Her work to fight human trafficking makes her Sherman Hospital's nurse of the year

A woman trying to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking has been named Advocate Sherman Hospital's 2022 Nurse of the Year.

Jerilyn Damiani of Hoffman Estates has worked at Sherman for two years, starting in the emergency department before becoming a recovery nurse in the post-anesthesia care unit.

She was surprised by supervisors and co-workers at the Elgin hospital with the news of her award in October. After being called into a meeting, she got the all-star treatment with a Nurse of the Year jersey, hat, pennant and bat.

“I feel like every nurse is really the nurse of the year,” she said. “It was very shocking and not something I was expecting.”

While Damiani is a caring nurse in her daily practice, it's her work bringing awareness to human trafficking that set her apart, said Donna Kruse, director of inpatient acute nursing, magnet and professional development at Sherman.

“She has a passion and gift for advocating for the most vulnerable patients,” Kruse said. “Her work not only resulted in improved nursing practices in the emergency department, but her initiatives will also be implemented across other units in the hospital.”

Damiani said she learned about the realities of human trafficking in a book. Then she started listening to the stories of survivors.

“I just couldn't think that someone could be so evil to somebody else and take that life away from somebody,” she said. “It's so sad, and you just want to be able to help people get their life back.”

While people frequently associate the term “human trafficking” with smuggling people across borders, it applies when someone is coerced into forced labor or sexual exploitation for the benefit of others.

She said it happens more than people realize.

“It's a very big problem,” she said. “Most cases are sex trafficking, and they go unnoticed because victims die or are too scared to come forward.”

Damiani started a committee at the hospital in 2021 to help educate the staff on how they can identify people who are being trafficked. They've invited speakers, including representatives from the Department of Homeland Security's human trafficking division and people who had themselves been trafficked.

They've also put up information cards around the hospital in bathrooms where patients can see them.

“A lot of people don't know they're being trafficked until it's too late,” Damiani said. “Someone in a relationship will say, 'Oh no, he loves me,' but they're being groomed.”

Damiani has been working to get certified in a variety of trauma-informed care disciplines and is currently a sexual assault nurse examiner in training. SANEs are nurses specially trained to provide compassionate, trauma-informed care for the victims of sexual assault and collect evidence that can be used for prosecution. Sherman has three certified SANEs on staff, with more in training,

“It just brings another level to your care,” she said. “You learn how to really talk to patients after trauma, how to be gentle, how to get to a higher level of intimacy with your patient. It is really brave for these people to come forward, and it takes courage. So you want to be able to help not just the patient but their family.”

Jerilyn Damiani got the all-star treatment when she was named Advocate Sherman Hospital's Nurse of the Year for 2022 in October. COURTESY OF ADVOCATE SHERMAN HOSPITAL
  Jerilyn Damiani, a post-anesthesia care unit nurse at Advocate Sherman Hospital, is working to raise awareness of the scourge of human trafficking. Rick West/
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