Sparkle! Karen Hamilton’s eyes, smile, entire face seem to give off light. Posed for a photo between the president and the president-elect of the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), she gleams like the Hope Diamond. In three hours, President Michael Williams, RN, MSN, CCRN, will present her with an AACN Excellence in Caring Practices Award, and Hamilton will light up the stage at the closing ceremonies of the National Teaching Institute in Atlanta, not far from the platforms where Olympic champions were honored in 1996. Hamilton was also honored on Friday, May 10, 2002, at the annual Nurse Appreciation Dinner and Recognition Ceremony hosted by Progressive Nursing Staffers of Springfield, VA, where she works as a per diem nurse. During this event, Progressive honors nurses who exemplify its commitment to providing quality patient care.
Nursing Spectrum also recognized Karen Hamilton, RN-C, CEN, CCRN, CFRN, MICN, NREMT-P, CCEMT-P, as a champion just one year ago as the regional Nurse of the Year winner for the Washington, DC/Baltimore Metro area. She serves as the chief flight nurse and program director for Aeromedical Transport Specialists, Inc. (ATS) in Manassas, VA, a fixed-wing air ambulance service. She and her husband Jeff incorporated ATS some time ago, and now both run the company. But Hamilton has spread her own wings and soared higher than any plane can fly. Sixteen years ago, she was diagnosed with scleroderma, a serious connective tissue disorder, and was told she had seven years to live. Not only is she beating the odds, she is also living an active, full life and caring for others along the way.
Over the years, Hamilton has incorporated her love of teddy bears into her practice, often using them on transports to distract and entertain young and old alike. Now, she is combining this love with her passion for cycling to form a non-profit organization with her husband, called the Care Bears Team, Inc., to promote awareness and raise research funding to aid in the fight against scleroderma. As part of the official bicycle team for the Scleroderma Research Foundation, she has ridden more than 17,000 miles to raise awareness and research funds. In March, Enesco Group, Inc., began producing Karen and Jeff Cherished Teddies, and a portion of the proceeds goes to the Scleroderma Foundation.
As a leader in her specialty, Hamilton helped put formal training for hospital-based flight nursing on the map and to date has trained more than 2,000 medical professionals from nine countries. Along the way, she has published a number of articles and books on flight nursing. She also makes time to volunteer with a local fire and rescue department drawing on her skills as a paramedic and nurse.
In an interview for a 2001 Nursing Spectrum article Hamilton said, “Nursing has been my life and intertwined with everything I am. I can’t imagine doing anything else.” Those words hold true for her today. Despite her own health challenges, she sparkles when she talks about her work, her fund-raising, and every aspect of her life. She is one of nursing’s true champions.
Judith S. Mitiguy, RN, MS, is associate corporate editorial director for Nursing Spectrum.