that the extraordinary care I received was not unique to me but characterizes how he practices medicine. He sets an example for how physicians should practice, and I believe that is worthy of acclaim.”

Hero: Melissa Champlin, Registered Nurse, Hospice Hawaii, Lanai

Nominated by: Erin Nakano, Lanai

Why: “My mother Sue Ruidas was extremely proud to be the first hospice patient on Lanai and was put under Melissa’s care. It was especially satisfying for my mom because she had fought so hard to bring hospice services to the island after she had quit her job to care for my stepfather, who suffered a stroke and eventually passed away in 2006. Melissa was so caring, and made sure that my mom had an excellent team of volunteers and nurses available daily. After her visit during the day, Melissa would always call my mom at night for what they affectionately call a ‘tuck-in.’ My mom looked forward to Melissa’s calls, and appreciated the time and help she and the hospice team provided.

“Melissa also was a true champion when my mom had passed away. I don’t know what I would have done if I was left to make all of the arrangements myself in the state of mind that I was in and with such a short timeline.

“Lanai is a small island with limited resources. Because there are no mortuaries here for cremation, it requires transport to Maui via a chartered boat from Manele Harbor. Melissa was an integral part of the whole process, and for that reason, she is my hero!”