Recovery from spinal injury: ‘care was the boost I needed on my long journey’

Orna Carey was nominated for the 2021 Patient's Choice award for her dedication to a young patient

Orna Carey

A 17-year-old patient has nominated nurse Orna Carey, whose care and kindness helped her turn her life around after she suffered life-changing injuries, for the 2021 Patient’s Choice award.

Ellis Kottas, who lives in Sevenoaks in Kent, says she was in a ‘very bad state’ when she was admitted to the Lister adult surgical ward at King’s College Hospital in London.

Kindness and care during a long recovery

‘After sustaining a spinal cord injury as a mental health inpatient at a different hospital, I was an inpatient for my physical injuries at King's for a whole year, battling with pain and having surgeries. I was bed-bound for months,’ she says. ‘The year I spent in hospital was not easy. I struggled both mentally and physically. I felt so alone, as only one parent was allowed to visit for very short periods due to COVID-19.

‘But Orna Carey’s dedication and kindness has been so important. It was the boost I needed to keep me going on my journey.’

‘Ms Carey never had to be that kind or go the extra mile for me, but she did – and it made all the difference’

Ellis Kottas, patient

At 17, Ms Kottas was by far the youngest patient on the ward, and she says while all the nurses took special care of her, junior sister Ms Carey always went above and beyond.

‘It started off just being chats, but Ms Carey was always so busy that it was hard for her to find the time, so she would stay behind after her 12-hour shift to talk to me,’ says Ms Kottas. ‘Then she started bringing in sweets, or making time to plait my hair. I always looked forward to her next shift.’

Support continued through discharge and beyond

When Ms Kottas was due to be discharged from the ward, she asked to be woken up so she could say goodbye to Ms Carey at the end of her shift, but she ended up oversleeping and was very upset. ‘I spent all day waiting for transport. It got to 5pm and suddenly Ms Carey burst into my room in her own clothes, hair down, with a Percy Pig toy and sweets.

‘She had remembered I was leaving and called the ward to see if I was still there and rushed in. We had our last chat and said goodbye and I left with my little Percy Pig, which I called Orna.’

Ms Kottas has kept the pig with her through later inpatient stays. ‘That Percy Pig was by my side through difficult meetings, physio sessions and two kidney infections.

‘Ms Carey never had to be that kind or go the extra mile for me, but she did – and it made all the difference. When I bumped into her four months later, I was so happy and excited even though the appointment I had was to discuss my next surgery.’

Read about the rest of our Patient’s Choice finalists below, or click here to vote

Restored patient’s trust in the NHS

After a challenging experience in mental health services, Ms Kottas says her nurse also restored her trust in the NHS, which both she and her family believe has been central to her progress and recovery.

‘She was the first person I felt able to open up to and trust again,’ says Ms Kottas. ‘We could talk about my worries or about life outside the four walls of the ward. She made me feel that I deserved the help, which I had always found hard to believe.  

‘I have autism, so leaving the ward was a difficult change for me. Ms Carey’s kindness on my last day made that transition much smoother. And the physical reminder of the toy meant so much to me. It made me able to recall her values, which guided me through the rest of my recovery in rehab. 

‘She wasn’t just an exceptional nurse to me, but a leader. Without her, I wouldn’t be where I am today.’

Ms Carey says she is ‘extremely touched’ to be nominated.

Voting for the Patient’s Choice award is now open. The winner will be announced at an awards ceremony on 12 October.

Meet our other 2021 Patient’s Choice award finalists

Which of our six inspirational nominees will win the Patient’s Choice award? Here are the rest of the finalists:


Elaine Cole is RCNi special projects editor

 The Patient’s Choice award is sponsored by nurse uniform provider Alexandra

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