Mandy Poppen, a nurse at Keck Hospital of USC, decided to go the extra mile for one patient’s family. In fact, she went an extra 280 miles to drive a grieving husband home after his wife passed away.

When Poppen arrived for her shift in the Cardiovascular Thoracic Intensive Care Unit (CVTICU) at Keck Hospital, she learned the young man was stranded after having ridden to the hospital in the ambulance with his wife, who had passed away within hours of arriving. The hospital secured transportation to get him to his home in Central California, where his three young children were awaiting news about their mother. Not wanting him to travel home alone, Poppen decided to drive him the 280 miles round trip after her shift ended.

“I just didn’t feel like it was the most compassionate thing to do sending him home alone after losing his wife,” explained Poppen, who has been a nurse in the unit for six years. “I couldn’t bear the thought of him being alone, carrying a plastic bag with his wife’s belongings.”

Stories about nurses going above and beyond are plentiful in the CVTICU at Keck Hospital, so much so that the unit recently was awarded the USC Choi Family Award for Excellence in Patient-Centered Care. The prestigious awards honor physicians, residents, nurses and staff for their unwavering commitment to compassionate patient care. The team received more than 20 nominations for the award from former patients and families and colleagues.

One patient wrote about her husband, whom she was told likely wouldn’t survive the transport to Keck Hospital from another medical facility.

“And then all of you entered our lives and saw us through the darkest days and nights,” she wrote. “I have never met such a dedicated group of people in my life. I was in such shock at the time but each of you reached out in your own way and helped us through what seemed to be a never-ending nightmare.”

Chris Laird, MBA, MSN, interim manager of the unit, said on average patients stay about 20 days in the unit and the staff treats them as family ­­— hosting birthday parties and celebrations and even a small wedding ceremony once.

“Our unit is a very challenging environment, with extreme emotions ranging from joy and

excitement to loss and despair,” Laird explained. “The teamwork, compassion and empathy shown from everyone during the care of the patients, families and each other is something that books and movies are written about.”

Laird said the nurses and care providers in the unit are challenged daily to ensure they are providing uncompromised care that embodies the culture, values and standards that Keck Medicine of USC aims to deliver.

— L. Alexis Young