Personal care assistant Maria La Marca has been honoured with an award for her stop-at-nothing attitude in supporting nurses and caring for patients.
Nursing Agency 'Caring for You' handed out the 'Can Do Attitude' prize to honour Maria's limitless energy while working in Victoria's Peninsula Health and Frankston Hospital.
"I just jump into anything," she said.
"If a ward has 30 beds and I'm assigned to one or two patients, and my patients are good, I'll go to the other side and help them out.
"I can't keep still. I'm everywhere."
The realisation that she'd won the award only dawned on her during the night's event when she accepted the glass trophy and $500 cash prize.
Nominations had flooded in as she'd won over the hearts of healthcare workers, patients and nurses.
Fifteen years ago, she started her career as a personal care assistant in an aged care facility, where she stayed for close to a decade.
Then, she decided to shift to a hospital environment and work with people experiencing delirium or dementia.
"If I could administer or check a patient's drugs, I would do it all, but I'm limited in what I can do," Maria said.
"If I can do something for patients or nurses, I'll do it."
She wasn't always a personal care assistant – Maria began working as a machinist, sewing body armour and gun holsters.
Her first experience caring for someone came when her father was diagnosed with cancer, after which she and her mother nursed him while staying in the Alfred Hospital.
Then, 10 years after her father passed, her mother developed Parkinson's and Maria cared for her throughout the illness as well.
"After that, I realised that I needed a change," she said.
"I applied for a carer position in a nursing home, and it opened my eyes.
"I was very happy to go to work every morning; over the 12 years working as a carer, I never missed a day."
Last October, Maria had a very personal experience when she came across an Italian lady of 95 in the Covid wards who was close to passing.
Coming from a Sicilian family herself, she was struck by the lady's close resemblance to her mother.
She'd asked the staff to come into the room to say a last prayer, but was also hesitant due to Covid restrictions.
Maria heard the lady whispering, inviting her to come in.
"She looked exactly like my mum; the black hair and an Italian nonna. It brought back a lot of emotions.
"I placed my hand on her chest and started to say Our Father. I said half of the Hail Mary, and then she passed.
"It was beautiful that I could be there to do that, and I felt so grateful because no one needs to die alone."
During the pandemic, Maria saw how much help nurses need while working in flu and Covid-packed hospitals.
Currently, there are over 8,500 medical staff in isolation amid significant workforce shortages and strains on the healthcare system.
"They are under so much pressure that they constantly need help," Maria said.
"They're there every day with passion because they need to be there.
"I just try to make it a little bit easier for them."
Maria has also noticed the toll the pandemic has taken on her body.
Especially as people get older, she's found it harder to do things with them.
"I'll certainly be doing this for another five years, and if I can go on, I will," Maria said.
"But it's becoming a considerable strain on my body, and with everything out there – it is tough and sad."
Luckily, the work pressure hasn't taken the joy out of her job.
"I've sat with patients looking at the sunrise – that was special," Maria shared.
"Sometimes I just sit down with them and talk for a little bit, hold their hand and reassure them that they're okay.
"It's very rewarding to see them get better."Do you have an idea for a story?
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