A Surprise DAISY Award for ‘Mama Berra,’ the Singing Nurse

Judy Berra, RN, and thankful patient Mark Barr, the UC Bearcat who was severely injured in a September car crash. Photo by Cindy Starr.

She was his nurse, but he called her “Mom.” She meant that much to him.

Day after day she monitored his slow recovery in the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s intensive care unit (NSICU), checking his signs, watching for changes, singing songs in her sweet soprano voice to move the healing along. When she left the room, he later remembered, he sometimes cried, begging her to come back. She complied. And when a shift opened up on her day off, she grabbed it, knowing that her presence made a difference for her young patient.

That special kind of above-and-beyond earned Judy Berra, RN, a DAISY Award on Wednesday at the UC Medical Center. Attending the ceremony, a surprise for Ms. Berra, was her memorable patient: Mark Barr, a freshman wide receiver on the UC football team who had suffered a life-threatening traumatic brain injury in a Sept. 21 car accident. The accident also injured a second UC football player and claimed the life of UC freshman offensive lineman Ben Flick.

Mark’s parents, Tia and Mark Barr of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., submitted one of three nominations for Ms. Berra, describing her as “a godsend” whose support was unwavering. “She comforted us and kept our spirits up,” they wrote. “Her voice is unforgettable. We believe in our hearts that she was sent by God to protect our son.”

“The family refers to Judy as Mark’s guardian angel,” wrote Amy Porta, RN, BSN, Clinical Manager of the NSICU, who also nominated Ms. Berra. “Judy ensured that she cared for him every day she was on shift, but in addition she picked up extra shifts to alleviate the family’s fears.”

The DAISY Award is sponsored by the DAISY Foundation, an international program that recognizes “extraordinary nurses who make an enormous difference in the lives of so many people.” DAISY, which stands for “diseases attacking the immune system,” was founded by a family that lost a son to an autoimmune disease.

Ms. Berra, sometimes referred to as “Mama Berra” or “the Singing Nurse,” says the secret to great nursing is “compassion for feeling what other people are feeling and trying to ease that pain. It’s not just about physical caring for the patient. A lot of it is mental. I fell in love with Mark’s parents, which made me want to make sure he made the best recovery possible.”

Mark Barr was hospitalized in the NSICU for 30 days. Ms. Berra didn’t really get to know Mark until the end of his stay, when he started waking up from his coma. “He became reliant on me because he knew me best,” Ms. Berra says. “That’s when I grew to love a super great young man, not just his parents. He was sweet and humble and childlike. That’s when he started calling out for me. He was just in a place where he didn’t want to be alone. After enduring all of that, I wouldn’t want to be alone either.”

On Wednesday, Mark was proof of the kind of outcomes a tertiary neurocritical care unit can produce. Though not 100 percent recovered, Mark says he is “pretty close.” This week also marked his return to classes at UC, where he is majoring in sports administration and minoring in digital design. An artist who writes poetry, he says he can draw “anything I can see.”

— Cindy Starr

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