When Cari James describes how proud she is to work with veterans as a nurse at the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Affairs Medical Center, her eyes well up with tears.
“How do you say thank you to someone like that?” said James, 48, of Mesa, whose father is a Korean War vet. “These people gave their all. There’s not a hero that you can’t find in here.”
James has been a licensed practical nurse and minority veterans coordinator at the hospital for close to 15 years.
She works in the pre-procedure clinic, helping patients prepare for surgery, and has done a number of things to help minority vets.
“You could say it’s rewarding. You could say it’s fulfilling,” James said. “There’s really no way to describe it. I do what I do because they did what they did.”
For her “exceptional service, sacrifice and innovation in health care,” James was the 2005 grand prize winner of the Cherokee Inspired Comfort Award.
She was one of 14 winners who received the national award from the company, a maker of nurses’ uniforms, last month.
There were 13,000 nominations.
James, an Abenaki Indian, said she enjoys working with minority vets.
Because of her diligence to secure a van to bring Navajos to the hospital, a group donated $52,000 for a 15-passenger, wheelchair-accessible van.
She organized the Arizona Inter-Tribal Veterans Association to give one voice to the needs of rural American Indian veterans.
The local association inspired a national initiative and a model for the newly founded National American Indian Veterans, Inc.
James also helps vets who want to seek healing through medicine men.
“I research problems and try to get solutions,” James said. “I always have things going on. And I like it that way.”
Cindy Terwilliger, a registered nurse in the hospital’s recovery room, nominated James for the award in July because of “all the wonderful things” she does.
“All the patients seem to remember her,” said Terwilliger, 45, who has worked at the hospital for 20 years.
“She goes totally above and beyond what’s required. She’s just an amazing person.
“She just has this way when she meets people,” Terwilliger said. “Everybody just bonds with her immediately. She truly cares.”
Because of Terwilliger’s winning nomination, she received $1,000 for uniforms and shoes, and a $500 donation will be made to a charity of her choice.
James leaves Sunday with her husband, Ron, to cash in one of her prizes: A weeklong cruise for two to the Cayman Islands.