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2021 STAR Awards: Healthcare HEROS

Hero STAR Pin



Star Legacy Foundation is proud to once again recognize leaders and heroes who are working everyday to make a difference for families! For the 2021 Star Awards, we have chosen to focus on the individual health professionals who go above and beyond on a regular basis – but especially during the past year of the pandemic. 

Please join us in thanking our 2021 Healthcare Hero STAR Award recipients for their dedication to their patient and families.

Teresa Austreng is a staff RN in Maternal Child Health at St. Luke’s Hospital in Duluth Minnesota and was nominated by Lori Swanson.  Lori offered the following comments…..

Teresa displays an ongoing passion to honor all fetal loss that our patient’s experience. She truly owns our fetal loss program by assisting with training, ordering materials, and writing grants to assist with funding. Teresa has taught her co-workers how to make exceptional molds and she creates keepsakes for families that are beyond impressive. Teresa displays an ongoing commitment to maintaining our fetal loss program.


Jessica Braun was anonymously nominated by one of her patients as a Healthcare HERO. She is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at Loudoun Women’s Healthcare Associates in Lansdown, VA.  Her nominator had these comments to share….

Jessica has gone above and beyond by answering all of my questions, running any testing I request, and overall making me feel more at ease after being ignored and losing my daughter during labor with my previous provider. She cares about her patients and shows that listening is best for our mental health resulting in the health of our pregnancies.

Dr. Ahsi Daftary is a Maternal Fetal Medicine Specialist at Allegheny Perinatal Associates.  He serves as  Director, OB/GYN and MFM Ultrasound at Allegheny Clinic and Allegheny Health Network in Pittsburgh PA  He was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Jeana Barna who offered these comments…..

I am a high risk pregnancy patient Dr. Daftary has helped advise on my case for 4 years. Dr. Daftary has gone above and beyond to help me process my grief and provide comprehensive plans & hope in my pregnancy journey. As a high risk patient I have faced a lot of new things but Dr. Daftary has never failed to explain it all in a manner I can understand and assure me that he has done his research to provide a safe plan not only for my babies, but me as well.

heather f photoDr. Heather Florescue was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Mandi Watkins.  She is an obstetrician at in private practice at Women Gynecology and Childbirth Associates in Rochester, N.Y. She delivers babies at Highland Hospital in Rochester, NY.   Heather and her husband are parents to a set of triplets.  She is a valued member of the Star Legacy Foundation Medical Advisoroy Board. Dr. Florescue is passionate about the prevention of pregnancy and infant loss and the care for families who suffer these terrible tragedies.

Mandi offered these comments when nominating Dr. Florescue…..

Dr. Florescue became my doctor when I was pregnant with my third child. After losing our second child Theo at 36 weeks, my husband and I longed for another child, but we were terrified to go through another 9 months. Dr. Florescue was there every step of the way. With every appointment, she was so calming, understanding and reassuring. She is a great listener for any concerns or venting we may have had. She puts her patient’s needs first and understands parents that have dealt with loss and what they may need. During the birth of our daughter Fiona, she knew how much anxiety we had and again she made it a calming and beautiful delivery that we will never forget. Beforehand she reassured us that she was going to be there for the delivery no matter what and she was! I know we couldn’t have gone through that pregnancy without all of her constant support. She is truly a hero especially for families that have dealt with loss and we could never thank her enough for all she has done for us!

Bryan Hodges is an OB/GYN at St Luke’s Health Services in Boise, Idaho and was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Angelica Kovach.

In her nomination Angelica shared this with us…..

I knew of Dr. Hodges prior to my pregnancy with my son. He cared for my best friend and my mother-in-law. On the night/early morning I checked myself in due to decreased fetal movement during the 33rd week of my son’s pregnancy, it was Dr. Hodges who was on-call. He was by my side when I found out my son’s heart had stopped.  Dr. Hodges is such a kind soul. He sat and cried with me when it was clear that my son had died in-utero. Straight away, he told me never to blame myself for what had happened — begged me not to turn the blame and anger inward. Then, he helped me to deliver my son, even though it was at the very end of his shift. He could have asked another doctor to perform my C-section later that day, but he continued to stand by my side. When they dropped the drape after my surgery, I could tell he had been crying through the whole thing, right along with me. Even though I wasn’t his patient, he looked in on me in the days to follow. When I still had questions after my discharge and requested a debrief/reassurance that I hadn’t done anything to cause my son’s death, he blocked out 90 minutes on one of his clinic days to talk with me. He told me that I was making all of the right decisions in the aftermath, then did not charge me for the visit. He is exactly the person I needed that fateful night, and every day since.

