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Excela nurses honored as Cameos of Caring

| Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013, 8:55 p.m.

Four Westmoreland County nurses will be among the honorees at the 15th annual awards gala Saturday for Cameos of Caring recipients.

The event, to be held at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh, was created by the University of Pittsburgh in 1999 to celebrate exceptional caregivers.

The local winners — Shawn Ditch of Youngwood, Karen Kettering of Greensburg, Kayla Ellis of Latrobe and Jeanie Thomas of North Huntingdon — are registered nurses employed by Excela Health.

Ditch, who works for Excela Health Home Care and Hospice, followed in the footsteps of his mother, a registered nurse in the Wellness Center at St. Vincent College in Unity. He is a 2006 graduate of the West Penn School of Nursing who earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from Waynesburg University in 2008.

Ditch, a former bedside nurse at Latrobe Hospital, said he understands that “patients want to be home.”

He recalled caring for a 90-year-old patient who needed IV antibiotics at home, so Ditch taught the patient's 87-year-old wife how to administer the medication. “It gives me joy when I can contribute to healing at home,” he said.

Kettering, who works at the Family Additions Maternity Center at Westmoreland Hospital in Greensburg, has spent almost 40 years caring for mothers and their newborns.

A 1974 diploma graduate of the Allegheny Valley School of Nursing, Kettering received certification in inpatient obstetrical nursing in 1994. She is also certified as a childbirth educator and infant massage instructor.

Kettering, a clinical nurse coordinator, said she finds purpose in “being part of the beginning of life.”

She cites watching an adoptive mother struggling to connect with her adoptive son as he suffered withdrawal from drugs ingested by his birth mother during pregnancy. Kettering, an adoptive mother herself, showed the anxious mom how to bond with her son through massage.

“From beginning to the end, this has been a truly amazing journey, which I love,” Kettering said.

Ellis, who works at the emergency department at Latrobe Hospital, found her calling at age 12 when she was comforted by a nurse who cared for her in the hospital after an unexpected appendectomy.

A 2010 graduate of Westmoreland County Community College, Ellis holds a bachelor's degree in nursing from Pennsylvania State University. In 2011, she completed training as a sexual assault nurse examiner for adult victims at Duquesne University School of Nursing. She will finish a master's degree at Penn State in 2015, specializing as a family nurse practitioner.

She mentors high school students to pursue health care careers and still makes weekly visits to an elderly woman that began when Ellis was 16.

Jeanie Thomas, who works at the emergency department at Frick Hospital in Mt. Pleasant, knew as a child that she wanted to be a nurse, She began to pursue her dream when her children were school age.

A 1996 diploma graduate of West Penn Hospital School of Nursing, she sought specialty training as a sexual assault nurse examiner, receiving her certificate from the Crime/Victims Center-Fayette in 2003. She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing at The Eberly Campus of Penn State in Fayette County earlier this year.

Her most meaningful experience occurred when she cared for a 3-year-old before the toddler was flown to Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. Weeks later, Thomas read a newspaper article about the child that expressed thanks for the nurse and doctor who gave compassionate care in the emergency department. “This event made me want to stay in emergency nursing,” Thomas said. “To know that I assisted in saving a life is one of the greatest feelings.”