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Mt. Vernon nurses honored among 100 Iowa greats
May 10, 2013 · Margaret Stevens

Two Mount Vernon residents were honored this past Sunday as among Iowa's 100 Great Nurses. Monica Keleher, who works for University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, and Lorna Lahammer, who works at the Iowa City Veterans Administration Health Care Center, were recognized at a ceremony at Veterans Auditorium in Des Moines.

"We have all met at least one outstanding nurse whose courage, competence, and commitment to patients and the nursing profession stands out above all others. Each year 100 great Iowa nurses are honored at a ceremony, created for the state of Iowa, by nurse and community leaders," say organizers of the event.

Nominations for 100 Great Nurses go through a rigorous and anonymous review process. A panel of reviewers score the nominations using criteria such as: concern for humanity, contributions to the profession, leadership and mentoring. Nurses selected for this honor represent many sectors of health care, including hospitals, long-term care facilities, and school and office nurses.

Keleher works as a supervising nurse in the pediatric nephrology glomerular disease clinic, and as the rare renal disease nurse co-ordinator. In nominating Keleher, co-workers cited her compassion, precision, and accessibility in providing care for seriously ill patients with complex treatment plans. They also noted her trips to Haiti, where she has gone three times since the devastating earthquake in 2010 as part of the Community Health Initiative.

The last trip to Haiti was the most memorable, Keleher said. She went with her daughter and brother John and led a group of 17 to provide care for more than 1,300 people.

"Monica is perhaps the most dedicated health care provider to underserved people, as well as those with few resources, that I have ever had the privilege to meet and work with," said Patrick Brophy in nominating Keleher. "She is selfless, and it comes from her heart. Her natural intelligence and organizational skills provide a framework for her genuine passion for doing the right thing and caring for others. She is a motivator and a fine role model for all those around her."

Keleher will be going on a medical mission to Jamaica this fall with Brophy with the aim of treating children and building a sustainable, self-sufficient health-care system there.

Keleher moved to the Mount Vernon-Lisbon area in 1987, coming from Elkader. Her children, daughter Madeline, currently a junior at the University of Iowa, and son Jack, a freshman at the University of Dubuque, are graduates of Mount Vernon High School. Keleher is a member of St. John's Catholic church and the Mount Vernon resiliency group.

She said she's always wanted to be a nurse, following in the footsteps of her mother and her grandmother, Monica, for whom Keleher was named. Keleher earned her bachelor of science in nursing from Clarke College. She has been with the University of Iowa for 23 years, spending 15 in the neonatal intensive care unit and the past five in the nephrology.

Her current unit works with rare renal disease, a unit that receives patients from all over the world.

"This is the only such clinic available to these wonderful families, and I am proud to be a part of the team that declares as their mission the compassionate education and management of this absolutely delightful group of patients," Keleher said of her current position. "It is one of the most satisfying highlights of my career."

Lahammer is the charge nurse on the inpatient acute telemetry unit at Iowa City VA Care Center, becoming the first full-time charge nurse for inpatient care eight years ago. Lahammer got her nursing degree from the University of Iowa; she started doing home health care, worked in long-term care for six months and then took a job at the VA in Iowa City, where she's worked for 15 years.

"Since she came to this agency, Lorna has been known for her kindness, empathy and compassion for her patients and their families," said Julie Gerard in Lahammer's nomination. "In a leadership role, Lorna has the opportunity to extend this to all patients on the unit, and she does."

Her nomination notes Lahammer's leadership in the clinic's evidence-based practices, her mentoring of new RNs, her efforts as an advocate for patients with social concerns at home, and her role as a "respected and sought-after resource."

"She treats each member of the staff and each patient with humane compassion and dignity," Gerard said of Lahammer. "She gives so much of her time to improve nursing practice and to improve the lives of our patients both inside the hospital and at home."

Lahammer is originally from South Dakota, moved to Iowa to attend the U of I and has lived in the area ever since. She and her husband have lived in Mount Vernon for nearly eight years.

They have six children, all graduates of Solon High School, and five grandchildren. One daughter lives in Mount Vernon. They have one child in Cedar Rapids, two in Missouri, one in Idaho and one in Oklahoma.

Being a nurse fulfills a long-time dream for Lahammer.

"As a little girl I always wanted to be a nurse," Lahammer said. "I remember as a small child visiting my grandfather at the hospital and being absolutely fascinated by the nurses and what they were doing."

Growing up on a farm as one of seven kids, schooling seemed out of reach. Sixteen years later, she said, she was a single mother with four kids she needed to support and decided to jump into nursing with both feet. She said attending school full-time as a single parent with four young children was hard, but she never looked back.

Lahammer has spent most of her career at the VA.

"I love working with the veterans," Lahammer said. "It's a big privilege."

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