Pediatric Award

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Julie D. Helm, BSN, RN (left) and Brittany Dirdack, BSN, RN (right) are completing their Master’s in Nursing at Georgetown University’s online Family Nurse Practitioner program. After completing her BSN summa cum laude at California State University Fresno, Julie worked in pediatrics in both acute care and community health settings. She has volunteered at hemophilia and other youth camps as well as at an adult medical clinic at the local homeless shelter. Brittany completed her BSN cum laude at Rutgers University and works with orthopedic, spine, and trauma adult patients in an acute care hospital setting. Julie’s experience with pediatrics and Brittany’s experience with competitive dancing, as well as their interests in nutrition and exercise, have informed their strong interest in the nationwide problem of pediatric obesity. As a result, they teamed up to develop a pediatric overweight/obesity assessment and intervention tool for use in the primary care setting. “Cool & Fit: Count on Overcoming Obesity for Life, Fulfill It Today” is a motivational/educational tool to assist children aged 6-17 to make healthy decisions that will impact their body weight. Julie and Brittany are proud the NPHF/Astellas Heart Health Award will support their research to determine if “Cool & Fit” impacts anthropometric measures in overweight/obese children.

Young Adult Award

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Laura Hays, MSNc, APRN, CPNP-PC works in the General Pediatrics Clinic and with the Department of Genetics and Metabolism at Arkansas Children’s Hospital in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she oversees the Newborn Screening Program as a liaison with the Arkansas Department of Health and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS).  She previously worked in the Heart Center at Arkansas Children’s Hospital which led to her current research focus on the newly emerging population of adults with congenital heart disease. This award will fund her research project, "State and Correlation of Knowledge and Self-Efficacy of Adults with Congenital Heart Disease." Laura is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in Nursing through the UAMS Graduate School.  She received the 2014 Nursing Research Fellowship Award through Arkansas Children’s Hospital, is an invited member of Sigma Theta Tau International Honor Society of Nursing, and joined the Congenital Heart Legislative Conference in 2016 as an advocate for federal research funding for the needs of the congenital heart disease population.  She has published nationally and internationally on issues specific to the transitioning population of adults with congenital heart disease and serves as a peer reviewer for several medical journals.  

Adult Awards

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Diane Ames, DNP, APNP, FNP-BC is an Associate Nursing Professor and Co-Director of the Graduate Nursing Programs at Concordia University Wisconsin. Her practice hours are with Aurora Health Care, an integrated, not-for-profit health care provider serving communities throughout eastern Wisconsin and northern Illinois.  Diane’s project, “Design, Implementation & Analysis of an Interactive Educational Hypertension Project,” aims to develop and implement teams of interprofessional students to educate a cohort of under-served African American hypertensive patients through interactive hypertension educational game boards for use in the community setting. The project is based on a previous grant-funded program that provided interactive diabetic education to underserved individuals in an Aurora Health Care clinic in central city Milwaukee.  The ultimate goal of the project is to foster better self-management of chronic disease with subsequent improvement in biometrics, overall health, and quality of life.


Rachel Hellesto, BSN, RN, CCRN is pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) in the Family Nurse Practitioner track at the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing.  She is a graduate of Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, where she earned a Bachelor of Science in Nursing, and of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism.  Rachel has worked as a registered nurse in critical care in Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington.  During her time as a critical care nurse she saw firsthand how many acute and chronic illnesses were preventable, and she made it her goal to devote her energy to preventive care as a nurse practitioner.  This award will fund her DNP project, "Goal Setting and Self-Monitoring to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk,"which will assist patients at a free clinic in Washington to improve their cardiovascular risk status.  

Geriatric Award

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Litzie Ramos, BSN, RN is pursuing her Doctor of Nursing Practice with a Family Nurse Practitioner concentration at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, Texas. She has worked as a supervisor in an adult skilled nursing rehabilitation facility and has also worked in outpatient settings including family practice and pediatric practice.  Litzie is passionate about primary prevention and improving patients’ ability to improve their own health.  Her special interest in health policy, world health, and health disparities is demonstrated in her work with underserved populations.  This award will support her project, "Diabetic Heart Disease Prevention," focused on improving heart disease outcomes in a primary care practice setting in San Antonio. The aim of the study is to improve provider adherence to recently established guidelines that will reduce the sequalae of heart disease in patients with Type II diabetes.