Carol Southard, RN, MSN, will be honored with the 2012 American Lung Association/Koop Foundation Unsung Heroes' Award on June 22 at the American Lung Association Awards Ceremony in Wilmington, Delaware. Southard, a tobacco treatment specialist at Northwestern Integrative Medicine, is the first nurse to win the prestigious national award, presented annually to an advocate for tobacco control who has made significant contributions to reduce the burden of tobacco use.
Grateful non-smoker Jonathan Alper, who along with Robert Kushner, MD, Professor of Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and Clinical Director of the Northwestern Comprehensive Center on Obesity, nominated Southard for the award, explains why she is his hero:
"I was delighted to hear about the American Lung Association / Koop Foundation's Unsung Heroes' Award because I happen to know one. I met her while buying 6 packs of cigarettes at a local store some 7 years ago. She tapped me on the shoulder, handed me her card, and said "You really should call me" before walking away. Once I got over the ego boost of thinking she was trying to pick me up, I looked at her card and saw she was a smoking cessation counselor. Like all veteran smokers (I was 53 years old at the time and had smoked since I was in my early teens) I had it in the back of my mind that I would quit one day and that would happen, well...one day. When I was diagnosed with diabetes a year later that day had come.
Before I called Carol I discovered that there was a whole world of people trying to tell you how to quit smoking. The piles of conflicting information seemed insurmountable. By the time we actually met I was frustrated and more than a little bit annoyed.
Carol told me that I did not have to want to quit smoking in order to quit. This made no sense at the time and was both reassuring and confusing. I will not detail all the steps of the program, but suffice to say that I was looking forward with equal measures of dread and anticipation towards my first attempt in 40+ years of smoking to quit. I was not excited about participating in weekly discussion groups, but agreed to try. I was surprised to discover that the group was composed of such a diverse range of ages, socioeconomic levels, and ethnic backgrounds.
Many times during the group meetings, "alumni" would be guest speakers to discuss their successes. They explained that while it was always an ongoing battle requiring vigilance and resolve, it was possible to stay tobacco free. Carol never gave out "scare" literature, never scolded, and never questioned our resolve. She was always a positive force and provided great support without being a cheerleader. I have been tobacco free for 7 years now, and I have Carol to thank for it.
Carol has become a friend. I marvel at her energy and her dedication to what is now, and probably always has been, a calling rather than a job. She is a true Unsung Hero despite the fact that there is certainly a large and extremely enthusiastic choir of over 3000 ex-smokers who, if they could all be assembled in one place, would loudly sing her praises."
Only about 4% - 7% of smokers who try to quit smoking are successful on any given attempt. In contrast, one year after completing her program, 56% of Southard's clients remain tobacco-free. "It has been a challenge being in this profession, but it has been incredibly rewarding," she says.
Learn more about the Smoking Cessation Services at Northwestern.