SIOUX CITY — The Siouxland community came together Tuesday afternoon to honor nurses for the work they do each and every day.

The 2023 “Nurses, the Heart of Health Care” event recognized five nurses from four health care entities. The event was held at the Sioux City Country Club.

The ceremony, began by the Journal in 2019, is a way for people to show gratitude to those who often work long hours to make sure patients receive the best medical care possible.

This year’s five honorees were: Susan Becker, a neurology nurse at CNOS, Sara Kelly, a nurse with UnityPoint Health — St. Luke’s, Mindee Knudson, a Sunrise Retirement Community nurse, Jennifer Perera, MercyOne Siouxland Medical Center nurse, and Michaela Uhl, an orthopedic nurse with CNOS.

Wendy Lindley, the chief nurse executive at UnityPoint health – St. Luke’s, called nurses the backbone of the entire industry.

Before the ceremony, all five women acknowledged the difficulties they’ve faced across their various careers.

Becker, a registered nurse who studied at Western Iowa Tech, who has more than 30 years of experience, said one of the challenging moments of her professional life was caring for Capt. Al Haynes following the Flight 232 crash on July 19, 1989.

“When he was dismissed, I was walking him out and told him how proud I was of him and what a hero he was,” Becker said. “He said, ‘Young lady, you and all the medical professionals are the real heroes.'”

Those sorts of interactions are what matter to Becker even more than any plaques or trophies. Asked to name the most rewarding part of her career, she said two words. ‘Patient care.”

According to Kelly, an MSN and Morningside University grad with over 15 years in the profession, the COVID-19 pandemic presented the single greatest challenge of her career.

“Not having family at a patient’s bedside or allowed in the buildings when they needed them most was very challenging,” Kelly said.

Kelly immediately jumped to thanking her family for getting to where she is in her life as a nurse.

“My mom was very supportive helped me through homework, my husband same way in college and through my master’s. I don’t know how many papers he had to read. He loved every one of them,” Kelly said.

Knudson, a Western Iowa tech grad and registered nurse with two-plus decades of experience, didn’t pinpoint an especially tough time. Instead, she said a major obstacle can be when a patient declines to proceed with a treatment plan that may be beneficial.

“It can also be difficult when interacting with all the various personalities and not take it personally,” Knudson said. “When patients are changing, it can be difficult for their loved ones to process the news.”

Knudson said being spotlighted for the work she’s done in difficult times was “overwhelming.”

“I was not expecting it at all. It was my team. I mean, they make me look good. I have an amazing team. We all work really well together. We bring out  everyone’s strongest qualities,” she said.

Perera, who has spent five years in the profession and obtained an Associate of Science in Nursing degree from St. Luke’s College in Sioux City, pointed to the pandemic as the great difficulty to arise during her time on the job thus far. She then said health care never comes down to just one individual.

“It truly takes so many people,” Perera said.

Every single nurse Perera’s worked with has helped to shape her.

“I’ve had so many great mentors over the time. And my patients. I wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for them,” she said while reflecting on being honored.

Uhl’s logged more than five years in the medical profession and obtained her  Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from St. Luke’s College as well. She said the ever-shifting nature of her work can be a real test.

“Nursing today is not the same it was 20 years ago and will not be the same 20 years from now,” Uhl said.

She said her parents and her husband have helped her weather those changes and everything else that comes her way.

“They are understanding. They’re willing to sit there and listen to my day and they’re willing to learn right alongside,” Uhl said.