Carolyn Kasteler has been nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Tina Cross.  In nominating Carolyn she offered these comments…..

When I found out my second baby was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, Carolyn got in contact with me and supported me and my husband through our very difficult pregnancy. She is now my very good friend and hero. Carolyn is a stellar human being. She lost her own baby boy after months of difficult health challenges. After she lost her baby, she knew she needed to do something to help support parents who were in the same situation that she had been in. So she took on the unimaginable and set out to start the Angel Watch program at Intermountain Healthcare in Utah, which she hoped would help support moms, dads and families who were expected to lose their precious baby. She put everything she had into starting this program, and over time, it has flourished and has blessed countless families who have gone through the awful grief of losing a baby. Carolyn showed up at my home often once I found out my baby’s fatal diagnosis. She and her incredible coworker Kay sat and listened to me as I tried to work through emotions that I didn’t know how to handle. Carolyn is gentle, kind, humble, understanding, and gave all she had to help me feel like I wasn’t alone in my despair. She is a hero to me and so many others who would have been lost without her!! 

Lacey Koopal  has been noinated as a Healthcare HERO by Ashley Groeneweg

I have known Lacey for many years. We grew up in the same town but were never really close. We went out separate directions. Years later, our paths crossed yet again. We started at a birth center together called The Baby Place in southern Minnesota. We both had just had babies ourselves. We went through orientation together and our skills and knowledge grew together. We have been friends ever since.  A few years after working together, Lacey became pregnant. Unfortunately at her 20 week anatomy scan, it was found that her baby had a diagnosis of anencephaly. She was devastated as any parent would be. She mourned her loss and rose from the ashes. After her time off, she continued to care for her patients with the utmost respect and care. I believe it made her a more compassionate nurse if that was even possible. She has always had such a big heart. She made it her mission to help care for those who have lost or were losing their babies and make it a more caring and memorable time for those parents. Lacey spent her own money and made bracelets and bought teddy bears so that parents had something memorable to bring home rather than empty arms. She also made it her mission to make a room more comfortable by adding a cart with tissues, an angel, and a lamp that provided a comfortable light rather than the bright fluorescent lights in a hospital room. It has been an honor to know and work along Lacey!

Lori McCandless is a labor and delivery nurse and was nominated by Nicole Collins.  Nicole had this to say when nominating Lori…

Lori was my nurse when I delivered my twins Asher and William. William was stillborn.  Since delivering my sons, Lori has become a part of my family. The way she cared for us on our darkest days will never be forgotten. She went above and beyond to be there for us, well beyond the end of her shift that day. She checked in, came to my sons funeral, and always remembers the important days even 4 years later. We truly feel so lucky to have an angel like Lori as part of our story.

We received this note from Lori after notifying her of her award!

What an honor it is to be receiving this award!  Asher Collins is in my photo.  He is the son of Nicole Collins who nominated me.


I had the honor of caring for Nicole and her husband, Taylor on the day that she gave birth to Asher and his still-born brother William.  That day changed my life.  Nicole and Taylor were strangers to me but they are now, along with their children, part of my family.  Caring for a patient that has suffered a loss is very stressful as a nurse.  You are not only dealing with your own emotions but must continue to provide emotional support and nursing care for your patient.  Nicole and Taylor’s birth story was very unique because as I remember Taylor saying “This is the greatest day of my life but also the worst day of my life and I don’t know how to feel”.  As their nurse, I was feeling the same emotions.  How do you celebrate the life of a child that you have been waiting so long for and in the same moment mourn the child that sleeps?  I visited with Nicole and Taylor throughout their stay in the hospital and continued to visit Asher (mostly holding him!) during his stay in special care.  Having this special bond with their family has helped me to provide top-notch care to other families that have suffered losses.  I had the privilege of helping Nicole and Taylor deliver their rainbow baby, Duke.  Coming full circle has been so special to me.  During my tenure on labor and delivery, I have also had the privilege to help deliver another couple’s rainbow baby.  That mother wanted to include me in their birth because she felt that I had helped her through the worst day of her life and she wanted me to be there to celebrate the best day.


