DAISY Award winner Thao Carey has a passion for helping others
As a young college student, Thao Carey knew she had a future in science.
But when she began working in a chemistry lab after graduating college, something just didn’t feel right.
She was missing human interaction.
It wasn’t until years later that Ms. Carey discovered her passion for nursing.
For the last three and a half years, the Lompoc resident has worked as a critical care nurse at Lompoc Valley Medical Center. Though her time at the Lompoc hospital has been short, Ms. Carey’s excellent standard of care has been applauded by both her colleagues and patients. Her compassionate care gained the attention of the DAISY Foundation, which awarded her the prestigious DAISY Award in February.
The DAISY Award recognizes nurses for “the extraordinary skillful, compassionate care they provide patients and families,” according to the foundation’s website. The foundation was started in honor of Patrick Barnes, who died from an autoimmune disease complication at the age of 33.
The Barnes family was so appreciative of the end-of-life care Patrick received in his final weeks and started the foundation to honor nurses who go above and beyond for their patients.
“I was very honored and surprised and humbled (to receive the award),” Ms. Carey told the News-Press. “I felt that there were very deserving candidates, and I was very honored that they picked me.”
Nursing is a second career for Ms. Carey, who began as a lab assistant before her marriage to her husband, Brian. The couple moved to Lompoc in 2007 with their two children, who are now 11 and 13, to begin Brian’s dental practice.
After spending a few years devoted to her husband’s practice, Ms. Carey began searching for a career for herself. She looked for something that could combine her passion for science with her compassionate spirit.
“I just wanted something for myself, and with a science background, (Brian) encouraged me to try nursing,” Ms. Carey told the News-Press.
After earning her Certified Nursing Assistant certificate from Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, Ms. Carey went on to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing in May 2017 at Cal State Channel Islands. Afterward, she began working as a critical care nurse at LVMC, where she has worked for three and a half years.
“Thao is an amazing nurse,” LVMC Senior Nursing Director Karen Kelly said in a statement. “She not only provides excellent care for her patients and their families, she also cares for her fellow nurses by always being there when they need a helping hand. She is the ultimate team player.”
Last March, when COVID-19 began spreading rapidly across the U.S., Ms. Carey took on extra shifts, at times working 12 to 14 hours for six days per week, to aid those infected with the virus. As an experienced Critical Care Unit nurse, Ms. Carey said she felt it was her duty to increase her hours in response to the pandemic.
“You just got to do what you can,” Ms. Carey said. “(The pandemic) was not easy for all of us — for myself, the administrators, for everybody. It was so new and so many unknowns. It was hard.”
Working extra hours did not come without its fair share of sacrifices.
As Ms. Carey worked on the frontlines of the pandemic, she sent her children to live with her mother-in-law for a month to protect them from the virus.
Prior to the pandemic, Ms. Carey worked three or four days per week, allowing her time to see her children more regularly on her days off. But with the pandemic still in full swing, time with her kids has been more limited. Ms. Carey said they miss her, but they understand that her job is essential in fighting the pandemic.
Ms. Carey said she reminds her children, “We are healthy. We have a roof over our head. I’m trying to be there for people who are not fortunate enough.”
With all of the recognition surrounding the DAISY Award, Ms. Carey said she feels humbled to receive this award for doing the job she loves. She is also grateful for the support of her family, who give her the flexibility to pick up extra shifts when needed and aid patients in desperate times.
Nurses who receive the DAISY Award are nominated by patients, families and colleagues, and Ms. Carey was chosen as the recipient of the first LVMC DAISY Award after receiving many nominations from staff and former patients.
“I feel so humbled, and with all these people reaching out to me to do articles, I feel a little embarrassed,” Ms. Carey said.
“I feel like there are way more people who are way more than deserving than me, so I really want to recognize all the staff who made me who I am.”