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Nurses at Willmar, Minn., hospital singled out for making a difference in patients' lives

WILLMAR -- Three registered nurses at Rice Memorial Hospital were honored last week for making a difference in the lives of their patients.

Jonelle Heinen, Shannon Miller and Heidi Ahrendt were nominated for the award by patients and families.

Rice hosts the "My Nurse Made the Difference" awards each year to recognize the role of nurses and the skills they bring to patient care, and to give patients and families the opportunity to share their stories. Winners are chosen by a panel of judges.

The winners, their families and nominating families were celebrated last week at a lunch and ceremony in their honor.

Ahrendt, the third-place winner, was nominated by Harlan Madsen for her care while he was hospitalized this past February following emergency surgery.

Madsen said he encountered many exceptional nurses during his stay but Ahrendt was "the best of the best."

She was both professional and compassionate, he wrote in his letter of nomination. "She has a wonderful personality and is a great communicator."

Before le-aving the room, she always ask-ed if there was anything else she could do for him, Madsen wrote. "Heidi is a nurse that exemplifies patient-centered care."

Ahrendt earned her nursing degree at Minnesota State Community and Technical College in Fergus Falls. She previously worked in Elbow Lake and as a behavioral health nurse in Cold Spring before joining the nursing staff at Rice Hospital in 2008. She is trained in advanced cardiac life support and is a staff nurse and charge nurse on Rice's adult health unit.

Shannon Miller, the second-place winner, was nominated by Laurie Ellanson for her care of Ellanson's 92-year-old father during hospitalizations in November and January.

Miller "made a lasting impression on us," Ellanson wrote in her nomination letter. She treated him with respect, listened to him, demonstrated sincere concern and always put his needs first, she wrote. "She was a professional and she was competent and she made my father feel safe."

Miller is a graduate of the nursing program at Ridgewater College and has been a nurse on the adult health unit at Rice Hospital since 2005. She is certified in advanced cardiac life support and has been trained to administer chemotherapy.

Jonelle Heinen, the first-place winner, also was a "My Nurse Made the Difference" winner in 2010. She was nominated by Marlene Schmisek for her care of Schmisek's mother, who had been diagnosed with inoperable cancer a month after her 80th birthday and was hospitalized in January on hospice.

The family met many caring nurses but Heinen stood out, Schmisek wrote in her letter.

Heinen helped ease her mother's mind about taking morphine for pain and made sure she was never without an orange Popsicle, which was the only food she could keep down, Schmisek wrote.

When her mother collapsed during a brief walk in the hall one morning, Heinen took control of the situation, she wrote. And when her mother died later that morning, "her arms held me tight," Schmisek wrote.

Heinen's presence "was so reassuring for me, knowing someone was in charge," she wrote.

Heinen received her nurse's training at the College of St. Benedict. She worked on the medical unit at Rice Hospital, then became a certified diabetes educator and spent many years with the outpatient diabetes education program until transitioning back to the adult health unit in 2008. She is a charge nurse on the adult health unit and also serves as a mentor for new staff.