Although caring for couples with losses can be very emotional for me, I feel like I have a gift to be able to help others work through their grief.  It is a privilege to be able to care for these families and their babies, remembering that just because they won’t be bringing their baby home with them does not mean that they are not mothers and fathers and that their baby is still their baby.  I have learned the importance of acknowledging their baby, calling the baby by their name, and coming in and just holding the baby just as I would if they were breathing.


I have many years of nursing still ahead of me and I will never shy away from providing compassionate care to these special couples.

Scott Mellum is an obstetrician in Chico, CA and was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Jamie Bracewell.  

Jamie shared these comments when nominating Dr. Mellum…..

I know Dr. Mellum not only from working along side him as a labor nurse, but also from being one of his patients through multiple pregnancies.  Mellum is truly a healthcare hero. He is not only an amazing physician, who always practices safe and best practice care, but he also has a huge heart and sincerely cares about all of his patients. I’ve never met another physician with as much patience and kindness as he demonstrates daily. He has helped me and my family walk through having our second daughter, Dakota, who was stillborn at 36 weeks. He has shown our entire family compassion, he has gone above and beyond in the care he has given us, never once making us feel rushed or like he had somewhere better to be. He truly listens and cares. I couldn’t imagine walking through this journey of losing a child without such an understanding and empathetic physician. He has touched so many people’s lives. In my four years working in labor and delivery, I have NEVER heard anything negative about him from a single patient or colleague, that says a lot!  He is a HERO!

Jill Kottmeier, RN is the Manager of Pediatric Palliative & Spiritual Care Services at Northwest Healthcare in Arlington Heights, IL.  She was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Kim Stobbe who offers these comments…..

Jill is my coworker at the hospital and we work collaboratively in Women & Children’s Services. Jill is a healthcare hero! She is an amazing nurse and leader within our organization. Jill is responsible for all of the palliative care and bereavement issues in Women & Children’s Services. Jill has demonstrated leadership and innovation during this past year amongst the pandemic implementing new programming not only for patients and their families, but also staff. This programming included new technical ways for covid positive patients to remain connected to their babies in the NICU and the use of our Jane’s room during visitor restrictions when families were grieving the loss of an infant due to stillbirth or maternal complications. Jill facilitates our parent support group for perinatal loss and continued to host group via zoom knowing the importance of these families staying connected. Jill developed a program for staff called RISE to focus on the health and well being of hospital employees. This program is helping employees to prevent burnout. Jill is truly a shining star!

When notified of her Healthcare HERO nomination, Jill had these comments…..

Thank you for this unexpected message!  I am honored to be nominated as caring for families experiencing a loss is my lifelong passion and what I was put on this earth to do. 

Losing a child to miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death is something no parent should ever have to face which is why I believe so deeply in the mission and vision of the Star Legacy Foundation.  27 years ago, my life was forever changed when my dear friend Becki gave birth to her son Kaleb who was stillborn at 37 weeks.  At the time, I had no idea that babies died as I was a young, naïve 17 year old.  Being a part of Becki & Kaleb’s experience was such an honor and it was in those moments this was going to become my life’s work.  I went to nursing school, worked as an L & D nurse for 17 years and then transitioned into the role of Perinatal Palliative Care Coordinator, to continue working on supporting families through the unimaginable. 

A family’s lifelong grief journey often begins in the hospital where their child is born and these moments can impact parents, siblings, and families forever.   I am incredibly honored when a family allows me into their intimate space of raw grief, trusts me to guide them through the process and helps me to understand what is important to them in creating memories with their baby.  Quality perinatal bereavement support should be standard of care in every hospital so that no matter where a family experiences the unfathomable death of their baby, they are supported through the process with trained and empathetic staff.  Education plays a significant role and can transform the care given to these families.

