When Dora Leon had to admit her son to St. Catherine Hospital 27 years ago, she was moved by the caring and skill of a nurse in the pediatric department.

"I thought it was amazing. You could tell the nurse loved her job, and I thought I'd love to do this," she said.

The devotion displayed influenced Leon to become a nurse herself.

Today, Leon has been a registered nurse at St. Catherine for 20 years, the past 10 of them in the Emergency Department.

Leon recently was honored with the Daisy Award for Extraordinary Nurses, an award issued by California-based Daisy Foundation to recognize the skill and compassion nurses demonstrate every day.

It's the first time a St. Catherine nurse has received the recognition.

Leon was nominated by a patient's family and a colleague. Due to privacy, the patient's name and family's name aren't being released, but in the nomination, the family wrote: "Dora has such a warm heart. When our loved one was in the ER we were terrified, but Dora continuously updated us to let us know how our family member was in a terrifying time of our lives. She not only took care of the patient, but she made sure we were alright too. She is truly wonderful."

While Leon greatly appreciates the award, she also feels a lot of nurses deserve the same recognition.

"To me, it's part of my job. I take care of people. It's what I do. I'm just thankful to get to be just a little part of people's lives," she said.

Born and raised in Garden City, Leon, 45, is a Garden City Community College graduate. Leon and her husband, Eric, have been married almost 28 years. They have two grown children, Zachary, 27, and Jessica, 24, and one grandchild and another on the way.

The not-for-profit Daisy Foundation is based in Glen Ellen, Calif., and was established by family members in memory of J. Patrick Barnes, who died at age 33 in late 1999 from complications of Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura (ITP), a little known but not uncommon auto-immune disease.

The care Barnes and his family received from nurses while he was ill inspired the award as a way of thanking nurses for making a profound difference in the lives of their patients and patient families.

Margie Prewitt, chief nursing officer at St. Catherine, said the hospital is proud to participate in the award program, and added that the kind of work nurses at St. Catherine do every day epitomizes the purpose of the award.

"St. Catherine Hospital recognizes the remarkable skill and care nurses provide patients every day and night. Yet these unsung heroes are seldom recognized for the super-human work they do," she said.

Seven St. Catherine nurses were nominated for the award this past quarter. Nominations are made by patients, families or staff.

"If we can honor our nurses, we take every opportunity to do so," Shawna Deal, community relations coordinator, said. "They're the ones who are on the front line. It's hard to be a nurse, and we definitely want to honor them."

Leon was surprised and shocked at the recognition. To her, she was just doing her job.

"I love my job. I just like taking care of patients. I really do. So this is a really nice thing because families are acknowledging you helped," she said.

Leon said a couple of families wrote letters nominating her for the award. One case, she remembers; the other she doesn't. The family she does remember involved "a very sweet lady" whose spouse came into the emergency room complaining about a medical problem and ended up not making it.

"When you think about it, I still want to cry," she said. "You try not to take it home, but you feel it. And you've got to wipe your eyes and go on to the next patient."

But nurses remember almost all their "codes," a term used to describe patients who die. When Leon first started in the ER 10 years ago, she had two pediatric codes, something she still remembers vividly.

Talking helps. Leon said nurses talk to each other, and the hospital chaplains, Doug Williams and Michael Werth, are also available for counseling when needed.

"You don't say anything at home. You deal with it here, and you try to talk it through," she said.

While nursing can be a roller coaster of emotions, Leon said it is worth it.

"You go into nursing because you care," she said. "There's times all people want to do is hold your hand, or get a pat on the shoulder, have somebody tell them they're gonna be OK."

Leon said she tries to put herself in other people's shoes, and shares information she herself, or her mom, would want to know.

"Not knowing is the hard part. People come here scared," she said.

Being born and raised in Garden City, Leon knows a lot of families and has taken care of some people she's known a long time.

That can be a challenge in itself, but a nurse must focus on the job at hand, and share a hug or cry with families later.

"You don't have to wear a lot of makeup in ER because it wears off by the end of the day," Leon said.

Teamwork is important. Leon said the hospital has a good team of doctors, nurses and the chaplains all working together to treat patients and comfort their families.

"I've had the privilege of working with so many wonderful people over the 20 years I've worked here," she said.