Newswise — Hailing from a family with three generations of nurses, Cristina Sola, MSN, RN-BC, AGNP-C, was one of five nurses from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) recognized at the Houston Chronicle Salute to Nurses luncheon May 2 at the Omni Houston Hotel.

Timed to coincide with National Nurses Week, the annual awards program recognizes the Top 150 nurses in the Greater Houston Area. Nurses were selected by a panel of educators and leaders in the field.

Sola, a nurse manager with McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, received special recognition as one of the Top 15 nurses. Omar Sandoval, RN, BSN, Ribi Kurian, RN, Thelma Rios, LVN, all with UT Physicians; and Lisa Thomas, DNP, RN, assistant professor with Cizik School of Nursing at UTHealth, were also recognized.

Cristina Sola, MSN, RN-BC, AGNP-C

“Cristina is a leader within our local vascular outpatient offices but is also recognized for her expert clinical care and knowledge both regionally and at national levels,” said Kristofer Charlton-Ouw, MD, a professor of cardiovascular medicine with McGovern Medical School and an attending physician with Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center.

“She embodies the traits of excellent communication skills, collaboration, teamwork, mentorship, ethical clinical care, enthusiasm, and creating a positive work attitude. We are all proud of her accomplishments and grateful for her ongoing work in making this the top vascular surgery program in the country,” said Charlton-Ouw, who sees patients at UT Physicians clinics.

Sola earned her associate’s degree of nursing at Covenant School of Nursing in Lubbock, Texas, her bachelor of science in nursing at Texas Tech Health Sciences Center, and a master of science in nursing (adult geriatric nurse practitioner) at The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston.

“When I was in high school, my mom was a home health nurse and I would go with her. I saw firsthand how she made a difference in people’s lives,” said Sola, whose brother James Ritz, RN, sister Michelle Ritz, RN, and niece Brittany Ritz, RN, are also nurses, following in the footsteps of their mother, Guillermina Ritz, RN.

“Nursing is about patient relationships. I remember their name. They remember mine. We are both glad to see each other,” said Sola, a 2019 recipient of the UTHealth President’s Award for Leadership.

Sandoval works with the nephrologists and endocrinologists at UT Physicians Multispecialty-Bellaire. He earned his associate’s degree in nursing at San Jacinto College and his bachelor of science in nursing at The University of Texas at Arlington College of Nursing and Health Innovation.

“The one-on-one contact with families is the most gratifying part of the job. I like to give patients a high-five for a good job. I try to explain everything in layman’s terms,” said Sandoval, who has been a nurse for 15 years.

A woman with diabetes was particularly grateful for the care she received. “She told me, ‘Omar, I want to personally let you know how much of a difference you have made in my life,’ ” Sandoval said.

“This is exactly what I was meant to do,” he said.

Ribi Kurian, RN

Kurian, a triage nurse with the UT Physicians 24/7 telephone help line, earned her nursing degree at Tamil Nadu Dr. M.G.R. Medical University in India and has been a nurse for six years.

“I never met Mother Teresa but I was definitely inspired by her. I saw in her someone who loved unconditionally,” Kurian said.

When counseling patients, Kurian takes a holistic approach and her patients appreciate it.

“I once had a patient come to my workplace to thank me in person along with her family. She had called complaining of serious symptoms, so I dialed 911. Emergency medical services picked her up and took to the hospital where she underwent emergency surgery for internal bleeding,” Kurian said.

“Seeing her smiling face was a gratifying moment for me,” said Kurian, noting that such moments inspire her to do even more for her patients.

Thelma Rios, LVN

Rios, a family nurse with UT Physicians Multispecialty –The Heights, earned her nursing degree at San Jacinto College and has been a nurse for five years.

Because she is bilingual, Rios believes Spanish-speaking patients feel more comfortable talking to her. “This puts the patients at ease,” she said.

Rios has always wanted to be a nurse and said that to be a good one, “You have to be compassionate, caring, and an attentive listener. I’m an advocate for my patients.”

Lisa Thomas, DNP, RN

Lisa Thomas, DNP, RN, served as a rehabilitation nurse at TIRR Memorial Hermann for 12 years before becoming a faculty member at UTHealth. She is now the director of the DNP Program.

“I saw the impact rehabilitation nurses had on my grandfather following his stroke. He wasn’t into the rehab but the nurses brought him around. He lived an active and engaged life for another 20 years,” said Thomas, who earned her doctor of nursing practice at Cizik School of Nursing.

Rehabilitation nurses have to be creative. “If you can get a patient to pet a dog, that’s a form of exercise. With my grandfather, we would throw balloons at him and he would knock them back, making a game out of a need to maintain range of motion in that arm,” Thomas said.