On March 3, 2021, Darlene Sawicki, MSN, NP-BC, became the first nurse at Massachusetts General Hospital to be formally recognized for the critical role nurses play in the lives of people living with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and their families.
“Darlene’s nursing model focuses on providing our patients with the best possible experience, reminding us that treating people with humanity may be even more important than our medical expertise.”
To families navigating the brutal trajectory of ALS, Ms. Sawicki is more than a caregiver. She is a mentor, nursing leader, teacher, healer and friend. And thanks to the generosity of a patient family, she was named the incumbent of the new David Richards Endowed Nursing Chair in ALS.
The chair honors Ms. Sawicki for her compassion and leadership in teaching ALS nurses how to advocate for comprehensive patient care. This endowment supports Ms. Sawicki now and ensures funds are available to ALS nurses forever.
“You taught us what the words ‘caring’ and ‘healing’ really mean,” said one attendee at the virtual chair celebration, whose husband was a patient at ALS Clinic at the Healey Center for ALS at Mass General. “Those are lessons in life we will all take forward.”
Nurses Ease Burden of ALS
At the virtual chair celebration, nearly 80 patients, family members and colleagues shared an outpouring of love and respect for Ms. Sawicki, director of Advanced Practice Providers at Mass General and co-director of the ALS Clinic.
Merit Cudkowicz, MD, MSc, chief of Neurology, whose practice is dedicated to people living with ALS, and who has been a longtime advocate and mentor of Ms. Sawicki, said that while the clinic is working hard to find cures for ALS, “we are also committed to easing the burden of the illness on people living with ALS and their families.”
Dr. Cudkowicz added, “Darlene’s nursing model focuses on providing our patients with the best possible experience, reminding us that treating people with humanity may be even more important than our medical expertise.”
Patients Always First
Ms. Sawicki’s determination to meet patients where they are, paved the way for a House Calls program led by nurses. She also developed a primary nurse model, providing patients and families with a dedicated nurse who could get to know them and be available 24/7 for advice or simply to offer a sympathetic ear.
“It is such a privilege for me to have patients give me permission to walk alongside them at such an intimate moment, to really trust me.”
“I cannot think of anyone better suited to carry this recognition than Darlene,” said Debra Burke, RN, DNP, MBA, NEA-BC, senior vice president for Patient Care and chief nurse at Mass General. “She has dedicated the better part of her career to building the neurology nursing community.”
Said another family member about Ms. Sawicki: “Your capacity for love and care, along with your availability whenever we needed you, are truly extraordinary.”
These sentiments were echoed by many patients and family members who spoke of Ms. Sawicki’s honesty and empathy and most importantly, her availability. For her part, Ms. Sawicki said the honor of the chair belonged to everyone.
“It is such a privilege for me to have patients give me permission to walk alongside them at such an intimate moment, to really trust me,” Ms. Sawicki said. “I have been given so much, by all my patients, their families, and all the amazing nurses and colleagues who work with me.”