In our support group and memorial services, we always talk about how grateful we are to have met, but at the same time we wish we never had to meet.  I long for a day where the current numbers of perinatal loss are a thing of the past and my job is a little less needed.  Until then, I will continuing guiding and advocating for all families on their grief journey. 

Thank you,


Jennifer S. Metherd, MD is an obstetrician at Haugen OB/GYN Associates in Edina, MN.  She was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Breanna  Dedrickson.  Breanna offered these comments……

  Dr. Metherd was my OB for my second pregnancy after the loss of our first child.  In 2018, our first child died of a cord accident at 39w6d and absolutely shattered our world. The pain and trauma of our loss impacted us deeply. I became pregnant with our second child in 2019 and knew I needed an OB that would help us along the difficult journey of pregnancy after loss. From the first appointment, Dr. Metherd treated us with compassion and understanding. She always used caring words, acknowledged our first child and knew how difficult this pregnancy would be. I had PTSD and worried about everything during my second pregnancy. Dr. Metherd always spent way more time with me than I was allotted, she listened to all of my concerns and instead of brushing it off, we’d talk about the data and what we could do for monitoring. Most doctors are smart but Dr. Metherd is next-level smart. She would explain things to me in ways that made me feel confident that we were doing everything we could to have a healthy pregnancy. She delivered our second child and we are so grateful for her support.

Leslie-Ann is a Social Worker at Bellin Health in Greenbay Wisconsin and was nominated as a Healthcare Hero by Maggie Koch.  Here is what Maggie had to say…

I met Leslie-Ann on the worst day of my life, and she gave me nothing but the best of herself to help my family through the unimaginable steps of grief and provide support. Leslie-Ann was the social worker that took care of us when my daughter Olivia died.  Leslie-Ann is the most selfless human being that I know. She walked with my husband and family through those initial shock waves of grief and for the months after the death of our daughter. Simply put, she was there without judgment and an overwhelming supply of love. Leslie-Ann not only supported me but always made an effort to check on my husband and offer him support as well. She has grown into an amazing friend, and recognizes and honors our daughter Olivia each and everyday she supports other families. She has even gone the extra mile of collaborating with me to find resources for baby loss and adding those to the list she shares with all families experiencing loss. Leslie-Ann is so deserving of this honor and is extremely humble, she comes to work everyday with the sole purpose to make a difference in the lives of others and I can whole heartedly say she changed my life.

Bethany Olson  is a Labor & Delivery nurse and was nominated by Annie Brown.

Bethany and I have been friends for almost 30 years, she also was the nurse that delivered my living kiddo and my rock during my miscarriage.  Bethany pours her heart into her work as a l&d nurse. She treats each patient like they are a good friend. She rejoices and cries with her paitents. She has even taken her love of moms and their babies to other countries where she has worked tirelessly as a l&d nurse in sometimes very challenging conditions. She has been my rock through years of infertility and pregnancy challenges and success and loss. She gives her all to each patient she meets and makes them and their babies feel special with the best care possible. She is a jewel in the l&d delivery world and a treasure in my life.

Julie Patterson is a nurse has been nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Jeanette Hembree.

She is the perinatal loss co-coordinator on the OB floor where I work at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn, WI.  Julie is an amazing patient and family advocate in an extremely difficult time in their life. She goes out of her way to help the family navigate their loss physically, emotionally, & spiritually. Julie meets with families expecting an adverse outcome to make a plan for their birth and ensures that they have the support they need afterwards. She comes in on her own time to make mementos and take pictures. Julie advocates that all losses are impactful, early miscarriage all the way to full term loss. She provides support for all units & tries to eradicate some of the stigmas surrounding miscarriage. Julie is truly an angel sent to help these families say hello and goodbye to their own angel.

Julie sent us her thoughts on caring for her special families….. 

I believe comprehensive prenatal education and care especially in mothers identified as high risk for miscarriage/stillbirth is absolutely critical in helping reduce the number of perinatal losses. Unfortunately, we know that heartbreaking loss still will occur for many mothers and care for them shifts dynamically as grief and loss now enter the space once occupied by joy and eager anticipation. Compassionate care is needed now more than ever! Jeanette and I, as OB nurses and Infant Loss Coordinators for our OB unit, believe that meeting these women in that space of grief and confusion whatever that may look like for each woman is essential in helping them cope. Giving them permission to feel whatever they feel, offering time with their baby before having to say final goodbyes, and helping to create memories of their baby through mementos and keepsakes are essential to healing beyond just caring for them physically. We have the privilege of holding their hearts as well as their hands as they begin their journey after infant loss. As much as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a community to care for families during and after perinatal loss. Jeanette and I together work as a team alongside compassionate obstetricians, midwives, fellow nurses, and techs to be that community. It truly is a very unique privilege.

Liz Sumner is a nurse and the Executive Director of The Comfort Cub in Encinitas, CA.  She was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Nancy Lucas.  She is a nationally respected leader in hospice and palliative care. Liz is recognized as a pioneering leader of pediatric and perinatal palliative care, having received the NHPCO’S “Heart of Hospice” award; the American Hospital Association’s Circle of Life; recognition from the AACN for her dedication to end of life nursing education.

Liz is an accomplished author and national lecturer. She represented The Elizabeth Hospice on multiple state and national councils including: The Pediatric Leadership Council & Education Committee of National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization; Compassionate Passages Board member; Ethics committee for the Palomar Pomerado Health System.  She is certified as an RTS Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator.

Liz is compassionate and a true heroine. Liz was the pediatric palliative care bereavement nurse that helped Marcella Johnson (Founder of the non-profit The Comfort Cub) heal when she lost her newborn son shortly after delivery.

Brent Samuelson was nominated as a Healthcare HERO by Sarah Rowe.  He is a Nurse Associate at Cooper Healthcare in Pinehill, NJ. Sarah had these comments to share.

When my first child, my daughter Ellie was born, there was so much chaos and uncertainty. Though deemed a stillborn, she is believed to have inhaled meconium which took her from us. I never realized the statistics for baby and pregnancy loss until I became one. I nominate, Brent for this award because of the empathy, kindness and support he has shown, and has continued to show my family through this devastating experience. Brent was not my care provider, nor does he work on the floor I delivered. He is a loss dad himself, who volunteers to give the gift of infant remembrance portraiture to families like mine who have to live a lifetime of memories in moments. There is so much of our experience I cannot remember and all of it is traumatizing. Brent came to our room as stranger during one of the most difficult times as a family and was able to give us what we didn’t know we need, validation and the honor of having photographs to cherish and a nest of support through the organization he founded with his wife, to provide this gift to families. There were some challenges with photographing her since she was intubated when trying to resuscitate her. Unable to remove the tubing, he was still able to give us photographs of her face without the tubing being obvious.

While thinking back to that time is hard, I am reminded of the kindness of others who have walked similar journeys and support families quietly. When we were pregnant after losing Ellie, Brent offered us support through Three Little Birds for a Rainbow Baby Maternity session. While these photos will always be bittersweet, they remind us Ellie will always be a part of our family and we are so grateful for them and Brent’s generosity in supporting families. He has supported more than three dozen families like mine at the hospital he works at and continues to inspire and support my husband and myself as we navigate our journey to parenthood.

Brent reflects on his work…..

It wasn’t until I became a loss parent that I realized the lack of support for the 1 in 4 families like mine. During our personal experience, we were not aware of volunteer perinatal bereavement photographers until after we were home. Our losses spawned our advocacy in supporting families during a time where they would never think to need this type of support. Being able to give this gift as part of the non profit we founded ( in the same hospital that I had my experience, as well as where I work everyday is a bittersweet gift. Being able to give this gift in honor of my babies has been incredibly rewarding. I’ll never get my daughter’s first baseball game, graduation, first lost tooth or even her wedding day. Nothing will ever come close. But I feel so close to her when I connect and meet other families like mine and give them the gift of everything I never had.


Brent Samuelson

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